Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Shaping Of Things To Come: Finale

In the final portion of The Shaping of Things to Come, the authors advocate a new type of leadership/ministry matrix, based on the passage found in Ephesians 4:1-16. APEPT is the acronym given to the framework which values the following functions: apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching. In Christendom and North American evangelicalism a strong emphasis has been placed on the pastoral and teaching functions, thus making ministry a clergy vs. laity endeavor. Through APEPT functions, ministry becomes an endeavor for the whole church, the whole body of Christ, and is not simply delegated to the leadership community within the church. This shift in church leadership has great implications for increasing agency (Vincent Miller). Increasing agency and ownership, through the use of an APEPT framework, ensures that the church community is working towards embracing all these functions/gifts. Church members and the congregation-at-large can begin to take part in ministering to the people around them and fulfilling the mission of Jesus. A greater sense of wholeness and missional responsibility are fostered when the church community works together.

To conclude my learning synopsis of this book, I point to an idea introduced by the authors, yet attributed to Seth Godin: the ideavirus. An idea becomes contagious and spreads in the same way a virus would, through multiplication or metabolic growth. It is no surprise that the authors applaud this notion and I venture to say that they have written this book with the idea that this missional, incarnational, messianic, and apostolic ecclesiology would spread in the same way.

What better way to spread the Gospel and fulfill our mission than to share an idea, a message, a hope that is contagiously and continuously transmitted through our relationships and our lifestyles.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Shaping Of Things To Come: Part 2

This week I continued to read The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church, written by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. There were a few key notions which really stirred things up for me and I am grateful for the authors’ consideration of these matters.

First, the authors present the idea of “whispering to the soul” (p.95). This process can be thought of as a holistic experience which taps into the mind, soul and body of the not-yet Christian; rather than providing them a specific formula for experiencing and journeying with God. There is a great deal of connection which can be spurred when we simply share our hearts with unbelievers and befriend them in a way that conveys genuine love and care for their lives. The authors note that most attractional churches are only concerned with getting bodies into the building, telling people the error of their ways and the providing a step-by-step program to Jesus. This method does not appeal to the spiritual wholeness which many seekers (religious and non-religious) are after. Andrew Walker highlights an element of deep church (Recovering Deep Church) which underscores spiritual formation as an existential process. Walker notes that the formation of our beings, to reflect Christ, comes through “worship and in our relationship to God and one another” (p.8). Frost and Hirsch quote John Drane: “It is only when we reveal ourselves to others as weak and vulnerable that others will readily identify with us and be able to hear the invitation to join us in following Jesus.”

Secondly, the authors have addressed the issue of Messianic spirituality and their premise is that “It has been assumed that God can only be related to by either negating the world or bypassing it” (p.112). Messianic spirituality, however, is defined by our relationship with Jesus and the entirety of our lives should be “inseparably connected to the person of the Messiah” (p.114). The authors advocate a strong acknowledgment of the Hebraic spirit and the Jewish-ness of Jesus. The author and pastor, Rob Bell, also addresses this Hebraic nature in his book Velvet Elvis. These texts similarly address the issue of human action and its connection to the character of God. In Jewish tradition, the individual as a whole is to re-route his entire being and the actions of his everyday life toward God. This renewal of our spirituality can more adequately address the type of spiritual wholeness that emerging culture is seeking.
Stay tuned for the third and final portion of this book.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Shaping Of Things To Come: Part One

This week I begin reading The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church, written by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. The authors, in the beginning pages, call for a revolutionary approach to the way that church is being done in the Western world. The authors present a mode for church that “exists not because of human goals or desires, but as a result of God’s creating and saving work in the world” (p.7). The mode presented is a missional church mode that embraces culture and context, while presenting the unchanging power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Two key elements that I have identified and resonate within me are the notion of an Incarnational approach and the contextual church.

First, the Incarnational approach suggested by the authors is characterized by entering into the different cultures and subcultures and being Christ in that context. Readers are encouraged to respond as God did through his Son:
a) by entering into the given context—God entering the world through Jesus
b) identifying with the people—Jesus identifying and becoming part of humanity.
Luke Bretherton, in Beyond Emerging Church, addresses the issue of church spaces and places. He argues that: “Many of these non-church places are antithetical to the faithful practice of Christianity: for example, to be in a café is not to be a neutral space but to be in a site of consumer capitalism. Hence to claim one is forming church in such a place is deeply problematic” (p.38). To this, Frost and Hirsch would claim that it is necessary to become a part of the culture group that meets at the café. Although Frost and Hirsch do not stand in contrast to the institutional church at large (neither does Bretherton), they advocate an approach which highlights sending people (Christians) into a place/space, and helping those inside that culture group (not yet Christians) experience Christ from within their known context.

Secondly, the authors speak of a contextual element and its relationship to the message of the Gospel. The issue of contextualization expands upon the idea of Incarnation, and is most effective when the church has researched the host community and understands the patterns and practices that are present. I am reminded of John Honan’s comment (at the Face-to-Face meeting) in which he described his church’s celebration of the various cultures in the community. Honan commented that there was an aspect of this feast which embraced, welcomed and appreciated the various ethnic groups and there was such an atmosphere of love present. I believe this engagement demonstrated the love of Christ and echoes the authors’ statement that: “The creation of humankind in God’s image means that there is no culture that lacks virtuous elements in terms of which the gospel can be expressed” (p.87).

As I continue to read, it is my desire to continue to embrace these elements within my ministry context and really start to identity ways in which we can become more missional and incarnational. Stay tuned for more….

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Postmodernism: Part Two

In the concluding chapters of A Primer on Postmodernism, Stanley Grenz discusses the philosophies and philosophers that set up the stage for the postmodern mindset. A few key points that I observed are as follows:
a) our individual interpretations of the world and of truth are like language, socially constructed by our experiences, relations, and interactions with our environments
b) there is a response that can be made to postmodernism through the power of the Gospel

First, in regard to individual interpretations of the world, postmodernism asserts that because of “our differing places in the world, we naturally develop different perspectives on the world and different interpretations of the world” (p.110). A language is created in these environments, and this language can only carry meaning for the specific context. As far as church is concerned, in an article entitled, “God’s Transforming Presence: Spirit Empowered Worship and its Mediation", author Ian Stackhouse writes about the danger in becoming to far removed from the Scriptures and sacraments passed down through tradition. In the charismatic/evangelical circles, the tendency toward the immediacy of the Spirit and “Spirit-led” worship becomes an individual experience of the move and power of God. Thus, the move of the Spirit and the interpretation of God’s power becomes, in that context, a language that only the individual can relate to. What happens to this person when he/she encounters more communal, liturgical, or traditional practices? It would appear that all of a sudden this person is not able to understand the language being spoken (per se) in another context. Has their personal experience and differing perspective become a barrier? Are they able to understand the same God in a different context/language? (Any thoughts Dr. Clark?)

Secondly, the final chapter of Grenz’s book is an explanation of how the Gospel can respond to the postmodern view. In reading, I found the notion of “a post-dualistic Gospel” quite interesting. Grenz’s notes that the “Gospel we proclaim must speak to human beings in their entirety” (p.171). I am reminded of Luke Bretherton’s writing entitled Mundane Holiness: The Theology and Spirituality of Everyday Life. In this chapter, Bretherton notes that their is an element of our mundane and ordinary lives that is directly connected to our Creator. Speaking to the entire human being gives way to addressing the routine aspects of our lives and allows us to relate to the fully divine, fully human person of Jesus Christ. I believe that finding God in the ordinary corners of our lives helps us to become more holistic beings. Rather than try to identity parts or areas of our lives that “need more of God”, letting our entirety, our soul and body, become transformed by Christ, is more reflective of the Gospel that we have come to know. An appreciation for this viewpoint can illustrate to the postmodern that our concern is in the transforming of lives and beings into Christ, and not just in the saving of souls to get to heaven.

I appreciate Grenz’s thoroughly written passages concerning the history and development of postmodernism. I am, however, left wondering how we can best go about relating these topics to a generation of modern churches…
Is it by handing them this book, teaching on this book, or simply addressing postmodernism as it evolves into our society?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Postmodernism: Part One

As I began reading Stanley J. Grenz’s book, A Primer on Postmodernism, there are a few key points that I believe are worth noting. Grenz lays out postmodernism as a current shift in Western culture characterized by some key concepts:
a) there is not one transcendent meaning in the world; instead of an objective world view there are different views encountered by different people
b) human intellect (the human mind) is no longer the authority of truth; instead, there is a community based understanding of truth
c) the postmodern ethos has no real center; instead, a spirit of bricolage and diversity is more common

Although these concepts represent only a few of the shifts found in postmodernism, I would argue that there are some distinct parallels between these concepts and those that affect ecclesiology.
Grenz discusses that postmodern philosophy disregards the idea that an individual can relate to the world without a consideration for independent existence (p.40). He notes that most of us “assume that the world is objectively real,” yet the postmodern mind takes on a constructionist view in which we are responsible for constructing the world in which we live, by bringing our own concepts and experiences to the forefront. This concept speaks to Stuart Murray’s writings in Post-Christendom. Murray notes that post-Christendom is a move away from the familiarity of the Christian narrative. These two spheres share common ground in that different groups will encounter different stories about the world, or about Christianity, that reflect a context full of personal experiences. As people move away from a central world view, or Christian meta-narrative, the search for a grand meaning or a unified humanity (as the creation of God) becomes less penetrating.

For the postmodern, truth is more than just a postulation of human reason and the human mind, it can be an emotional and intuitive process (p.7). For this reason there is a disregard for human knowledge as purely objective and a bend towards accepting communal truth, because of our dependence upon that very community in which we participate. This connection between truth and community is crucial to ecclesiology, and relates to Andrew Walker’s discussion in Deep Church about the spiritual formation of individuals in relation to one another. Walker argues that we have turned the spiritual formation process into an individual journey, and should remained focus on being “joined to one another in Christ.” If the nature of truth is related to our sense of community (as argued by postmodernism), what does this mean for ministry in the future? Will there by a growing dependence on one another for spiritual growth? Should community become more of an arbiter of truth, rather than the individual (and the mind) behind the pulpit?

Finally, Grenz also discusses the comfort with which postmoderns “[mix] elements of what have traditionally been considered incompatible belief systems” (p.15). Grenz specifically speaks of bricolage (a la Vincent Miller) and the similarities are striking. The eclecticism found in postmodernism mirrors the bricolage which Miller, in his book Consuming Religion, discusses as a system in which elements/objects of tradition are displaced from their original contexts. In postmodernism this is understood as an attempt to diversify, and create a collage which denies the power of singular authorship. What does this mean for the church? If the patterns of bricolage, which are found in religion, are considered a celebration of diversity in the postmodern mind, how does the church react to this? To what extent should the church accept this diversity?
This shift in culture will present new issues for the church and I hope to gain deeper understanding as I continue reading.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Missional Ecclesiology: Mid-Semester

Over the course of the past few weeks, there has been much reading and discussion to contemplate. I would like to take a few minutes to discuss some things that have influenced my thinking more profoundly.

In the introduction of his book,
Church, World and the Christian Life, Nicolas Healy posits the notion that the church is often quite unaware of its sinful and arrogant nature. He states that “We can say all we like about our dependence upon grace; it may still appear as though we (through grace, to be sure) are a shade better than the rest of humanity” (p.11). This has challenged me to re-think my personal attitude toward a humanity that is created in the same image of God in which I am created. As I continue to work in ministry, it becomes instinct—a rather vicious one, at that—to consider how certain endeavors in the life of our college ministry might bring a greater fame and recognition to our name. As Healy suggests, this reflects the all-to-common “ecclesial pride,” which fosters a glorying in the church herself and a negated glorying in the cross of Jesus Christ. Such an attitude can belittle the witness of the church and destroy its orientation toward the ultimate truth of Christ our Savior.

There is most certainly a relationship between Healy’s arguments and Luke Bretherton and Andrew Walker’s introduction to
Remembering our Future: Explorations in Deep Church. In their writings, the authors suggest that one key element in the framework for deep church is a discontent for the loss of confidence in the Gospel. This may attribute to a shift in the church becoming more confident in its structure and identity, than fully relying on the transforming power of the cross.

My hopes are that while we are in Portland we will continue to shed light on the practices of the church that lead to a distortion of the full Gospel of Christ; as well as formulate ideas that establish a healthy ecclesial mindset which reflects tradition, current context and the power of the Spirit to guide us forward.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Remembering Our Future: Part Two

As we continued reading the essays contained in Remembering Our Future: Explorations in Deep Church many new insights have been presented. I continue to filter and process these insights in my mind and my passion for the church, the Body of Christ, continues to flourish.

Chapter 2, Beyond Emerging Church, by Luke Bretherton explores the striking similarities between the Emerging Church (EC) and the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement (PCM) and presents a vision for deep church that is concerned with bringing “certain theological and ecclesial cadencies to the fore” (p.29).
Bretherton defines the EC as:
transnational: exceeding national frontiers in the political/cultural arena
glocal: a horizon that surpasses nationality/region and the local has global value
subcultural religious community: its norms/values are in response to or opposition against the wider, conventional culture

The similarities in the EC and the PCM that Bretherton highlights speak to the following:
• An anti-instituional style: Kingdom of God over/above the church
• openness to more “secular” and non-Christian forms of communication, such as satellite television, internet and most of all the consumer mentality

Bretherton moves on to suggest that these similarities are not negative, in and off themselves, but he stresses that moving to do deep church will mean making more of a connection between what Christ and the Spirit are working through in our current context and that which has shaped the historical life of the church.

Chapter 7, God’s Transforming Presence: Spirit Empowered Worship and its Mediation, by Ian Stackhouse deeply resonated with my church experience. Stackhouse’s thesis is that the immediacy of ecstatic Spirit-led worship experiences, familiar to Charismatic/Evangelical circles, has led to less of a focus in the power of Scripture and the sacraments passed down through tradition. This focus on the immediacy of the Spirit and the existential reaction to formalism can create an individualized prescription for energetic worship and participation is relegated to simply just showing up in church. Stackhouse also argues that what is at stake in these immediate experiences is the full Trinitarian fellowship and the power of the Spirit through the word/preaching, prayer, communion and baptism.

Chapter 10, Mundane Holiness: The Theology and Spirituality of Everyday Life, by Luke Bretherton is a powerful depiction of encountering Christ in our everyday, ordinary circumstances. Bretherton writes that our connection to the Creator is found in the patterns set before us in our everyday lives. The shape of spirituality in a Christian’s life is determined by the renewing of our lives to become “truly human” as Jesus was. We are empowered, by the Spirit, to live Christ-like lives in this fully broken world and encounter real power in ordinary situations. It is when we learn to become truly human, like Jesus, that we find a pattern for spirituality, in this world, that aligns itself with our Creator.

In regard to Stackhouse’s essay, concerning the immediacy of the Spirit, I see one issue that presents itself (which Stackhouse highlights as well). In my experience, charismatic worship and supernatural demonstrations of the Spirit have become all too legalistic in their own sense. As Stackhouse notes, this immediacy has been thought of as a counteractive approach to dead and boring institutional traditions (i.e. the sacraments). In an effort to become more “spiritual” and more “spirit-led” these charismatic movements have hindered the power found in more communal practices. This immediacy becomes a quick fix and people simply come in search of a “touch of the Spirit.” The whole issue of legalism and dead religion comes back around, as these movements have become their own religions and follow their own legalistic prescriptions. How do we address this? How does one find the balance? How does one emphasize the importance of the sacraments without de-emphasizing the power of the Spirit of God. It seems to me that one cannot simply walk into a church and “fix” this. How do we recapture the essence of the Scripture, the powerful word of God and let the Spirit of God continue to manifest itself?

All of these issues drive my passion for the Church and the mission for the body of Christ.
“The faithful performance of the Christian faith requires attention to both the inherited patterns of church life as well as the wider context of which that church life is a part.”
--Luke Bretherton