According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What Does an Engaging-Missional Church Look Like?

First Jones, then Roberts....

"Our primary mission of to serve, to love, to heal,
to witness to the love of Christ" - Halter

"I wonder if Christianity is rejected by many for its lack of serious
intellectual engagement with major, pressing issues?" - Roberts

"It’s really quite impossible to shake religion and simply follow
Jesus. To do the latter requires engaging the cultural and
sociological realities we call ‘religion.’ - Roberts

by Tony Jones
April 20, 2012

You’ve heard it, and now it’s been confirmed by a major survey from Georgetown University and the Public Religion Research Institute: the Millennial Generation is leaving church, faith, and orthodox belief. Everyone who reads this blog should read this study:
Younger Millennials report significant levels of movement from the religious affiliation of their childhood, mostly toward identifying as religiously unaffiliated. While only 11% of Millennials were religiously unaffiliated in childhood, one-quarter (25%) currently identify as unaffiliated, a 14-point increase. Catholics and white mainline Protestants saw the largest net losses due to Millennials’ movement away from their childhood religious affiliation.

Today, college-age Millennials are more likely than the general population to be religiously unaffiliated. They are less likely than the general population to identify as white evangelical Protestant or white mainline Protestant.

Millennials also hold less traditional or orthodox religious beliefs. Fewer than one-quarter (23%) believe that the Bible is the word of God and should be taken literally, word for word. About 1-in-4 (26%) believe Bible is the word of God, but that not everything in the Bible should be taken literally. Roughly 4-in-10 (37%) say that the Bible is a book written by men and is not the word of God.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Fixing Christianity’s ‘Image Problem’:
Hugh Halter’s "Sacrilege"
Part 1
Posted on by admin

This is the first of what might be several posts in Patheos’ online book discussion of Hugh Halter’s Sacrilege: Finding Life in the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus (Baker, 2011). I was happy to join in the discussion because I am interested in what the “missional church” movement is up to these days. Halter’s is the national director of Missio and the “lead architect” of Adullam, a network of missional communities in Denver, CO.

One thing is clear: the author succeeds in communicating a passion for God’s mission for the world and for God’s love for all people, particularly for those the Church excludes or leaves behind.

In sum, Halter wants Christians to step out of their comfort zones, to quit being hypocrites and pious jerks, and to start being more intentionally relational, more authentic, and more accepting and hospitable toward the “least of these” (sound familiar?)

In short, Halter says, Christians should be more of what they claim to be: followers of Jesus. Jesus hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers—in short, with “sinners”—and Christians should model Jesus’ life, relationships, and Kingdom values.

There is of course, more to it than this. Halter shows how Jesus knocked down people’s sacred cows. He challenged their assumptions about what counts as “righteous” and “holy.”

  • He taught and showed a new way to live, a way that is outwardly directed rather than internally focused. He ate and drank with sinners—and so should we.
  • He exhibited a posture of grace, openness and forgiveness toward sinners—and so should we.
  • He denounced religious hypocrisy, blasting away at unjust religious systems and structures–and so should we.
  • Religion (read: religiosity) excludes, rather than includes; it judges rather than embraces; it denies rather than affirms, it kills rather than makes alive.

In short, Halter says, Jesus practiced the art of “sacrilege”: or of “tipping holy cows” (p. 32) And Jesus invites us, his “apprentices,” to do the same. As we follow Jesus in obedience, we will step out of our comfort zones, think little of our religiosity, and passionately engage God’s mission of unconditionally loving the world. Following Jesus means setting aside our own personal interests, comforts, peripheral but cherished theological agendas, and embracing sinners (“shaking hands with the world”) in the name of Christ.

I appreciate much of what Halter does here. He wants to get us out of our chairs, churches and offices and out into “the world.” He rightfully challenges our complacency, self-righteousness, and judgmental attitudes. But for the sake of dialogue, I want to raise some critical questions.

Halter has a real concern with Christianity’s “image problem” (it really bothers him): non-Christians perceive many Christians as judgmental, angry, self-righteous, “holier-than-thou,” and so forth. And he’s right: some (or many) Christians do seem to fit the bill. There’s no denying the image problem, as we witness the decline of American Christianity right before our eyes. And I think part of Halter’s response to this image problem is exactly right: if Christians would spend more time and energy serving and loving the outsider rather than condemning them or trying to preserve “family values” at all costs, this might change.

At other times, however, Halter’s solution to the problem seems a bit superficial: maybe if more Christians would just loosen up, get a tattoo or two (he’s quite proud of his, it seems!) and drink good microbrews (I can go with him on that one), we could fix our image problem. In other words, be “real,” enjoy life (and food and drink), and don’t let your religious stuffiness preclude genuine relationships with outsiders to the faith.

Well and good. But what’s the line between a serious response to the image problem and a superficial one? Can the problem really be addressed by how we market Christianity—and even by how we market ourselves? Should pastors follow Halter’s example, calling themselves “non-profit consultants” rather than pastors, in order to dodge negative perception? Maybe a better response is to show that a pastor doesn’t need to be a hypocrite?

Finally, I can’t help but feel that, if a major problem is that too many Christians are judgmental jerks, will a book like this really help correct the problem? Will judgmental jerks want to read this book in the first place?

In my next post, I plan to raise what I think are more significant issues: (1) the problematic separation of “religion” and “following Jesus” (which is a large component of Halter’s book), (2) the problem of Halter’s claim to have read the “real Jesus” off the pages of the Gospels. (3) Finally, I will suggest that maybe Halter’s desire for “sacrilege” could be furthered by showing, more explicitly, the connections between theological understanding and missional practice.

Less Doctrine, More Mission?
A Critique of Halter "Pro & Con"
Part 2
Posted on by admin

Why are our churches dying? Why is the influence of believers decreasing? Why is our Christian way losing its voice and respect in this country? The answer may be found, to start with, in our arrogance and overconfidence on many noncritical theological positions” – Hugh Halter, Sacrilege (p. 71)

Halter is convinced that much of Christianity’s image problem lies in our lack of epistemological and doctrinal humility. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, Christians are prone to constructing systems of thought and walls of doctrine that keep people out, rather than invite people in and that turn people off rather than compel them.

Halter seems to think of theology as primarily either dogma or doctrine and thereby with a primarily negative opinion (or at least that’s how it comes across to me). Dogma is theology petrified. Doctrine includes “pet” interpretations of Scripture, that are divisive, detractions from the primary mission of reaching out to the world with the love of Jesus. Witness, Halter says, the splintering of Christianity into ‘hundreds’ of denominations (actually, I’m pretty sure the number is around 38,000).

Of course, Halter is right that Christians can be so concerned with theological precision and doctrinal correctness that we forget or ignore our primary mission of to serve, to love, to heal, to witness to the love of Christ. Halter is critiquing a particular way of thinking about theology, a particular kind of theology that is self-concerning, speculative, and purportedly “objective”–the proverbial “angels on pin-heads.”

But doctrinal arguments (even ones we might–in hind-sight–think of as “petty” or the consequence of “pet interpretations”) are very often serious, heart-felt and earnest communal acts of soul-searching and Bible reading. They involve conflicts of interpretation regarding what it means to follow Jesus in the first place. What does it mean to love? What does it mean to speak truth? What does it mean to “do justice and seek mercy and walk humbly with thy God?” “Following Jesus”, it seems to me anyway, is not nearly as self-evident as Halter suggests.

I’ve been a part of numerous church small group discussions in which people earnestly try to figure out what it means, practically, to serve the poor, widows and orphans. Do we forgo our children’s education account? Do we spend family spring break vacation serving the poor, rather than visiting Grandparents? Do we replace our old, leaky refrigerator or buy a one for a needy family? As much as it can seem like “diversion,” practical questions abound.

Further, the current conflicts within many denominations and churches today over gay marriage and gay ordination are prime examples of the genuine struggles of theological and biblical interpretation. People on both sides of the issue sincerely believe they are following Jesus in their reading of Scripture and in their response to the Spirit; it is precisely their differing convictions about what it means to be an “apprentice” of Jesus (to use Halter’s term) that leads to conflict.

You could say the same thing about the nature of baptism, the practice of Eucharist, and any number of theological/doctrinal issues upon which unity was either threatened or disrupted, leading to new denominational bodies. In this sense, I think Halter sounds similar to my favorite religious philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, who famously noted that "the problem with Christianity isn’t that the Bible is hard to understand; rather, the problem is with our disobedient hearts."

I’ve always liked this sentiment and, in principle, it’s easy to agree with. Just focus on the things that are ‘clear,’ do what is right, and quit using theological and hermeneutical conflicts and ambiguities as an excuse to evade the hard demands of the New Testament. But, on closer look, it’s not so easy to separate the “clear” from the ambiguous. Or, we should be at least honest and recognize that what we assume is clear is not always so (or, at the very least, its significance may be far from self-evident).

Furthermore, I wonder if one of the “image problems” that Christianity suffers today is actually a different problem from the one that piques Halter’s interest? I wonder if Christianity is rejected by many for its lack of serious intellectual engagement with major, pressing issues? I wonder if the unwillingness of many of its leaders to offer theological reflection in preaching and church life is actually a root cause of its perceived (or actual) irrelevance?

Another thought: Halter wants to distinguish between religion (or what he thinks of as ‘religiosity’) and following Jesus (or in his preferred terminology: being apprentices of Jesus). This differentiation reminded me of the spoken word video that recently went massively viral. The poet, Jefferson Bethke, contrasted false religion with ‘true Christianity,’ suggesting that it is somehow possible to escape the trappings of religion and follow Christ purely, authentically, and to leave ‘religion’ behind in order to serve the world in the name of Jesus. As several commenters have pointed out (of Bethke), while some elements and expressions of Christianity are unhelpful and destructive, while its institutional religious forms are often in need of critique and deconstruction, and while proponents and practitioners of Christianity are often prone to hypocrisy and judgmental attitudes, it’s really quite impossible to shake religion and simply follow Jesus. To do the latter requires engaging in those cultural and sociological realities we call ‘religion.’

...As an aside, Relevancy22 is attempting to do this very thing
Jesus, Religion, and Relationships

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