Missional Expectations

The Dwelling Place has always defined itself as a missional faith community. Granted, we’ve been labeled an emergent church which I don’t care about because people love their categories and will use them to embrace and vilify you. Defending the emergent church or being missional is not part of my mission. In fact, arguing over the emergent church, its theology, etc. sounds like arguments that few but the inside care about (I get that arguments like these and things like the “ontological Christ” are important in some circles—and I know it’s hard to get our missiology correct if our theology is suspect—but in the final analysis, the bulk of my conversations are not with inside folks).

Generally, I’ve seen three models of what folks call emergent church. So most of the time we’re trapped between the traditional crowd believing us to be “different” to the point of being suspect and emerging/emergent folks playing “more emergent than thou.” Basically, the thing I’ve taken away most from the ongoing emergent conversation is the idea of rethinking what it means to be the church. As a faith community, is our chief responsibility to focus on how to teach and transmit faith? Are we to be a social service provider, a religious service provider, and follow a business model? Are we to build grand testaments to our empire and hope to attract people to our weekly production?

Basically I’ve been stung by two recent articles. The first by Alan Hirsch called Definining Missional. He recovers the roots of what it means to be missional this way:

Missional is not synonymous with emerging. The emerging church is primarily a renewal movement attempting to contextualize Christianity for a postmodern generation. Missional is also not the same as evangelistic or seeker-sensitive. These terms generally apply to the attractional model of church that has dominated our understanding for many years. Missional is not a new way to talk about church growth. Although God clearly desires the church to grow numerically, it is only one part of the larger missional agenda. Finally, missional is more than social justice. Engaging the poor and correcting inequalities is part of being God’s agent in the world, but we should not confuse this with the whole.

A proper understanding of missional begins with recovering a missionary understanding of God. By his very nature God is a “sent one” who takes the initiative to redeem his creation. This doctrine, known as missio Dei—the sending of God—is causing many to redefine their understanding of the church. Because we are the “sent” people of God, the church is the instrument of God’s mission in the world. As things stand, many people see it the other way around. They believe mission is an instrument of the church; a means by which the church is grown. Although we frequently say “the church has a mission,” according to missional theology a more correct statement would be “the mission has a church.”

On the flip side, I was equally chastened by Dan Kimball’s Missional Misgivings. Most on point was this criticism:

We all agree with the theory of being a community of God that defines and organizes itself around the purpose of being an agent of God’s mission in the world. But the missional conversation often goes a step further by dismissing the “attractional” model of church as ineffective. Some say that creating better programs, preaching, and worship services so people “come to us” isn’t going to cut it anymore. But here’s my dilemma—I see no evidence to verify this claim.

… some from our staff recently visited a self-described missional church. It was 35 people. That alone is not a problem. But the church had been missional for ten years, and it hadn’t grown, multiplied, or planted any other churches in a city of several million people. That was a problem.

Church ought to be put together in a way that makes sense. The missional model is more focused on deploying people, not attracting people. Drawing people out, finding their gifts, figuring out their callings, then sending them out to be a blessing in the world. In other words, we need to be about the doing.

The model of church that makes the most sense for me is family. Sundays are the family meeting, including the family dinner (Communion as our soul food). But we aren’t family just on Sundays, but have to be family during the week also. Families are hard and are re-defined with each addition. We don’t assimilate new members (to make them “one of us”) as much as add their gifts to our own. There is no privileged place and we learn and are taught in midst of life. We build communities of hope, full of hopeful possibility and people living from a place of hope.

And families grow. The goal of parents is to raise their children to be able to start their own families. It is anticipated, planned, and celebrated. You start your own family, you don’t take your brothers and sisters and begin a family.

Before I strain that analogy any further, I’d say missional churches operate from an organic paradigm , without a predetermined ministry method but rather letting their context determine their ministries. The environment should draw out people’s affinities and nurture people’s giftings. And the leadership should cultivate that environment. If you have the environment right, fruit happens naturally.

Believing in deep ecclesiology means that I’ve come to terms with the idea that there needs to be room for all kinds of church expressions, from the attractional model/mega-church to the niche church/coffee shop model. I know I’ve been quick to criticize mega-churches and touting how we’re “not about numbers”. At the same time, if we don’t grow, but rather remain static, we’re a collection of friends hanging out discussing spiritual issues, which isn’t bad, but not all we’re called to be.

I’m still waiting this wondrous conversation between the races promised by the emergent church, but I find that true across the board when it comes to the church. In the mean time, we’re to be communities of faith, hope, and love. We can have all the faith we want, but without love, it’s worthless. It’s sad that I have to remind myself that this includes loving my fellow Jesus people.

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And now a self-serving press release – The Church Basement Roadshow

Emergent Church Leaders offer new vision for Christians; bringing their message of change and hope to Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS, July 14–Controversial for a “nothing is too sacred to be questioned” theology, Tony Jones and two other emergent church leaders will conclude their nationwide tour in Indianapolis.

The trio, Jones, along with Doug Pagitt and Mark Scandrette, will be speaking and performing at Lockerbie Central United Methodist Church on Monday, August 4th at 7:00 PM. Under the guise of The Church Basement Roadshow: A Rollin’ Gospel Revival, the three will spread the emergent message of a generous, hope-filled Christian faith in the style and cadence of the tent revival preachers of a hundred years ago.

They plan to have fun with the tent revival theme, even wearing frock suits and selling healing balm. “This will be unlike any book tour people have seen,” said Jones. “We’ll be barnstorming the country, shaking the rafters with our ancient-future message of hope.” “People will laugh and sing,” Scandrette added, “But they’ll also be challenged to join the Jesus Revolution.”

Jones, Pagitt, and Scandrette have acquired many fans and critics. As leading voices in the emergent movement–the decade-old phenomenon of pastors, artists, and churchgoers who are rethinking church and Christianity—the three are wary of the narrow and failed politics of the Christian right. In turn, they are also dismayed by the plight and declining influence of the more liberal protestant churches.

Through their writings, work as pastors, and community outreach, Jones, author of The New Christians, Pagitt, author of A Christianity Worth Believing, and Scandrette, author of Soul Graffiti, have sought a different and hopeful vision for the church. Ultimately, their hope for Christianity is one that that they feel makes more sense for a globalized, pluralistic, postmodern world.

The authors’ books have found critical acclaim. Publisher’s weekly called Jones’ The New Christians ““the single best introduction to the Emergent Church movement…. The mainline denominations are dying, and the hyperindividualism of evangelicalism is unsatisfying, so many…have decided to recreate church for postmodern times.”

About the Authors/Performers
Tony Jones is the national coordinator of Emergent Village (www.emergentvillage.org), and a doctoral fellow in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Doug Pagitt is the founder of the network that became Emergent Village, and he is the founder and pastor of Solomon’s Porch, regularly recognized as one of the most innovative churches in the world. Doug speaks across the country and internationally about missional Christianity and church leadership, and he has appeared on ABC, CNN, PBS, NPR, and in the New York Times.

Mark Scandrette is the executive director and cofounder of ReIMAGINE, a center for spiritual formation in San Francisco that sponsors city-based learning initiatives, peer learning groups, and the Jesus Dojo, a year-long intensive formation process inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus. Mark is a founding member of SEVEN, a monastic community working as advocates for holistic and integrative Christian spirituality. He is a recognized speaker and poet, and his innovative

For more information on the Church Basement Roadshow visit to Indianapolis, please contact Mike Oles, 317-354-3207, mikeoles3@mac.com. Also, please visit the official Church Basement Roadshow webpage at www.churchbasementroadshow.com

Lockerbie Central is at 237 N. East St., Indianapolis. Admission is $10.

About: Lockerbie Central United Methodist is a progressive and emergent church located in downtown Indianapolis. The 150 year old church building not only hosts worship services, but is home to an all organic and fair trade coffee shop, a lively lineup of arts events, and cutting edge organizing around poverty and environmental issues.

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I’m Sending Emerging Kids to Hell

Don’t ask me how I ended up helping with the kids ministry at our church.

Our overall philosophy was that we wanted everyone as much a part of our main gathering as possible, figuring that we all learn from each other, grandparents, parents, and kids. Practically speaking, we ended up having a nursery but that left us with the question “what do we do with our 6 – 12 year olds?”

A guy who was visiting one of our elder meetings talked about a kids class where the kids essentially taught themselves. They speak each other’s language, pay attention more, and even handle keeping order in the class. They lead the songs, lead the prayer, prepare lessons, and prepare activities to flesh out the lesson.

Now, bright though our children may be, I don’t think they’ll be setting the stories they are learning within the context of the greater story of the Bible or tying everything back to Christ and kingdom work/living. So adults would be needed to help facilitate the discussions. Plus, I know our kids and left to their own devices, this would quickly turn into “Lord of the Flies … In Jesus’ Name” (replete with images of a lone adult tied up in a corner while the kids plotted).

This sounded so good in theory.

Still wanting to keep them in the service as much as possible, we stay in for the music and prayer, but when He Who Would Be Head Pastor begins speaking, we go back to our room. The first day’s class was made up of my two boys, my sister’s two kids, and one of our elders two kids. Maybe I shouldn’t have made the observation that I have license to beat two-thirds of the class. When it came to opening us in prayer, I turned to my eldest son, my name sake, jewel of my crown who comes back with “I don’t know how to pray. You never taught me.”

So after a rocky start (come to find out that some of our kids have some real control issues), we’ve been falling into a nice rhythm, to the point where my kids drag me out of bed to get to church on Sunday mornings. I’ve always wanted the kind of kids ministry where kids can ask any questions they wanted and the teachers would serious wrestle with their questions. So here’s the question of the day for my theologically minded friends (because no one warned me that our kids were so bright):

We’ve spent the last month or so going over the story of the Ten Commandments (we’ve spent three weeks on what “honor your father and mother” means). Anyway, the following discussion breaks out:

Emmi: Well, our baby sister died last year and she’s in heaven. When you’re a kid, God doesn’t hold you responsible for not knowing and obeying the Ten Commandments.

Me: You’re not seriously bringing up the age of accountability issue, right? How old are you?

Ian: Wait a second. If we’re not accountable until we’ve been taught the Ten Commandments and you’ve just taught us the Ten Commandments, if I die today, I could go to hell?

Me: This is your take home lesson? How old are you?

Maggie: I’m telling my mom you just taught us into hell.

Luckily, I have a co-conspirator in this (the elder/mother of the other two kids). I most certainly almost made He Who Would Be Head Pastor pull his sermon over to come back and talk to the kids. How would you answer this question?

(I actually did come up with something, after I let the kids wrestle with answering the question themselves–“That’s a good question. We’re going to go over it some more next week. Try not to die before then.”–then being frightened at how smart they are. We discussed how best to live rather than living to stay out of hell. Each week is a reminder that we start asking very real and very important questions early on and that it’s good to have folks who not only listen and take you seriously, but wrestle with the questions alongside you. I STILL need that.)

There’s probably a book idea in here somewhere.

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Emerging Frustrations

Over the past year or so, it seems like about half a dozen or so churches popping up in the Indianapolis area under the umbrella of being “emergent” (however you choose to define the term; Lord knows I’ve tried before). The Dwelling Place is often called an emergent church (and I have no problem being labeled such), although we tend to refer to ourselves as a missional church (why? Because like any other “denomination”, the term “emergent” comes with a lot of baggage/doesn’t seem to mean anything to most people; whereas the word “missional” people can intuitively grasp).

There has been some great posts on the different models of emerging churches, but I’m much more of a pragmatist than theologian/philosopher. For me, in practice, churches that call themselves emergent tend to fall into one of three camps:

1. Too hip by half. These are what I call the “trappings” brand of churches. It was part of my lament from attending the 2004 Emergent Convention. I saw a lot of people over-emphasizing cosmetic changes and doing creative/“edgy” things almost for their own sake. A more cynical person would accuse them of attempting to re-create their college praise experience or venting their youth leader traumas. At any rate, they seem to be the equivalent to traditional/contemporary worship schisms where the only difference in the service was the brand of music (hymns vs. choruses) played.

2. Traditional looking. When all is said and done, I don’t think The Dwelling Place looks overtly much different than the kind of church I grew up with. Occasionally, candles and media clips are used, but for the most part, none of the boogeyman aspects people have attached to the word “emergent” could be seen there. (One friend of mine said that “I don’t know why you don’t just call yourself American Orthodox and be done with it.”)

3. The picnic set. Foregoing entire the idea of organized “church”, they’ve abandoned anything resembling a traditional model. You never know where you’ll find them (though a coffee shop is a pretty good guess. Emergent folks tend to love coffee and beer.)

So what makes them emergent? Maybe it can be described as an attitude, a matter of their posture. What I mean is that they are about conversation and questioning, meeting people where they are, and realizing that if we can’t be certain about anything, we can learn from anyone. This includes the consumeristic folks in need of the familiar, that is, they need the “look” of the kind of church they grew up in, even though they know they will be stretched out of that mindset (too often emergent folks have a chip on their shoulder against “churched” folk). In other words, there is room for all.

At the same time, they can’t neglect the business of church. Church isn’t always going to look the same. However, I do have a concern about the picnic types. I understand that spiritual times and conversations can be had with a gathering of friends watching an episode of Lost or getting together at a coffee house. The Holy Spirit is present (as the verse goes, where two or more are gathered), so I don’t want to sell Her short.

It’s just that in our hyper-individualistic reaction to the idea of church (and the need to be constantly entertained), we can’t forget the business of church. Spiritual formation. Discipleship. Communion. Being Transformational.

We are to become new creatures, a people of God. Corporate worship should neither be a pep rally nor a lecture hall, but a place for interacting with God, the Word, and the Table (Communion). It should shape who we are. Our individual inner journeys should lead to a heart change and from that heart change, we should be lead to an outward journey of loving other people – done in community.

Jesus already told us the church is a mess and that He’ll sort it out in the end. In the mean time, welcome the stranger and join with others. Continue God’s mission (because He’s already at work) of redeeming the world (the missional aspect of what we should be about). Whether we eat or go to parties, our lives are a mission, an incarnational ministry. And only through continual incarnation is the work of the church done.

I believe in God. I believe in the church.

Still, I always have to question any organization that will have me as a member.

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Midwest Emergent Conference 2007: Emerging Highlights Part II

While I started out expression my concerns about the emerging church movement as I prepared to attend the Midwest Emergent Conference, I realized that I probably ought to back and and describe what the emergent church is (rather than “is not”). Scot McKnight gives a more cogent analysis of the Emergent Church movement in The Covenant Companion called “The Future or Fad: A Look at the Emerging Church Movement”. For those that have no idea what I am talking about when I refer to the “emerging church”, McKnight defines it this way:

So what exactly is the emerging movement—or the emerging church as it sometimes known—all about? It is a conversation about the future direction of the evangelical church in a postmodern world; it’s a reaction and a protest against traditional evangelical churches; and it’s a conversation focused less on theological niceties and more on “performing” the gospel in a local setting.

“Emerging movement” is an umbrella term that refers to a group of churches, pastors, writers, and bloggers who are exploring the missional significance of culture, philosophy, and theology in a postmodern context. Within the EM is the Emergent Village organization, largely an American group identified with Brian McLaren, Ivy Beckwith, Tim Keel, Chris Seay, Doug Pagitt, Dan Kimball, and Karen Ward, along with Andrew Jones (a.k.a., the “Tall Skinny Kiwi”) who lives in the United Kingdom. Other emerging voices of sorts would be Rob Bell, author of Velvet Elvis, and John Burke, author of No Perfect People Allowed.

The emerging church is a threat to some folks. We have seen the accumulated of property, money, endowments, institutions, and entrepreneurs (cults of personality) as a part of church institutional growth and empire building. For the power and influence to continue, there is the need to self-perpetuate, including the need to build more seminaries and ministries. Sadly, some groups are organized in such a way as to target an enemy because they need an enemy/controversy to justify their existence. They need to flex to demonstrate their relevance. And rally the troops.

As long as bills are being paid and numbers remain up, the church won’t ask missional questions, like “how can we live out being a blessing to the world?” However, in some circles, the numbers have already started to dip and we’ve already lost a generation of folks. Facing a loss of empire, some of us have gripped harder in our efforts to maintain control. Those who can speak to that generation scares us (especially if we aren’t doing it the way we are used to). We need to be challenged but we don’t always react well when those of us with “power” are questioned.

Sorry if my use of “we” for everyone confuses anyone. I am trying to use “we” because we, all of us, are still the church. Church is like family: you have folks you claim and folks you have to claim, but you’re all still family. You just try to make the best of it and be the best family you can (sometimes you have to get your people some help). That’s the thing that, as I hear things, I don’t hear enough of: I hear plenty of the “we hate church/what the church has become” and not enough “we are the church”.

It’s easy to have criticisms in a vacuum, randomly raging to any who will listen; a lot more difficult (though more useful if you’re interested in genuine conversation) when you go to the folks you have issues with. Which brings me to the Midwest Emergent Conference (as usual, this is a long way to get to my point – Rich Vincent, my roommate for the conference, summarized things succinctly). My two major highlights centered around food:

1) Friday lunch with Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Annie Gill-Bloyer, John Armstrong, me, and Rich.
2) Saturday lunch with Alise Barrymore and James King.

Sitting down with Tony Jones and getting to pick his brain really eased a lot of my concerns (though it’s always funny to watch the gap between what the “pioneers” of a movement think and how their teachings get acted out – wait, never mind, I think I just summed up all of church history) .

I had been frustrated by the emergent conversation in that I have seen a lot of talk, but not enough doing, especially in terms of racial inclusion. I get what Spencer Burke was saying when even asking the questions and having the conversation is important, but I was feeling Andre Daley when he was exclaiming why he was post-Emergent. So my second highlight/lunch came as an answer to prayer. Tony and I had a long conversation about black folks in the conversation and the next day I am introduced to Alise Barrymore and James King of The Emmaus Community. That conversation will be reverberating with me over the next few months as I continue to digest and learn from it.

Actually, that conversation pretty much sums up why I enjoyed this conference so much. It really was a chance to learn as well as have good conversations. I tend to judge conventions based on the contacts I made, and let me say that there will be a lot of work for me to do spring-boarding from this conference.

I’m still questioning and searching. We are to be culturally aware, sensitive, contextualized. None of us invent the faith; we either assent to it or we pass on it. Church still has to be about teaching, about spiritual formation, about taking communion and manifesting the kingdom – when it isn’t, it (has) failed. Just like I know that my thoughts on God aren’t absolute, but there are absolutes. We can’t know comprehensively, but we can know truly. We need to get comfortable with the idea that we’re only going to get glimpses of how things are supposed to be. And we need to keep working toward what we know we’re supposed to be.

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Midwest Emergent Conference 2007: Emerging Criticisms Part I

A friend of mine once said that “I don’t know why Emergents just don’t call themselves American Orthodox and be done with it.” I guess one reason is that such a naming would reduce them to yet another “brand name”/denomination rather than being provocateurs of conversation. I tend to go into situations with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. It’s how I roll. The Midwest Emergent Conference was no different: I had some questions, some criticisms, and some conversations needing to be had all rolling around in my head ever since the last emergent convention I attended. Not the least of which was the topic of black folks in the conversation.

I’ve had some concerns about the emergent movement and you can probably pick up the tenor of my own prejudices (tinged with cynicism) in how I ask the questions. Too often I encounter an attitude of pride of acting like we’ve discovered something new and cool, like we’re the ones who have gotten things right (an attitude I know that I have been perfectly guilty of and thus my frequent prayer). As John Armstrong says, “no, we’re simply ahistorical”. We forget that the church has been around for a couple thousand years and a lot of the questions we’re asking now have been asked from the beginning. It’s not the asking of the questions that is bad, it’s the attitude of having (KNOWING) the answers that concerns me.

The Emergent discussion continues the same Protestant trajectory of “the church is screwed up and/or heading in the wrong direction” which seems to only promulgates the sectarianism that already runs so rampant among us. That “we’re better than you” that mentality of if you don’t agree with me, I can’t walk with you” attitude that usually leads to more division.

I don’t want to get caught up in faddism or of being “cool” (whatever that means when it comes to religion, church, and God). I saw that as ridiculous in high school and I don’t want to start buying into it now.

I hear promises to re-imagine church which sounds more like recontextualizing the church/Gospel in a postmodern paradigm. Yet while we have no problem criticizing the modern paradigm it seems like there is a near wholesale acceptance of the postmodern one (postmodernism may only be the tail end of modernity, the problem of naming our epochs while still entering them). Which would mean that we’re still culturally captive.

I sometimes wonder about how we approach issues of social justice. I’m pro-social justice issues, but leery of jumping into bed with politics. I’d hate to see the church reduced to being the chaplain for liberals (learning nothing from too many of us positioning the church as the chaplain for conservatives).

I wonder when the gender inclusivity of language issues will pop up in earnest. What will it do to the Father/Son language?

With our reaction to church as we’ve experienced it, from fundamentalism to the business model, we know that control and efficiency is not a model for family nor how to do church. However, we can’t just have picnics with strangers and call it church.

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Spooning with Rich

Rich Vincent has been one of my spiritual mentors for as long as I’ve known him and he’s now the Senior Pastor of Immanuel Church in West Bend, Wisconsin. As it was halfway between each of us, we decided to go to the Midwest Emergent Conference partly as an excuse to hang out with each other. Now, I’ve known the man for 11 plus years now, so I don’t know why I act surprised every time I hang out with him. A summary of my time with Rich:

Two weeks ago:
M: Hey Rich, since the conference starts so early on Friday, why don’t we go ahead and get the hotel room for Thursday night also? That way we don’t have to deal with Chicago rush hour traffic.
R: Nah, we’ll just leave early on Friday. It’s all good.

Thursday night. 10:00 pm
R: Dude, I’m getting a room so that we don’t have to deal with Chicago traffic. Why don’t you come up early?

Friday morning. 2:30 am
M: I thought we had double beds?
R: Had to trade it for a single king. We can smoke cigars in here.
M: We?
R: You get second hand enjoyment.

M: Dude!
R: Sorry about that. I had chili cheese fries for lunch.

Friday Morning. 7:15 am
M: Dude!
R: It’s a gift.

R: 7:30 had bowel movement.
M: What are you doing?
R: It’s important to keep detailed notes of your life.

At the Conference.
R: Let’s pretend we’re homosexual lovers and see just how open this group is.
M: Get your arm from around me. You so wouldn’t be my type.

Saturday Morning. 8:00 am
R: Dude!
M: Brothas for Dutch Ovens, baby!

At the Conference
R: I’m down, homie.
M: What have I told you about doing that in public?

In other words, it was another successful hang out time with Rich. Oddly enough, he recalls this past weekend slightly differently than I do.

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Prayer of Emergence

Dear God,

Save me from the pride of having things figured out. The arrogance of thinking I’m doing things the right way. That everyone else is wrong and I’m the only one who sees what went wrong. As if I know how to do things correctly; that somehow, I’m smart or insightful enough to be able to ride in on a high horse of judgment. Save me from my vision of religion and spirituality blinding me from loving others.

Save me from the spirit of bitterness against the church. My frustrations at our inability to be the kind of loving community You called us to be. The shoddy treatment I may have experienced at the hands. The let-downs and disappointments – it’s easy to focus on the Church’s shortcomings. Just as it’s easy to forget that the Church is us and You don’t focus on our short-comings. Let me remember all of the wrongs the Church has committed in Your Name, let every experience sear my heart so that they won’t be repeated on my watch. Help me to remember that the Church is Your bride, however numerous her faults, and how you’ve chosen to bring about Your kingdom.

Save me from the spirit of hearing sermons “so and so” should be hearing or reading books “so and so” should read, but help me to realize that I’m the one who should be hearing and reading. Help me to do my part to inflict less damage into the world. Remind me that I am here to love “those people”, too. Remind me that too often I’ve been a part of the problem.

Save me from my own hubris of the rightness of my spiritual journey. Help me as I work out my journey. Reveal Your Word to me in a fresh way so that I may know you better. Let my questions draw me closer to the reality of You. Let my life reflect Your love and healing. Let my actions help bring reconciliation.

Prayerfully, I’d settle for at least being on the right track.

Ever stumbling toward faith,

Maurice

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Who Are You Having These Conversations With? Part II

So, I’m getting caught up on the various blogs I read when “He Who Would Be Head Pastor” points out to me that me and one of my message board moderators were on a list of folks called out by someone “looking for a fight.”

Christians love a good fight.

There’s nothing that gets the old spiritual blood pumping like going to war knowing you are on the side of truth. Even when you have apparently run out of targets and have to turn on each other. I’d daresay we spend more time fighting with each other than anyone else. Probably because we have to know “teh truth!1!” before we can proclaim it to anyone else. And you know, this sort of fractious behavior is definitely what we’re called to do, who needs all that silly reconciliation?

If you want to engage me in a conversation, engage me. Don’t try to maneuver me into some manufactured debate-cum-marketing scam. If picking fights is your idea of reaching out in love, then, well, go with your conscious. I tell folks on my message board all the time that just because an ass brays in a field, that doesn’t fill me with the need to jump down and bray alongside him.

Postmodern Negro sums it up best for me:

I saw my name on the list so I thought I’d put in my two cents. I remember reading Walter Martin’s “Kingdom of the Cults” years ago. I remember the end of each chapter where he’d compare each religious cult with the ‘clear teaching of scripture’. He’d say this is what the Mormons say and this is what the ‘bible’ says. And so forth. It would have been better for him to have said this is what Mormons say and this is what my own Christian tradition, Fundamentalist/Evangelical Protestantism says. He would have been a bit more honest if he had said that. The same goes for the many ‘critics’ of emergent and Brian McLaren in particular. Rather than say emergents say this and the bible says that it would be a bit more helpful for this discussion if there was a bit more transparency. That’s one issue. These guys don’t speak for ‘Christianity’! They speak from their on tradition-dependent concerns.

Which leads to why I haven’t responded to these guys. For the most part these guys don’t hang around my cultural orbit. I like to read some white male theologians…mainly the ones that are open to discussing broader issues. The guys that have mostly criticized emergent tend to be a white male theological conservative ghetto…so they don’t really speak to the concerns I have as an African-american Christian deeply wedded to the black prophetic Christian tradition. The issues these guys mostly raise are issues of concern for folks who hold to a foundationalist Euro-centric reading of the gospel. Its mainly out of my orbit…so I don’t really pay attention to it.

One of the things I’ve appreciated about emergents are their posture of learning and listening. I’ve tried to emulate their humility when talking to people (emphasis on trying – I’m not there yet). Come to find out it’s the arrogance, the certainty, of having answers for everything that turns a lot of folks off to the church, that makes them turn a deaf ear. I’m not a part of that Christian ghetto culture. Most portraits of Emergents are probably as fair as my “conversation starter” that involved me intimating that D.A. Carson is a racist. I’m a horror writer who is a Christian. I help run what many would label an emergent church. I walk outside the church ghetto with people who challenge my views and way of thinking. I listen to them, I respect them, and I even, wait for it, learn from them. And they listen. Why? Because I’m not here to pick fights or declare war on them. It’s how conversations happen.

All of which brings me back to my friend.* I explained to him that most of the misunderstandings we have boil down to differences in ministry styles. The point of my article which he objected to was th at you start conversations with what you have in common, by listening to one another; not by saying “here’s where you’re wrong (because I obviously know more than you).” I can’t whip out Bible verses to “prove myself” because the Bible has authority if you have faith in it. What I can do is be the Bible. Be the message. If folks aren’t seeing Christ’s love in me and how I live and talk, then I’m wasting my breath anyway (again, emphasis on becoming – I’m not there yet). People need to belong before they believe, even if they never believe.

I just don’t have the time energy nor inclination to be baited into a fight. That’s fore better Christians than me, I guess.

*To be completely honest, my friend’s humility and contriteness after our conversation is exactly why I have hope, and love, for the church. Neither one of us had to “prove” ourselves right. We were too busy trying to figure out how to best love one another.

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Who Are You Having These Conversations With? Part I

Recently, I was involved in a misunderstanding with a person I used to attend church with. These sort of misunderstandings have been happening a lot more lately because my church has been labeled emergent. That’s fine. People are often guilty of relational laziness and need these sorts of labels rather than engage the people around them. Our church describes itself as missional because we’d rather be “being” the church than talking about it. Since I’m just as guilty of using labels as crutches as anyone else, I’ll describe my friend as a mainstream Evangelical with a fundamentalist streak.

This friend took umbrage with an article I wrote because, to his reading, I was losing sight of the “ontology of Christ”. Once I got wind that he had concerns, I called him. We talked about his concerns. To his absolute credit, he apologized to me and then, in an all too rare demonstration of what it means to follow Christ, he volunteered to go back and apologize to the people whom he had talked to about me.

One of my points to him was that I don’t have time for “ontology of Christ” debates. Honestly, whom am I going to have that conversation with? Other Christians who have spent too much time in church, around other Christians who’ve learned a lot. Which is fine, I’m called to love them, too. But that’s not where I spend a lot of my time.

Since this is mostly aimed at my Christian brethren, let me put this in jargon you’ll understand: I hang out with the “lost” (an ironic term, since my friends like Wrath James White, Harlequin, and Paul Puglisi know exactly where they are). Why? Because I don’t want to spend my days talking about whatever new doctrinal burr is up some people’s butts. A lot of the times those conversations boil down to one person who know everything talking to someone else who has everything figured out. They want to play who’s head is puffed up more or who has the biggest doctrinal penis. That’s a game I’m not interested in playing.

Of course these are unfair caricaturizations, but it sets up what I really want to talk about.

Tomorrow.

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If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.