My Thinking Blogger Awards

April 26, 2007

Thanks to Richard Beck for tagging me with a “Thinking Blogger Award.”

As Richard explains, this is an internet meme, and good form dictates that I now nominate five blogs, other than those which Richard named.

Since Richard nominated me as his source for all things emergent, I’ll nominate a few guys from the emerging conversation who I read frequently. Most of them don’t know me personally, and they probably aren’t going to notice the volume of traffic that I send their way in this post, so the nomination that Richard sent in my direction is probably going to put an end to the meme on my branch. Still, I think these are pretty good links:

1. Jason Clark – Jason is a british pastor. He consistently writes thoughtful, useful posts that relate to the practice of Christian spirituality in the emerging culture.

2. Scot McKnight – Scot is a professor at North Park University in Chicago. He is also one of the most prolific bloggers that I know of. He has written two or three series of posts that are the equivalent of small books, while simultaneously writing published material. You can always count on finding analytical depth in his posts, and he’s not afraid to be critical – even of emergents – when its appropriate.

3. Andrew Jones – This is the grandfather of all emergent blogs. Andrew travels a lot, and many of his posts are focused on the various experiences that he has during his travels. This one is often less analytical than the prior two, but – in a way – more insightful because you really feel like you are getting insight into what emergent disciipleship looks like on the streets.

4. Fajita – love this guy. His writing is consistently thoughtful and challenging. He has roots in the Churches of Christ, though – and I’m quite jealous of this – he is currently attending Solomon’s Porch, an emergent gathering in Minneapolis, during his phD studies.

5. Dan Kimball – I love Dan because he is probably the best communicator among all of the emergent bloggers that I know. He has a real knack for avoiding all of the “insider” language that so many of us tend to use, and speaking in a way that almost anyone can understand. He is a pastor at the Vintage Faith church in santa Cruz, California. (Dan: I just wish you would post more!)


How (Not) to Speak of God – Heretical Orthodoxy

April 24, 2007

Before moving into a discussion of Chapter 1 of How (Not) to Speak of God, I want to unpack the title that Rollins gives to the first section of this book: Heretical Orthodoxy.

In the Christian context, heresy is any opinion or belief that runs contrary to that which is held by the leaders of a church as the correct or right belief. On the other hand, orthodoxy literally means “right belief.” It is a term that has been utilized by the church to refer to the correct set of beliefs about the Christian faith.

Hopefully, you can see how Rollins is messing with us when he uses the term heretical orthodoxy. On the surface it is an oxymoron. If one is orthodox, holding all of the correct beliefs and thoughts about God, how can one also be a heretic?

Rollins uses this puzzling phrase to make us reflect on the possibility that a framework for the Christian faith that is built around the concept of “thinking the right ideas” is itself missing the point, in the same way that we might think a heretic is missing the point.

Still struggling to see what he is saying? If this is a new idea for you, you’ll have to work at it a little, but I think its worth the effort – so lets go at it a different way:

One image that Rollins uses to illustrate this point is to compare the Christian faith to the experience of a baby that receives a kiss from its mother. I really like this analogy, so I want to extend it a little further than he does.

Think about the way a baby “knows” his mother. Though the mother gave birth to the baby and loves the baby in a powerful way, the baby is far inferior to the mother. He cannot really “talk back” to the mother, and he certainly can’t talk about the mother intelligibly. Yet he is learning from the experience of the mother’s love and that love will shape him as he continues to grow.

I hope you can see his point: our experience of God is one of transcendent love. It shapes us and forms us in powerful ways, but we will never be able to capture or explain the experience of God with words. Theology (or God talk), then, is not religion itself, but merely an (admittedly inadequate) effort to describe the thing that loves us and which is likewise the object of our love.

When we become lovers of our words about God, rather than God himself, we become like the heretic who has lost sight of the object of his faith.

More to come.

Other posts:
1. Introduction

How (Not) to Speak of God – Introduction

April 21, 2007

For the next few posts, I’m going to summarize Peter Rollins’ How (Not) to Speak of God.

This book has been something of a watershed experience for the emerging conversation. However, unlike other books that have discussed the emergent movement, it is not focused on emergents, emerging churches, or the criticisms that are being directed by emergents at mainstream protestants. Instead, it is a very concise articulation of a simple idea.

The idea behind this book lies at the heart of what so many of us in the emerging conversation have been trying to find words to express during the last few years. Rollins is giving us a language that we can use to talk about God and truth in the context of a rapidly changing culture.

In the introduction, Rollins describes his struggle to reconcile two seemingly inconsistent statements. The first, expressed by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, goes like this:

What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

The second, which comes from Rollins’ roots in evangelicalism, goes like this:

God is the one subject of whom we must never stop speaking.

Rollins’ struggle was this: God will never be adequate for words. He is larger and more complex than our ability to comprehend, much less describe. Thus, how could we ever speak of him at all, much less find a way to never stop speaking of him?

Ultimately, however, Rollins discovered an ancient solution to his dilemma – one which was embraced by the Christian mystics. It goes something like this:

That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking.

In this way of thinking, God is not a subject that can be passed over in silence, nor is he someone that can be fully revealed in words. Thus, for me, the point is this:

While we can and must speak of God, we should do so with humility – realizing that our words will always be inadequte.

With this thought in mind, Rollins moves into the first section of the book, entitled Heretical Orthodoxy: From Right Belief to Believing in the Right Way.

More to come.

Tales from the Dinner Table

April 20, 2007

Off and on through the years, Sheila and I have discussed renewing our vows, in part because – in retrospect – our original wedding turned out to be something of a disappointment. You can read more details about the original wedding here.

The other day, by way of a passing comment, Sheila happened to mention at dinner time that, when she gets “re-married,” she might want to wear a particular dress.

At that point, Becca, our 7 year-old, immediately jumped up, shouting: “No! No! I like the daddy we already have!”

This wasn’t spoken from a place of deep anxiety, expressing shock and outrage that her mother would even consider the possibility of finding another mate. Rather, it was spoken with the tone of voice that Becca might use if she were to object to, say, trading in our minivan.

Still, its nice to know that she wants to keep me around…

Praying for Virginia Tech

April 17, 2007

Almighty God, look with pity upon the sorrows of the students, staff, and faculty of Virginia Tech, for whom we pray. Remember them, Lord, in mercy; nourish them with patience; comfort them with a sense of your goodness; lift up your countenance upon them; and give them peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(adapted from the Book of Common Prayer)

Sin Management and the Post-Evangelical (ctd)

April 15, 2007

I consider myself to be a post-evangelical. This series of posts is intended to flesh out that concept.

At the end of the last post, I said that, in contrast to traditional evangelicals, post-evangelicals view Christianity as something more than a system of sin management. I now want to discuss what I mean by something more.

At its heart, the evangelical theology that I described in the first post is very individualistic. It can lead one to pose some very self-centered questions, such as: How can God save me? What should I do (or believe) in order to get into Heavean? What is my relationship with Jesus like? How can I claim God’s blessings?

But the meaning of “salvation” in scripture is much richer, much more mysterious, and much more fluid than the traditional evangelical notion of salvation, which equates God’s foregiveness (and the consequent promise of admission into eternal bliss) with being “saved.” In addition, scripture’s picture of God’s “salvation” is often much more cosmic/global. In other words, scripture is about how creation is lost and about how God is redeeming all of creation, rather than a particular system by which a particular individual may or may not be “saved.”

The approach to scripture that focuses on the Cartesian race, then, is not really adequate to describe how God is moving in the story of scripture. In fact, I would say that, often, scripture isn’t particularly concerned about the where’s, how’s, and when’s of one particular person’s salvation – much less so than a typical evanglical would lead you to believe. Instead, scripture invites those who embrace Christ to join him in his efforts to redeem all of creation.

For the post-evangelical, then, Christianity is about joining with God in something that he is doing in the world for both believers and non-believers, rather than merely claiming a “forgiven” status based on a particular intellectual conviction. The Christian church exists not for the benefit of its individual members, but as a healing force in the world.

[Although this issue is slightly beside the point, the post-evanglical is also looking for a way to move from an either/or view of salvation which says either you are or are not saved. In its place is a present and progressive view of salvation. God is saving creation. He is redeeming his people. He is making everything new. Salvation, then, must be viewed as a journey toward God rather than as a reflection of one’s immediate standing with God.]

It has been said that cultures are defined by the issues they fight over. If that is the case, then maybe we can distinguish between the traditional evangelical and the post-evangelical by looking at the issues that are important to them. Here are a few examples:

The evangelical might ask: How can one be saved?
The post-evangelical might ask: How can I join God in his saving work?

The evangelical might ask: How can I convince someone else to believe in Jesus?
The post-evangelical might ask: How can I become the presense of Jesus in someone else’s life?

The evangelical might ask: Have I made Jesus my personal Lord and Savior?
The post-evangelical might ask: What does it mean that God made Jesus Lord over everything? And how does that change the way I live out my life? 

The evangelical might invest considerable energy in properly defining and labeling sin.
The post-evangelical might invest energy in finding ways to help ameliorate the consequences of sin (for example, by ministering to those who suffer as victims of injustice and abuse).

The evangelical might ask: Who will get into Heaven?
The post-evangelical might ask: How is Heaven present in the here and now? And how can I join in the things that it is doing?

The evangelical might ask: Will I go to Heaven after I die?
The post-evangelical might ask: How can I help to make this into the kind of world where we can all live in it for eternity?

This is not to say that the evangelicals’ questions are entirely irrelavent (though many post-evangelicals may answer them in ways that make traditional evangelicals uncomfortable).  However, it is to say that post-evangelicals tend to be asking about (and fighting over) a different set of questions.

I think of myself as a post-evangelical because I am more interested in the second set of questions than the first.

Prior posts:
1. Defining evanglicalism
2. Why “post-evangelical” is a term of continuity, not a term of protest
3. How and why it is important to post-evangelicals to reunify with larger and older Chrsitian traditions
4. Defining “sin management”

Forget Guitar Hero…

April 14, 2007

I want this game!

(Apologies to those who are not familiar with the pecularities of the churches of Christ.)