Saturday, September 26, 2009

Challenge of Evangelical Theology

The more self-designated evangelical theology I read the more issues I realize I need to contend with in constructing an evangelical political theology. Issues like a theology of scripture, that is very murky water to have to wade into. The issues of competing theologies from the Calvinist versus the Methodist traditions, the reality is that I will never solve that debate for folks and I'd be a fool to try (but I can definitely land somewhere). That debate hints at one of the issues that is most problemmatic - the evangelical obsession for boundaries. Grenz deals with this quite well in chapter 5 of Renewing the Center. The reason for boundaries is specifically to say who is in and who is out - a good example is this critique of the emerging church. The obsessive how far in or how far out of that article struck me as rather odd. The big question is who sets the boundaries. This chart really sets up a false schema, in fact I'd argue if you had to do a boundary diagramme a Venn diagramme is better suited - in my estimation Patton fails to allow for any cross over between fundamentalism and emerging church - why? What presuppositions allow him to make that claim? What allows him to define who is where, or wears what label? Such efforts really only serve one goal - a desperate attempt to define boundaries. Indeed, this might actually be one of the truest defining characteristics of evangelical theology. If that is true then I think my project is, at the very least, in for a very uphill battle!

But NO! I don't believe we should allow anyone else to define who we are for us. If evangelicalism has it's roots in coalitions (as Grenz point out) then the boundaries are not for exclusion, but for helping people choose inclusion. There are two reasons I believe this should be the case: 1) it is the most evangelistic position to take and 2) it is hopeful in a way narrowing can never be.

The real roots of evangelicalism in North America are really found in a convertive piety. This is still recognized in that one of the chief definitions of evangelicals is a strong commitment to individuals being converted to Christianity. Now certainly there are a number of ways this plays out. But if the thrust is outward in an effort to draw women and men to Jesus how can we twist that into a social club disconnected from the world God so loves? In terms of evangelical identity, are we not doing the same thing? Are we not saying who is and isn't welcome to the discussion that is evangelical theology? Would we not better serve our apologetic tendencies to have more people in the conversation than just those who agree with us? You can't save the lost if you aren't willing to go to them (and even invite them to the table like Jesus modeled!) Boundary setting is counter-productive to the gospel. It says we are seeking our comfort (not being challenged) rather than God's glory. It says we are more concerned with our club not being infiltrated than with God's Spirit leading us to shape the discussions that lead the willing into a deeper understanding of their faith and the identity of evangelical.

This narrowing shuts down possibilities for evangelicals to have a positive impact on the world. It closes doors for us to participate in ecumenical and societal events. And so it prevents us from bringing the hope that is in us to those situations. But it also corrupts our vision of what that hope looks like. In my estimation many evangelical theologies have a very weak understanding of grace. We see this most evidently in how we use decline readings of scripture to justify building theological enclaves, fortresses really, that focus on the call to be separate ignoring the equally valid call to be in the world. So we imagine God will whisk us away and hurl vengeance at the world God so loved that Jesus laid down his life for? The disconnect is painful. It is not hope that this evokes, but utter and complete fatalistic despair. And why? Again it is the itching ears that want to feel like they have it right. They have the corner on truth and everyone else has to measure up to their standards. This completely misses any historical reality of our religion (or even Judaism for that matter). The Church was birthed in plurality. Evangelicalism was birthed in plurality. Unfortunately it quickly took on the cause that has tripped up the church so often in the past - plurality is seen as the evil that threatens to destroy us. This might just be one of the best lies ever launched against the Church. Plurality is our strength. Plurality means those who need to be strengthened, encouraged, challenged - even saved, that they are in on the conversations where that will happen. I, for one, would rather be an evangelical in that fashion, opening my arms, than one who has become so blinded that they are no longer able to fulfill the command of Christ in this world. I wish we could all have a mount of transfiguration moment, the boundaries are not the point - Jesus is. God, open our eyes to see Jesus alone.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Just an observation about reading. Way back when I was doing my masters I rejoiced in having a super high reading speed. It is still true that if I need to I can plow through books and articles at break neck speed. It is also true that doing this is actually helpful, provided I have some immediate means of massaging the data into meaning - such as a quick read before a class discussion. If I waited too long it was less useful to do this. Just as the masters was reteaching me to write, I think the doctoral work is reteaching me how to read. Reading with comprehension is hard. Reading with attention to detail is hard. Reading is not as simple a process as I would like.

Reading with comprehension, for me, requires lots of processing space. I need to step back from the text a lot, talk it through in my head (or better with people), which just adds to the time it takes to finish the reading. This does not mean I don't strategically read certain texts - it is a good skill to be able to dissect a book into which parts are most important to your purposes, read those thoroughly and skim the rest so that you don't miss something potentially important. But, at least in terms of the comps, my texts are carefully chosen to not have a lot of fat that needs trimming. So I read.

I think part of the problem is that I am quite ADHD, so it is easy for me to start in on a page and halfway through, "is that a cow over there?" Yup, I'm gone. This used to get quite frustrating for me, but really there is not much I can do about it. And the reality is that I do manage to stay on task quite effectively - I've had years to learn how to deal with my attention issues. That explains why I like working in crisis so much, give me an impending deadline and I'm all fired up. If the deadline is only sort of pending - well there is always facebook! Oh look there is a whole season of Trailer Park Boys' I've never seen before! You know the story. The problem with that is it is usually my family that suffers. So I've tried my best to not fall into those old patterns. In fact I've tried to spend time with my family as a way of making the deadlines loom larger for me. This tactic sometimes backfires when I end up pulling a late night and spending the next day with the grumpies.

Well, I've procrastinated long enough this morning, got to get back to reading.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Deep Church

The idea of "deep church" has been getting a lot of traffic lately. However, is this term really any more helpful than emerging/ent or missional? The meaning of these terms are far from self-evident. In fact these terms have insider meaning (usually positive) and outsider meaning (usually negative). I don't think the answer is ditching the effort to name things - but rather recognizing that there are two legitimate components of all these names. First there is a core common phenomenon that folks are trying to name and second these terms are artificial creations with artificial meaning(s) attached by everyone who uses them.

The common phenomenon is the attempt to deal with cultural relevance. Guder's Missonal Church is a great touchstone on this one. The reality is that the models and modes of being church are not as functional in the West as they used to be. There are complex reasons for this. And the reality is that different practitioners have different answers and see different issues as primary concerns. It is important to recognize that even entrenchment into tradition is a response to this phenomenon. Adaptation is a feature of the church that has enabled it to survive and even thrive for 2000 years now. And to be sure most of this adaptation has had faithfulness to the gospel front and centre (at least that aspect of the gospel that was dominant in that moment of history).

This tendency for adaptation means that the practitioners are having an involved and inside conversation involving their specific context(s), ecclesial background and hopes for the church. Because this often occurs with little critical reflection (it is a practical and incipient activity) the language that arises is insider language. The big problem with insider language is the ease at which it is misinterpreted by outsiders - especially outsiders who read the conversation partners in different ways. Take the knee jerk reaction of most anti-emergent books, articles and websites as a prime example. What is needed really is not polemics, but concentrated study. Especially in terms of differentiating the aspects of this phenomenon. Personally I see this an opportunity for academics to step into the conversation, not to give their opinions on how it should be, but to help define what is going on in ways that are helpful, accurate and harder to misunderstand as an outsider.

What this means is that the attempts to adapt in our generation(s) should be submitted to a high degree of examination. What this does not mean is that we should simply assume the worst. I would dare say we should expect the best - and I dare say that in the multitude of options we are bound to find it. It doesn't mean these terms will work for you, but perhaps we can get past the tendencies to simply conflate emerging, deep, missional with some fictitious attack on the church.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Moltmann and Me

In retrospect my contextless thank you to Moltmann probably conveyed more to me than to him. But it was awesome to meet my theological hero in the flesh.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Moltmann Conversation

The tweets from the conversation contain many great quotes and links. If you are looking for audio snippits, that's in there too.

Back now, I'm still tired but really glad I went. The conversation was amazing. Kudos Doug and Tony. I ran into an old friend this morning and realized that he has been studying a lot of the same stuff - Bloch, Moltmann, Pannenberg, etc. It was a great connection and a great excuse to rekindle an old friendship.

Tomorrow I'm leading worship at Greenbelt Baptist. I've never been before, but the pastor is a friend of mine. He's one of those guys who gets that unity is about diversity. I know this because we have quite different political ideas. But at the same time we know each other has a heart for God. Unity is like that. It says there is something more important that politics and even denominational distinctives. It says there is something about belonging that doesn't put any prerequisites in the way. I find that folks who listen for the heart in others are way more willing to see God leading you in different directions, and accept that it is because God is more concerned with seeking us out than God ever is with the trappings of our religious affiliations. I appreciate that in people like Steve.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Conference and Rest

Yesterday was really tiring, so I decided to leave the laptop off. So as a result no blog posts of the conversation yesterday. However, some great live blogging will fill in the blanks. My new friend Joe has links and thoughts - go check his blog out. Today is a bit of a roller coaster too, so I'm thinking that I'll not get to blog until I'm back home in Ottawa.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Eastern Depiction of the Trinity

First Day - Moltmann Conversation

I'm tweeting as pomorev if you want to see some snippets, but the first day was pretty good. John Franke spoke, trying to prime the pumps for our conversation. I felt it was more a plug for his book - Manifold Witness. He began by expressing his non-negotiables regarding biblical reliability, confidence in the promises and Spirit of God. I appreciate them, but I think to really embrace plurality in the idea of truth you need to risk your foundations. Not that you don't bring them into the conversation, but it is like only bringing yourself half to a conversation. But this is based on a short talk, I think he is probably worth reading.

Wicker Park led us in a Eucharist after, it was quite nice. I love the live artist working with chalk as we listened and worshiped. The service was quite accessible and a representation of the incipient worship of their emerging community. The vibe reminded me of EcclesiaX in Ottawa.

Things should be starting up soon.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

13 Hours to the Moltmann Trip

In 13 hours I will be stirring myself awake so that I can get to the airport, wait for and board a plane first to Philadelphia and then Chicago. Yup, it will be a lot of time in the air. At my destination, O'Hare, I'll meet up with the gracious Rob Morpeth to catch a ride to the hotel. All they had left were smoking rooms, bummer, so I bought some travel incense. If I'm going to stick like a smokey room it will the smoke of my choosing! I stuffed Sharon's yoga mat in my travel bag, just in case, but I will probably do no more than some standing practices at the hotel and between sessions. And I had to decide just what Moltmann texts to bring. Theology of Hope, of course. It is well loved. Then my favourites, which just happen to be the other texts they recommend you read before coming: Trinity and the Kingdom of God and The Crucified God. When I picked up my passport this morning I had a really strong sense of relief - I really don't like deal breaking loose ends. If it hadn't gone through I would be out a lot of money. But it is nice how this trip is coming together. Now the deal is to get to bed early and simply enjoy myself as my academic interests collide in Chicago. I'll probably send the odd tweet from the conversation, my twitter handle is pomorev.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Undersea Adventure

Today I'm gonna try and find some small plastic sharks. Yeah, sharks! Other than short stints through water I've not run a real undersea adventure - until now. The next leg of my Rathbone campaign takes them to the dread pirates cove with its undersea treasure repository. They are looking for something specific, but much danger awaits. The location is the Sea of Persistence, known for its teeming shark population - of course that is because sharks are not the top of the food chain down there! I'm also thinking of procuring a second aboleth mini, the dread salt-water aboleth might make its presence known. Minis aren't the challenge, what I need to figure out are the niggly things like movement and 3 dimensional combat. Also I'm wondering about the effect of brine on equipment? Thoughts, suggestions, favourite web resources on the subject? Bring it on.

BTW this campaign is D&D 3.5E with some house rules. The party is from 12-14th level so I'm apt to throw lots of big stuff at them. And pirates, there definitely has to be pirates with ship-to-ship combat! The more epic the better. Love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, September 04, 2009

How Committed to the Text ?

I'm reading George Eldon Ladd's the Presence of the Future, it is very good, but it is definitely the work of a Biblical theologian. That is someone whose primary commitment is to the text. He is convinced of his understanding of Kingdom of God theology based on what he sees in the scriptures. His concerns are about the correct interpretation of those scriptures. And I suspect that if he found the scriptures to paint a different picture of the Kingdom of God then he'd not be willing to challenge those scriptures. What I'm wrestling with is how committed I am to the text.

I think this is why I am not a Biblical theologian. If I found an unhelpful understanding of the Kingdom in scripture I would definitely challenge that. But it is not so simple. The reason I don't find such a reading has to do with the bias I bring to the scripture. I know that Ladd, like all Biblical theologians, also brings a bias to the scriptures. Actually I'm impressed when Ladd lays out his assumptions and his thesis, I wish more general evangelical writers would take this lead. But one of the biases I bring to my reading of scripture is that our interpretation changes over time. So my commitment is primarily to a specific reading of the text, but always to a particular understanding that I find supported by the text but also by tradition and experience.

So I am not uncommitted to the text. In fact I have a high value for the text. It disturbs me greatly when scriptural texts seem to counter my values, such as Wednesday's lectional reading about Simon's mother-in-law being healed and then serving. But my response is not to say the scripture is to be rejected or chastised, rather I love to wrestle with it. And in this case I had to conclude that it is equally plausible that Simon's mother-in-law found serving fulfilling (indeed it is a value of the Kingdom) and so was enabled to do something that was deeply rewarding and meaningful even if it could be construed as supporting a patriarchal view of society. The reason I would wrestle at all is that Jesus, in most cases, treats women in ways that are quite radical for his social context. And when this isn't the case usually there is something quite profound going on. Maybe it is best to say that I don't give up on the text - but is this real commitment to the text?

I think it is good for me to reflect on this, the text is important but I'm not animated primarily by the text. Although it is undeniable that 20+ years of reading the bible has influenced my theology, it is how these ideas work themselves out in the context of community, life and politics that really drives my faith to seek understanding. This is a big reason why I don't even pretend to be a Biblical theologian. It also is the reason that I avoid backing up my ideas with proof texts (a practice I abhor). So I end up at a place of both-and. I have a commitment to the text, but it is not primary. My commitment is to well thought out theology that understands and exposes its presuppositions (as much as possible) and seeks to work for a better world for everyone.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Moltmann, Emerging Church, Passport!

OK so I'm heading to Chicago to take in the Moltmann Conversation. I know, no brainer, I write extensively on the emerging church and my favourite theologian of all time is coming to address them. This month is super busy, but first my wife and then my director convinced me that I can't miss this. So I spent the last 48hours setting it all up. Unfortunately I'm staying in a smoking room at the hotel, all they had left, so hopefully that will get changed. But I think it is worth it. I wish I could take my family, but that isn't practical even if it was affordable. So away I go.

I think Moltmann has something profound to say to evangelicals in general. I just hope that what he says is actually reflected on. I also know that the hope theology movement is very concerned with the slip into apocalyptic language that is so popular in evangelical circles. I wonder if Moltmann will clearly address that issue. I think that this will be important for those engaged in re-imagining church, especially the evangelical church.

I'll probably tweet the conference, it will give me something to reflect on later. I'll definitely take lots of notes.