Sunday, August 30, 2009

Coffee Shop Witnessing

The other night I went off to the coffee shop to continue my reading, seems like that is almost all I do these days. So in comes a young couple, Kenny and Sarah. They began to chat with the barrista who sent them in my direction, figuring a theologian was better able to deal with their questions of heaven. So over they come and Kenny begins asking me if I'm born again. Like many evangelicals he was looking for certain phrases that would indicate I was actually what he considers a "real" Christian. I was happy to brush aside much of the probing and ask them some questions about themselves and what they were up to that night. Fortunately Kenny had heard about the Vineyard so they found me relatively safe.

So here is what is interesting, Kenny and Sarah are on their first date. I ended up praying for them and hopefully encouraging them. In fact what they were doing was pretty cool, going out trying to follow God's leading to share "the gospel" with folks. Unfortunately, Sarah didn't do much of the talking and Kenny had pretty simple notions of what this "gospel" was supposed to be. I think challenging them would have messed up something more interesting that was happening - they were living out their convictions and trying to bless people.

Now there probably was another side of this, see Kenny is courting Sarah so in evangelical culture sharing the gospel with strangers can be akin to slaying a dragon or bringing home the bacon. But it seemed like Sarah was the instigator. Earlier that evening she had made some brownies and they went to a random door with them and "the gospel". Turns out they were led to another Christian who they blessed with a bible and snackage. Nice. I imagine Sarah's brownies were pretty good as she was out to impress the new "man". But in the midst of this interesting courting ritual Sarah and Kenny were doing something pretty cool.

So here I am sitting with these really nice young people. I'm dodging the occasional probe to see if I'm really an evangelical Christian, the barristas' are cringing (they apologized to me later, unnecessary but also pretty nice) and I find out this is their first date. Nice. So I decide to encourage them and ask to pray. I think they will continue to have some really interesting encounters. I hope that they do it long enough to let their ideas of "the gospel" mature. I also hope they end up encouraging many people with their witnessing. Bless you Kenny and Sarah, thanks for witnessing to me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Justice and Relationships

In reading Fuellenbach's awesome book on the Kingdom of God he notes that in Old Testament terms Justice is always a matter of relationships. Hence, it is often synonymous with the word righteousness - or right relationships. In fact death indicates an end of relationships and the possibility of making these right (of course themes of judgment might challenge this). Fuellenbach also cautions us not to truncate this notion of relationship to the personal world of our relationship with God. It has to do with all relationships, yes with God, with self and others - but also with the world God so loved. This notion opens up some wonderful ways of understanding incarnation as God's act of restoring the relationship God has with all of creation (indeed all of the cosmos if we take the Greek wording of John 3:16 serious). So, by implication, to be a Kingdom people requires that we be about relationships. Restoring relationships to their right form and function. Of course that opens up a whole huge discussion about what the right form and function actually consists of - this is not at all self-evident. Regardless, the Kingdom of God should always lead us smack dab into the centre of that discussion. And further it should lead us to act on our convictions about the nature of relationships.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

History - Competing Views

I'm reflecting a bit on notions of history. I find that the prevailing evangelical view is that history is really salvation history, or the story of God's saving work throughout time. The big problem with this view is that it was torpedoed by the Enlightenment, our capacity, as a species, to change the course of history (transforming nature and society) has led to a view of history that is very anthropocentric. This is the notion of history behind old school liberal social gospel thinking that says we are the ones who create/build the Kingdom of God. Ironically that language is also pervasive in evangelical circles, but then again we are known for our incapacity for self-reflection, no matter. These two views of history obviously have little in common - except that they are both true! Yeah, that's the twist. I have a sense that the working understanding of truth (function and form) is partly to blame, but also the existential questions that prevail in North American thinking also contributes to our polarization of the notions of history. Certainly there is a fear of the follies of the Social Gospel, but perhaps the answer is not to write it off but take it seriously as part of the truth, just not the whole truth.

This allows us to come up with a different understanding of history - one of participation and trust. We can trust that God has the last word in history, but that at the same time history is open to our significant participation. And yes, we can screw it up (just as much as we can work on making it better). History becomes our story and God's story, one we are writing together. Not just the story we find ourselves in, but the one we are actively writing through our free choices. And the important part is that this is the story that is important! That is the nuance that is missed in telling it as God's story (that is God's alone). When we polarize the stories, we can acknowledge our stories, but we diminish their value and their worth. This sort of fatalism has no real answer to the tough questions of our day.

So let me invite you into a new story. One that says both you and God are significant (and indispensable) partners. One where life has meaning and we are called on to work with God towards Kingdom ideals like justice, equity and love. Anyone else want in on this?

Friday, August 07, 2009


I found this interesting thought in Fuellenbach. The notion of a Jubilee year, which comes every twenty, is more than just a social reset, it is about revisiting the ideal by which Jewish society was structured. Basically as an egalitarian society of equal land owners - run that long enough and disparity occurs. But every twenty years debt is canceled and land reverts back to the fair distribution, not as a second chance but rather as a return to the ideal of egalitarian society. What is fascinating to me is that almost 20 years ago I was out praying through a neighbourhood in Mississauga and felt strongly impressed to declare a Jubilee year, I need to work out the dates but it was likely 3+ years before the Toronto Blessing (making it 1990-91). So here I am almost 20 years later meditating once again on this theme of Jubilee in the context of the Kingdom of God. As we have discussed before, the Kingdom of God always functions like an ideal, so it is fitting and encouraging in terms of timing.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I Write Backwards...

I was re-reading one of my posts and it occurred to me that I naturally write backwards. That is I construct sentences where it is difficult to follow on a single read, the thoughts are not ordered well. I know I end up doing a lot of editing on my papers, I wonder if there is a way to nip this in the bud.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Summertime Blues

Sharon's observation is that I am always happiest when I am in school. This phase of my academic life is very solitary, and even though I am by nature an introvert I do better when I can bounce ideas off of people. Funny thing is that the ideas I need to bounce off of people have whole worlds behind them - something that is easy to do in a group of theology and philosophy students. I've learned the hard way that dropping an idea from the swirl in my head can lead to an exhausting dialogue and always the potential of hitting one of those mines that shuts down the conversation with many Evangelicals. Well, I should say I have tried to learn. The reality is that I love to teach so I am apt to launch into such discussions recklessly. Mostly I can navigate my way through them, but there are the odd unavoidable mines (such as when some of my old Pentecostal friends decided to write me off as a dangerous heretic, all because I like to think). So I can't wait to be through this process. I wish I had a course to teach in the Fall, but alas it probably won't be until the Winter semester. As a result I'm having a few really blue days lately, not that I'm despairing really, but just not feeling very happy some days. I still laugh and smile most of the time, but there are times I'm less patient with my kids then I should be.

OK rant over, I'll return to normal posts soon. Pannenberg rocks! If you are following my Tweets you would know that already. Lots to think about and write about.