According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Theology & Church After Google 4/6


by Tripp Fuller
April 19th, 2011

The Church and Her Practices in The Google Age

The Google age is about men and women who live in, and are molded by, a very different era than the Eisenhower, Civil Rights, Vietnam, and Baby Boomer eras. Those who walk here know the wilderness of unbelief. They are keenly aware that there are other options. They exist in the Matrix of belief and ambiguity. Ambiguities will not be left behind; they are the reality. As a result, these men and women exist both “inside” and “outside” the church. It may be that the goal is to find the answers (though many Google-Agers would dispute that). But the means, at any rate, is clear: one must know the questions … inside and out.

And the church? In my view, the emerging church is not about tearing down all existing structures: church buildings, denominations, and the rest. But it is about radical changes around us, and courageous responses within the church. When emergence starts happening around us, in ways and places we didn’t expect, our challenge is to learn to encourage and support it, to learn from it, rather than squelching it. Much has changed: the individuals are different; the communities are different; the ways of talking (and believing) are different. So it’s going to take some stretching on our parts. Theologies from the past won’t work as pre-packaged answers. The Catholic author Richard Rohr captures the shift in his description of spiritual practices:

One great idea of the biblical revelation is that God is manifest in the ordinary, in the actual, in the daily, in the now, in the concrete incarnations of life, and not through purity codes and moral achievement contests, which are seldom achieved anyway… We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking… The most courageous thing we will ever do is to bear humbly the mystery of our own reality.10

The Church and Her Theology After Google

The quickest way to convey a concrete picture of what this all means is to reduce my message to five theses:

(1) Theology is not something you consume, but something you produce. In the Age of Gutenberg, you read theology in a book; you heard it preached in sermons; and you were taught it by Bible teachers. In the Age of Google, theology is what you do when you’re responding to blogs, contributing to a Wiki doc or Google doc online (or on your own computer), participating in worship, inventing new forms of ministry, or talking about God with your friends in a pub.

(2) No institutions, and very few persons, function as authorities for theology after Google. Ever since Jesus’ (often misunderstood) statement about Peter that “on this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16), the church has had issues with authority. The point is too obvious to need examples. The pastor standing up in the pulpit in the early 1960s was still a major authority.

Of course, pastors still stand up in pulpits today, and some still view themselves as indispensable purveyors of truth. But most of us who still speak from pulpits today are having to rethink our relationship with the audiences we address, since most people today shrug their shoulders at those who claim to be authorities in religious matters. (For many of us, scripture continues to be an authority, but the way in which it’s an authority has changed massively over the last 30 years.) Theology today means what some number of us find plausible about our faith and are willing to share. Today’s religious leaders are those who say things that ring true to us, so that we say, “Yeah, I think that person’s got some important insights. I’m going to read the blog or find a way to talk with him (or her), and I’m going to recommend to my friends that they do the same.”

(3) Theology after Google is not centralized and localized. Likewise, the church cannot be localized in a single building. We find church wherever we find Jesus-followers that we link up with who are doing cool things. This point is huge. Denominational officials and many pastors have not even begun to conceive and wrestle with what it means to work for a church without a clear geographical location.

(4) Similarly, theology after Google does not divide up the world between the “sacred” and the “secular,” as past theologies so often did. All thought and experience bears on it, and all of one’s life manifests it. Thus the distinction between one’s “ministry” and one’s “ordinary life” is bogus. All of one’s life as a Christian is missional. The great 15th-century theologian and mystic Nicholas of Cusa imagined God as a circle whose radius is infinite and whose center is everywhere. It only takes a second to realize that Cusa’s picture wreaks havoc on all geometries of “inside” and “outside.”

(5) The new Christian leader is a host, not an authority who dispenses settled truths, wise words, and the sole path to salvation. This last point is important enough that it deserves a section of its own.

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Endnotes:

10 These quotations have their own life on the web ( just Google them yourself).


Theology & Church After Google 3/6

http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2011/04/19/theology-the-church-after-google/

by Tripp Fuller
April 19th, 2011

Theology After Google

Progressive and moderate Christian leaders have some vitally important things to say, things that both the church and society desperately need to hear. The trouble is, we tend to deliver our message using technologies that date back to Gutenberg: books, academic articles, sermons, and so forth. (Think of how much of a typical mainline service involves reading written texts.) We aren’t making any significant use of the new technologies, social media, and social networking. When it comes to effective communication of message, the Religious Right is running circles around us.

So what does it mean for the up-and-coming theologians and church leaders of the next generation to do “theology after Google”? At the start, it involves conversations with cultural creatives and experts in the new modes of communication. The new theologians know how to listen the “theobloggers” whose use of the new media (blogging, podcasts, YouTube posts) has already earned them large followings and high levels of influence.6


Progressive and moderate Christian leaders have some vitally important things to say, things that both the church and society desperately need to hear. The trouble is, we tend to deliver our message using technologies that date back to Gutenberg.


“Theology after Google” isn’t just about techniques, though—however important they are. It happens only as the next generation of American theologians and church leaders begins to think together about the implications of these new modes of communication. Marshall McLuhan’s famous “the medium is the message” may not have been completely on the mark; still, what we say is affected by how we say it. How are the new media changing the nature of human existence and human social connections? How are they transforming human conceptions of God, Jesus, and Christianity? And what will (and should) the church become as a result? Mastering the new communication technologies is not enough, though it’s essential; it’s also crucial to understand what it means to be religious, and Christian, in a technology-dominated age.

Some will find the results uncomfortable. It means, first of all, that we can no longer define theology only as an academic discipline. Although about Christian beliefs, modern theologies sought primary to meet the standards of the Academy. But the “trickle-down effect”—the idea that the brainy books in academic theology flow through pastors to help congregations and ordinary Christians—is no longer working (if it ever did). By and large academic theologians are not addressing the questions that lay Christians are asking; or they’re answering them so incomprehensibly that only other academic theologians understand them.

Theology after Google devotes itself to the questions that all Christians ask and the kinds of answers that ordinary people give, no matter how hesitating and uncertain. This new definition has a wonderful implication: Theology is tightly bound to whatever and wherever the church is at a given time. Theology is about what the church is and is becoming now. So “theology after Google” asks: What must the church become in a Google-shaped world?

Beta Theologies for a Beta Church

Where is the church today? We face huge challenges with numbers; budget difficulties are a byproduct. Large numbers of younger Americans are staying away. Clergy may be happy about specific successes in ministry, but most are discouraged about long-term trends. And it is hard to bring about change when you serve one or more congregations with no associates, few youth, and scant financial resources.

Protestants are experts at guilt, but it helps to recognize the truth: the reasons for the decline of Christian institutions and congregations are cultural; they do not just have to do with us. We are facing a transformation of how human society is organized that is as revolutionary in its implications as was the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg over 500 years ago—perhaps even as revolutionary as the fall of Rome.7 If that’s right, what does this mean for those who are called to be leaders and to guide the church into the 21st century?

What we have to offer—the gospel and the community of the Body of Christ – has not stopped being relevant; Jesus’ promise of comfort in a time of uncertainty is more relevant today than ever before. Stereotypes notwithstanding, most pastors are willing and motivated to try new forms of ministry. But, among all the options, they are unsure what to commit to and implement … and how to make it happen.

First, we need to move from “church 1.0” to “church 2.0.” The analogy should be clear. “Web 1.0” was a series of static pages that one would visit and (passively) read. “Web 2.0a”—the web of today—offers a deeply interactive experience, in which the users themselves help to make the places that they go (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Wikipedia).8 We respond, contribute to, and play at the places we visit; we go there to do things. (If you’re unsure about this, watch a kid playing on the web. My seven-year-old twins will click on anything anywhere on any webpage to see what’ll happen and what it will do. The idea that the Internet might be about passive reading of content never occurred to them.)

Second, in a time of rapid change, there’s no alternative; you have to experiment. Perhaps here also we can learn something from software designers. When designers want to try out a new product, they issue a “beta” release. People try it out, find out what works and what doesn’t work, and let the designers know. They make some changes and then release the next version. What would it mean for us to consciously adopt “beta church” as a model for ecclesiology and for church ministries?9

One of the greatest insights of the Google-World is the freedom of Beta. A Beta is more than a product not-yet-ready-for-consumption, but a way of thinking, creating, and living. It owns being unfinished. It expects contribution, evolution, transparency. For a long time all of culture was under a spell. It believed in the myth of perfection, a closed process of creation, an established finality before completion. Before Beta, a mistake, glitch, virus, or crash was an embarrassment, a failure of the developers. Now these “bugs” are opportunities for learning and we thank people for pointing them out as they join in to improve.

What does Beta talk have to do with the church? Everything. One of the greatest insights that the emerging church movement has shared with the church is this love for the Beta. Think of it as a call for honesty, transparency, innovation, creative participation, and inspired imagination. When we look at the church we think Beta – not because we begrudge what is there, but because we know God is not done, the body of Christ is in the Beta and it is beautiful.

What do you make of this relational vision of the Beta? How far into the life of the church and its public performances does the Beta go? Is our worship in the Beta mode? How about the church structures, or our theology? What about our own life of discipleship and our community? Maybe we could go one step further and say that the entire world is in the Beta? Does Christian theology not point us in this direction?

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Endnotes:

5 Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007).

6 I recommend regularly spending some time at HomebrewedChristianity.com and similar sites.

7 Phyllis Tickle makes the first point in The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008). Brian McLaren draws the connections with Rome in A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), and I draw analogies with Augustine’s situation in Transforming Christian Theology: For Church and Society (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010), 43ff.

8 “The term Web 2.0 is commonly associated with web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, … user-centered design, and collaboration.… A Web 2.0 site gives its users the free choice to interact or collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators (‘prosumers’) of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to websites where users (‘consumers’) are limited to the passive viewing of content that was created for them. Examples of Web 2.0 include social-networking sites, blogs, wikis, video-sharing sites, hosted services, web applications, mashups…” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0.)

9 The following three paragraphs were written by Tripp Fuller, modified by Spencer Burke, edited again by me, and widely commented on at TheOoze.com. It’s an example of beta writing, which has no single author and is constantly evolving. Imagine that seminaries would start teaching models for ministry of this sort!


Theology & Church After Google 2/6

http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2011/04/19/theology-the-church-after-google/

by Tripp Fuller
Apr 19th, 2011

Church in the Google Age, or “Toto, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore”

Perhaps a few questions will help to evoke the sea change that we face today:
• Why is it that most Americans today don’t walk down to their neighborhood church on Sunday mornings for worship, Sunday school, and a church potluck?
• Although many Christians believe that “everything must change”5 why is it that the institutions and those who lead them don’t seem to recognize the enormous changes that are already upon us?
• Do we really inhabit two different worlds: those who text, twitter, blog, and get 80% of our information from the Internet, and those who are “not comfortable” with the new social media and technologies?
• Could we today be facing a change in how human society is organized [re “social networking”] that is as revolutionary in its implications as was the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg over 500 years ago?
• If we are, what does all this have to do with theology and the church?
Of course, churches will still exist in the year 2030 (and hopefully long afterwards). But we must not assume that they will look much like church practices from 1955-1995. I assume that Christians will still gather for worship, teaching, and community; that the Scriptures will still be read; that the sacraments will be celebrated. But what church means in practice has always been deeply affected by its age and culture. When these change, so too must the church. Everyone acknowledges that we are living in a time of revolutionary transformation. So shouldn’t we expect that the church is in for some radical changes?

Consider this comparison. On the eastern seaboard in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in the expansion of a young nation westward toward the Pacific Ocean, churches played very specific social functions. They weren’t only the center of religious life, the place where one came to be baptized, married, and buried (“hatched, matched, and dispatched”)… and everything in between. They were also the heart and soul of the community—the center of social, communal, political, and even economic life. There was simply no other game in town. The church stood for the moral values of the community, “what made America great.” When you see the white steeples in a New England town, or when you drive through Midwest towns with a church on every corner, you realize how central a social institution the church once was.

But things have changed. For today’s generation, churches no longer play most of these social functions. We are now a massively pluralistic society living in an increasingly globalized world. Every major world religion is represented among United States citizens. This transformation has massive implications for ecclesiology. Take, for example, the question of authority. In the frontier town, the Southern city, or the New England village there was the authority of the law and the government. Many people were not very educated, so they did not read much, and there was no radio or TV. The pastor of the church was not only the moral and spiritual authority—the representative of the only true religion and its obviously true scriptures—but also probably the most educated person in town. He (almost certainly it was a he) spoke with authority on a wide variety of issues that were important to the society of his day.

Contrast that world with today’s situation. Rarely are pastors approached as figures of authority, except (sometimes!) within their own congregations. Radio, television, and the Internet are our primary authorities for the information we need, with newspapers, advertisements, and movies coming in a close second. For many American Christians, Beliefnet.com (“Your Trusted Source for Free Daily Inspiration & Faith”) is a bigger authority on matters of Christian belief and practice than any pastor. We love self-help books, so we are more likely to read Spirituality for Dummies than to go to a group Bible study. Forty years ago people were influenced in their judgments about religious matters not only by their pastor but also by the editorials in the religion section of their local newspaper. Today the blogs one chooses to follow are far more likely to influence her beliefs.

Where’s the Revolution?

I am almost embarrassed to list these differences, because they are so obvious. But here’s the amazing fact: Denominations aren’t changing. In most cases they’re not planning for and investing in new forms of church for this brave new world. (There are some great exceptions.)

This is not a matter of blame. The assignment of the administrators who head up denominations is to run the organization that they’ve been given. I once heard a major national leader say (prophetically) to a group of similar leaders something like, “We all know that the ship is in grave danger, and it may go down. But we all seem to have the attitude, ‘Not on my watch!’”

 
Denominations aren’t changing. In most cases they’re not planning for and investing in new forms of church for this brave new world.
Pastors have a bit more latitude. Individual pastors and churches are doing amazing things across the U.S. (and outside it); so are para-church and extra-church groups, organizations, and ministries. But in most cases, it’s the denominations that determine how pastors are educated, what kinds of ministries they can engage in, and what kinds of church assignments they get. The training and formation of most pastors takes place in seminary, and seminaries are increasingly out of step with the 21st century world. (As a seminary professor, I get to see this up close and personal.)

Imagine that a pastor has the good fortune to depart seminary with her idealism intact. She’s then likely to be assigned to a traditional church that has virtually no youth or younger families present, an average age of 60, and a major budget crisis on its hands. Her orders are, “Keep this church alive!” The church members like the old hymns and liturgies; they don’t like tattoos, rock music, or electronics. They are about as likely to read and respond to blogs as I am to play in the Super Bowl. So the young pastor folds her idealism away in a closet and struggles to offer the traditional ministry that churches want.

In short: The majority of our resources continue to be flung at traditional church structures. [But] those doing the real revolutionary work, those trying to envision—and incarnate—the church of the future struggle [continue] on with the barest of resources.

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Endnotes:

5 Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007).


Theology & Church After Google 1/6

http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2011/04/19/theology-the-church-after-google/

by Tripp Fuller
Apr 19th, 2011

Philip Clayton and I put on the ‘Theology After Google’ conference and taught a class so-named too. Here is an article from the Princeton Theological Review that explores the theme. The issue itself is outstanding, exploring the Church in our technological age, and guess what…..it is FREE TO DOWNLOAD HERE!!!

Now here’s Philip……….

It is difficult to describe how much the audience for systematic theology has changed over the last few decades1. In these few pages I’ll be arguing that theology needs to change just as radically if it’s going to communicate effectively with Gen-Xers, Millennials, and the increasingly large group of non-religious Americans (“non’s”2) over the coming 10-20 years.

The changes are like the shifting of tectonic plates, which means earthquakes and tsunamis. When I arrived in Munich to study under Wolfhart Pannenberg in the fall of 1981, German theologians still set the tact for Christian theology worldwide. American doctoral programs in theology accepted large numbers of entering students, and most of those students could count on tenure-track jobs when they graduated. Theology journals thrived, and traveling theologians drew large crowds at universities and seminaries. When I asked Pannenberg and other established theologians what was the reason to do abstract academic theology, they invariably appealed to the trickle-down effect: “Our publications influence doctoral students and other academic theologians; their teaching molds the next generation of pastors; and pastors’ sermons and ministries guide the thinking and practice of the vast numbers of people who flock to the churches.” Or something like that.

You don’t have to be a specialist to know that things have changed. A major national survey recently published in USA Today shows that 72% of “Millennials”—Americans between the ages of 18 and 29—now consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”3 Even among those who self-identify as practicing Christians, all of the traditional forms of Christian practice have sharply declined from previous years: church attendance, Bible study, and prayer. Doubts are higher, and affiliation with any institutional church is sharply lower. All of us who are still connected with local congregations already know this pattern, up close and personal. Still, it’s sobering to see the trends writ large; after all, we are talking about almost three-quarters of younger Americans!

If the decline of traditional churches and denominations continues, by 2025 the effects will have transformed the American religious landscape—even if not as radically as in Europe. (For example, on a typical Sunday, some 0.5% of Germans attend church.) Some estimate that up to two-thirds of mainline churches may have closed their doors by that time; others will struggle on without a full-time pastor. Denominations will merge in order to be able to maintain even minimal national staffs and programs. A larger and larger proportion of those who still go to church will visit large “mega” churches, those with 2,000 or more attenders on an average Sunday.

I doubt the American interest in spiritual matters will die; people will continue to report that spirituality is extremely important to them. Nor will they pursue these practices in isolation. New forms of association and shared practice will arise; new religious movements will attract participants; alliances across religious traditions will grow in strength and number. Christians who resist these trends will become increasingly strident and increasingly hostile toward the modern world, even as their numbers decrease. And, of course, discussion of religious themes—and what it means to be a Christian in today’s world—will grow in intensity and urgency.4

What of theology?

And what of theology? In this context, one can no longer view academic theology as a product with an obvious and assured market. Within many churches, the interest in theology appears to be declining; the market base is no longer there. Those who still attend mainline churches are often deeply suspicious of doctrinal theology and more focused on ethical, political, and other practical concerns. By and large, people seem to be more interested in learning about the beliefs of other religious traditions, in debating ethical issues in our culture today, or in pursuing spiritual formation and practices.

You can bemoan the current state of affairs. You can argue that people still need the kind of reflection that theologians offer (a proposition I agree with!), and you can brainstorm ways to get folks to “consume” the theological products that we “produce.” To those who think the problem is just better marketing, I say: I wish you well. If you can rekindle interest in the kind of theology that authors were producing 30 years ago (and that some continue to write), great. The remainder of this piece is dedicated, however, to those who agree with me that such an approach is not necessarily the best, and certainly not the only, way to proceed today.

One brief caveat: To pursue “theology after Google” does not mean to gleefully destroy all traditional Christian beliefs, to abandon the church, or to advocate a post-Christian worldview. On the contrary, it does, however, mean entering in good conscience into a new kind of open and exploratory discourse—a discourse in which one’s conversation partners are not committed in advance to landing where past theologians have landed. Many of them do end up with a vibrant Christian identity, but that’s no longer a pre-condition for theological dialogue. Theology after Google means navigating the treacherous waters of contemporary culture, religion, science, and philosophy—without knowing in advance that the harbor in which one finally drops anchor will be the same theological port from which the ships of old set sail. For those of us who live, work, and think in a Google-shaped world, such certainties about the outcome of the adventure are just not to be had in advance.

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Endnotes:

1 Many of these ideas stemmed from the national conference on “Theology After Google” at Claremont School of Theology in March, 2010. The audience and the presenters deserve credit for anything of value that follows. What you can find are videos of the talks, live interviews, and PowerPoint presentations at www.TransformingTheology.org.

2 Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).

3 Associated Press, “Survey: 72% of Millennials ‘more spiritual than reli­gious’,” USA Today, October 14, 2010

4 Peter Berger predicted this trend in his prophetic A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity (New York: Free Press, 1992). For an example, see Religion Dispatches.


Misunderstanding "Kingdom"

The Most Misused Biblical Term
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/features/25422-the-most-misused-biblical-term

Scot McKnight
Thursday, 28 April 2011

The most misused biblical term today is “Kingdom.”

One of my college students told me her sister was not working in the Church but was doing “Kingdom” work and “justice” work at a social service. Another student explained to me she was joining hands with a local inter-faith group to further peace. She called it “Kingdom” work and added, “It has nothing to do with the Church.” There’s a common theme here: the “Kingdom” is bigger and better than the “Church.”

We are using this word, “Kingdom,” both to cut out things we don’t like—evangelism and church—and to cast a vision for what we do like—justice and compassion. But it’s time to give this word “Kingdom” a fresh look, because we’re misusing it.

The word “kingdom” comes from Jesus, and so to Him and His Jewish world we must go. It was impossible in Jesus’ world to say “kingdom” and not think “king.” Either the word “king” referred to Caesar, the empire-building, worship-me-or-die emperor of Rome, or it referred to Israel’s hoped-for King, the Messiah. When Jesus said Kingdom, He meant the Messiah is the one true King and Caesar is not.

Furthermore, a first-century Jew couldn’t say “Kingdom” or “King” without also thinking of “Kingdom people” (or citizen-followers of the Messiah). The most unusual of people were Jesus’ Kingdom people—sinners, tax collectors, fishermen, hookers, demonized women and ordinary, poor Galileans. Jesus invited people to the place of Kingdom living and said anyone who was willing to turn from sins and injustice and economic exploitation and accumulation would find forgiveness and fellowship and freedom. So every evening, when Jesus decided to eat with His followers, He attracted a crowd, He told stories (parables) of what the Kingdom was like and He asked His listeners to join the movement. That table of fellowship embodied both who was following Jesus (or at least hearing Him out), and how they were to love one another in concrete deeds.

That was the Kingdom’s launch in Jesus’ day: King Jesus and His people sitting at a table telling stories.

But Jesus’ vision of Kingdom was even bigger than that. A scribe once asked Jesus a restrictive question: “Who is my neighbor?” But he meant, “What are the boundaries between God’s people (my neighbor) and all the rest?” Jesus turned that man inside out and told him the right question was, “To whom will you be neighborly?” Jesus’ answer was: “Anyone you meet. Especially the needy.” Jesus converted the restrictive question into an inclusive habit. Those who live out that inclusive habit are Kingdom people. King Jesus came to create a Kingdom people, and His Kingdom people are those who listen to Him and live out His Kingdom vision. They know His words and they abide in His words.

There’s a third element about what Kingdom means for Jesus. Kingdoms only work well when they have a constitution. The Jews of Jesus’ day called it “Torah.” Jesus swallowed up Israel’s Torah into His Kingdom vision—and it broke loose one day when He was teaching His disciples. We call it the Sermon on the Mount. This is the Torah for followers of King Jesus.

The biggest problem with the Church for many is that the people they know who go there don’t follow Jesus. Which is the exact reason why so many today want to disconnect Kingdom from Church: Too often a church looks like anything but the Kingdom because too many so-called Kingdom people don’t follow Jesus!

Christians need to sit down with the gospels, read them and compare the themes of Jesus’ Kingdom vision with the themes of many local churches.

I wish we would all dig in all over again and construct new foundations for a Kingdom vision of the Church. A church embodies themes like love, justice, peace and wisdom. The Kingdom church will not only talk about such themes, but will be a society marked by a Gospel justice, a Gospel peace and a Gospel wisdom. It will be a people who eat together, love one another and who see the needs in the world around them and do something about those needs. According to Jesus, a local church is designed to be a local fellowship of Kingdom people who love and follow King Jesus.

Instead of choosing either the Church or the Kingdom, Christians are called to see church as a living manifestation of the Kingdom.

I see a freshness about this in churches all around the world, churches devoted to being a community that serves the community, a fellowship that loves the neighbor, a church that cares for the poor and a society that is the fertile ground for a completely new society—the Kingdom society of Jesus.

Scot McKnight is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University. This article originally appeared in RELEVANT. To read more articles like this, you can subscribe by clicking here.

The Bible as Meta-Narrative

Saving the Theological Cat

by Mason Slater
April 28, 2011


If the bible is a story, or more accurately a library of storied testimonies which together tell a Story, that should shape how we study it, teach it, and live it. Right?

What would that look like though? Because it doesn’t seem like it would all that closely resemble the way we tend to approach the Bible today.

Sure, there are a few scholars who are trying to work out a storied approach to the Scriptures, and a number of pastors who are shifting the art of the sermon in response to this way of understanding the Bible. For that I’m thankful. They do seem to be in the minority though, and I’m not sure even those steps are enough to grapple with the paradigm shift this sets up.

See the concept of “story” is central to me for another reason as well, the role it plays in writing. As I’ve made my faltering attempts at putting down something worthwhile on paper or screen I’ve jumped at anything (books, blogs, disciplines) that could refine my writing. In the process I’ve noticed something.

People who tell stories professionally approach the task quite differently than (most) people who teach the Bible professionally.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, each has its strengths and weaknesses, but it is worth noting. Much professional study of Scripture feels highly scientific, filled with lengthy footnotes, parsing Greek verbs, and charts (Oh the charts!). Those things are needed, and actually there is a science to storytelling as well.

The difference seems to be this: storytellers learn the method and then tell stories (or teach English to apathetic high schoolers), whereas theologians often learn the method and then spend most of their time talking about the method. This seems to somewhat miss the point.

I know I’m painting with broad strokes here, and there are plenty of exceptions in both theology and storytelling. But on the whole, it seems to fit.

So I’ve taken up reading books about storytelling. This began as a way to help sort out my writing, but it has ended up being a valuable theological practice as well.

Right now it’s Save The Cat! (thanks to a recommendation by Don Miller), which is directed at screenwriters and focuses on issues like plot, characters, and archetypes. Besides being a great read, it also has helped me as a reader and teacher of Scripture. Next up will be James Bell (the less heretical of the Bells) with Plot & Structure .

Theology matters, but it matters as a tool. As N.T. Wright puts it, theology is a convenient shorthand for different elements of the story. We need the shorthand to speak coherently, but we also need to be able to unpack the story itself.

How might a storied reading of Scripture change how we do theology?

What resources could be helpful in that shift?

Bonus unfiltered musing: Is it possible to do theology as story? Jesus seemed to in the parables...

Even God Does Not Break Our Will


Rachel Held Evans
April 30, 2011

Today’s guest post comes to us from Elizabeth Esther—a mother of five, columnist, and blogger, who grew up in a strict fundamentalist environment and lived to write about it. She’s always got an interesting conversation happening on her blog, so be sure to check it out.

*****

In the fundamentalist church of my childhood, parents spanked their children until the “will was broken.” To achieve this, parents started spanking their babies at 6 months old. The idea was that if you broke the child’s will in infancy, you primed them to obey God for the rest of their lives.

I’m not here to debate whether spanking is right or not (I’ve seen it used both appropriately and abusively) because what really troubles me is the de facto assumption that breaking the human will is right and good. In my experience, that one belief was used as justification for all kinds of physical and spiritual abuse.

Even after leaving fundamentalism, I never really questioned the validity and necessity of breaking the human will. I simply concluded it was a good belief—just abusively misapplied.

It wasn’t until recently when I was reading about the persecution of Romanian Christians under Communist rule that something changed for me. According to the late Patriarch Theoctist of the Romanian Orthodox Church,

“Man has a very powerful will—so powerful that even God Himself does not break it. And by this [God] is actually showing that man is in the likeness of God. Without man’s will he could not make any progress on the way to goodness. So out of all the gifts that God grants the human being, we believe that freedom is one of the most important.” (Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, p.126).

I found myself almost weeping with recognition at these words and their hard-won insight. It is a perspective born of suffering, an epiphany emerging from the ashes of an oppressive belief system. This man shepherded his beleaguered, persecuted church through the long, dark years of Communism and for those deprived of freedom, the gift of freedom becomes one of the most important.

Although the oppression I experienced was spiritual, not political; the dynamics of control were the same. By actively seeking to break a child's will, parents unwittingly engaged in an obliteration of their child's individual personhood and freedom. When humans attempt to break another human will, they desecrate the likeness of God in that person and violate their God-given gift of freedom.

I find it remarkably beautiful that we actually need our intact, unbroken wills to “make progress on the way to goodness." Indeed, the road to holiness requires strong, powerful wills. It’s such a different thought than the kind of thoughts from my childhood. The difference is a yielded will versus a broken one. When your focus is breaking the will, the only obedience you can ever really expect is obligatory, perhaps even begrudged. But when your focus is winning the heart, obedience becomes a joyful love offering—a heart and will freely given.

In other words, I don’t obey God because He broke my will. I obey Him because His love pursued me and won my heart.

That is the kind of love I want to demonstrate to my own five children. By God's grace, I will.


Adam, Sin and Death - Part 2


by rjs5
April 28, 2011


The first post in this series, Adam, Sin, and Death - Part 1, opened with a question that asked how we learn to think about new challenges in a Christian manner. You could say how we think “biblically,” but that term often seems to be used for rules and prescriptions, extracting the commands from scripture and following them. When faced with new challenges, ones foreign to the original writers and original audience, rules and prescriptions are not enough.

The challenges raised by the age of the earth, evolutionary biology and common descent were not in play for the original audience. These are truly new issues. The original authors and audience had a different cosmology, a different understanding of biology, and a different understanding of human history. The text of scripture reflects the ancient near east cosmology, to a certain extent it reflects an ancient near east understanding of origins, but it takes that understanding to teach about the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, creator of heaven and earth. The question becomes identifying the dividing line between the incidental inclusion of an ancient understanding of the world and the revelation of God.

For many the most profound problems raised by evolution relate to Adam, the sin of Adam, and sinfulness in all of mankind. The issues are not raised by Genesis as much as they are raised by Paul. This issue was brought up again in the context of the post last week Test of Faith – Does Science Threaten Belief in God?. The comment, slightly edited, is given below.

I still, however, have trouble with the method Christians who believe in evolution use to mesh science and faith. For instance, do any of you who accept evolution believe “Adam” was a real person, our first parent, from whom we all descend?

If not, then I see a real problem because:

....

3. Paul certainly believed Adam was a real person in Romans 5 — as real as Christ.

4. The doctrine of original sin, and Paul’s main argument in Romans 5 are lost if we accept not that Adam is a real person.

5. Many would say it is heresy to deny any of scripture’s three imputations (a. the imputation of Adam’s sin to us. b. the imputation of our sin to Christ. c. the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us.). In fact, they would say the Gospel is at stake on this issue. A literal Adam is essential, which I tend to agree with.

6. The whole Bible unfolds as a plan of redemption based on the Adam and Eve story. Serious issues are at stake if this story is called a myth.

So I guess my question is can you believe in a literal Adam whom we all descended from and still believe in evolution. If not, I find it virtually impossible not to reject evolution. Thanks again for all the thoughtful comments.

The question of Adam is a particularly important place to learn how to think about questions in a Christian manner. Theology plays a role that is more significant than in the question of the age of the earth and the presence of death in deep time raised in the post on Tuesday.

Are these serious problems – serious enough to warrant the rejection of evolution?

The points brought up by the commenter are good points – these are not issues of inerrancy or genre in scripture, these are issues of theology and anthropology and they impact some key doctrines of the church. As we think through the problem we may in fact find that aspects of our understanding of sin in creation will have to adjust to new understandings of the world. Here is a place where science may force a rethinking of theology.

The idea that theology may need to be reshaped in response to what we learn about the world is something of a worrisome idea for many. The comment ends with a statement that reflects the sentiment of many. If evolution is not compatible with certain propositions or components of our theology then evolution must be rejected. The evidence for evolution is irrelevant. No evidence can possibly be sufficient because the issue is not God’s mechanism of creation, it is the rock bottom foundation of orthodox Christianity. Or so it seems. This leads to an ultimatum – either faith or science, Christianity or apostasy. The stakes are enormous and the questions can seem overwhelming.

There are still ways to think through the issues of Adam and sin. The most helpful involve considering carefully what is foundational and what is incidental to the biblical narrative and to our theology and doctrines. Here are three possible approaches to the question of Adam.

  • Paul teaches that sin entered through Adam, original sin poisoned the human race, and the sin of Adam is imputed to all making us (1) guilty before God in our own right and (2) guilty before God because we are human. Therefore Adam must have existed as a unique individual. The Genesis story is easiest to follow as history. Evolution is not true. Or, 
  • Paul teaches that sin entered through Adam, original sin poisoned the human race, and the sin of Adam is imputed to all making us (1) guilty before God in our own right and (2) guilty before God because we are human. Therefore Adam must have existed as a unique individual. Science demonstrates that man evolved in common descent with the rest of life. This also constitutes part of what we know of God’s work. Therefore one of the proposals put forth by people like John Stott, Denis Alexander, or Henri Blocher accommodating both evolution and Adam must be correct. Or, 
  • Adam did not exist as a unique individual, progenitor of the human race. The human population was never less than several thousand individuals. Therefore perhaps we misunderstand the nature of original sin and the imputation of Adam’s sin to all of mankind. These are not universal understandings in the church and we must reconsider and rethink our doctrine.
These approaches and variations on them represent those taken by many people in the conversation, both scientists and theologians. The are not exhaustive of all possibilities, nor are they intended to be. The first approach starts with a doctrine, and understanding of the faith, and holds tight to that understanding rejecting evolutionary biology. The second starts with science and the doctrine of sin and looks for a solution accommodating both. In some way science must conform to the theology. The third approach starts with science and seeks to conform theology and doctrine to the science.
  • Which approach outlined above seems more appropriate? Why?
  • Is there some other approach you would suggest?
  • What is your starting point when asking questions and searching for answers?
I’ll come back to these questions and more in future posts. They are not simple questions with short, five point answers deliverable in a sermon, a lecture, or a blog post. But today I would just like to throw it open for comments.