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Monday, July 28, 2008

Kaleidoscope

The spiritual world reminds me of a kaleidoscope. I love this fractal image with its colors, hues, shapes and many beginnings and ends.

I have just finished reading Don Carson's interaction with the Emergent Church phenomena and have been informed and challenged by his work.

The first thing to say is that it is an extremely well written book. If anyone needs to know how to present a well reasoned academic discussion that is both gracious and able to critique then this is a great place to start.

As far as engaging with the emerging church Carson deals with some good examples of the movement and doesn't focus solely on Brian McClaren although McClaren is well covered. There is a very good overview of the positive and negative aspects of postmodern thought as well as an effort to capture the practical meaning of postmodernism as opposed to the amorphous way in which the word is sometimes used to cover anything relatively new.

What I missed in Carson's conclusions were any mention of spiritual gifts or the demonstration of God's power that transcended human words and teaching. As I review the emerging church and ways to engage with the "post-Christian" Western world I see a lot of words and teaching and I wonder if we have moved past propositional teaching or even if there is any need to move past propositional evangelism.

Carson comes from an academic, Reformed background and although I resonated with most of the book I wanted some discussion about how postmoderns want/need to see the power of God in action as opposed to simply more and more words. I am planning to write on this topic for the long paper component of my Masters but I am interested in comments to guide my thinking.

In the many efforts of sections of the church to engage with the postmodern world I want to explore how we demonstrate God's power. I have been bolder in the taxi and have been trying to tell people about what God is like and what he does as opposed to getting knotted up in long, winding discussions about religion and truth. This is not to say that it is not important to address concerns about religion and truth claims but in doing so we can sometimes move God off the agenda and depersonalize the trinity.

Can anyone join in the discussion and help my thinking?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Talking about God


Last week in the cab I took two lads in their early 20s from the pub for quite a long journey home so we had plenty of things to talk about during the ride. As I common they asked me what I had done before driving taxis and so I was able to talk about pastoral ministry. Very quickly the conversation turned to their problems with religion. They had been to church as kids, had friends who were Christians but they couldn't see any point in church and they had grown disillusioned with the Israel-Palestine conflict and the "War on Terror".

Earlier that night I had picked up another young man in his early 20s who told me that he had attended a Christian school but had moved away from his faith with, once again, a general disillusionment and apathy with regards to religion. When I picked him up he was quite drunk but still very able to have a conversation.

In both of these instances I was struck by the need to do more than simply agree with their grievances. I was happy to discuss the Middle East conflict in passing but apart from anything it is an extremely complex topic that can unnecessarily bog down a conversation. I have realized, in the taxi conversations that it is easy to wander around topics and leave the passenger feeling listened to and affirmed but with little in the way of resolution or, at the least, a challenge to think differently.

I find it easy to be agreeable and nice but have been continuing to think through what it is that Christians are to communicate. Are we called to be nice, loving people in the hope that others will be somehow infected with this "niceness" and want to find out more about God? Are we called to persuade people with the propositional facts of the gospel in the hope that they will be persuaded and want to make a Christian commitment? Or is there a middle way?

As I continue to read, write and think on this complex topic I have found a way that seems to be more satisfying to me and that is to have a high regard for the power of God. I listen, affirm and am not at all patronizing but at some point I seek to separate religion from the issue of who God is and what God is like. As I start to talk about God as a living, active being who can and will engage with us now I find that people are interested to know more. The other person may not entirely agree but they are intrigued to hear the view that God answers prayer, that God can heal people and that God can speak to us.

What I have found that people are seeking is someone to tell them that God is real because this concept contains the germ of hope, relationship and purpose. I am going to put together a longer paper on this topic but I'd be certainly interested in feedback.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Relationships


Who told me that when you're a Christian marriage and relationships are supposed to be easy? Well, actually, no-one told me that but you get the impression if you set foot in a church that life is rosy back at the homestead. Most churches I have attended on a Sunday seem to be populated by copies of "The Waltons" (yes, I am showing my age - contact me if the TV illustration has gone over your head).

I have been married for over 12 years and we have gone through a fair few trials. On top of everything else our middle son has an autistic disorder and can prove to be very challenging.

We came through some difficulties in recent times with the false allegations that were made about me which resulted in us leaving our local church and my stepping down from active ministry. Recently we have been feeling that God is calling us to lead a church plant. Lo and behold we are attacked again. The temptation to stick my head in the sand, pull back from ministry and hope that it all goes away is very strong.

Right now we are struggling. For lots of reasons I am not the best husband in the world. I share this, not out of a false sense of humility, but out of honesty in order for you to pray. I believe in a real devil and in the real presence of enemy forces that seek to disrupt and pull down Christian ministries and Christian families. As I have thought through postmodern ideas I toyed with the idea that evil was a concept but looking back on prayer ministry I have done in the past and the countless "coincidences" where I seek to serve God and troubles come has made me aware of the reality of evil.

It is at this time that I need to fall back on the rock of my life which is Jesus Christ. Too often I have fallen back on habit, addiction, arguments and counseling. Some of these are not wrong but they are also not solid foundations. If I am to build a strong marriage, family and Christian ministry then all that I do must start and finish with Jesus.

I hope this makes sense. I keep planning to write something erudite but I always end up being vulnerable. Please pray. My wife is a great woman and I am very blessed. There are two sides to every story but I am prepared to accept that my part is pretty poor right now and I need wisdom and strength to move forward successfully.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Listen

The old saying says that we have two ears and one mouth because we need to listen twice as much as we talk. I think the old adages need dusting down and seeing the light of day again.

We live in a world of noise and information where we are assailed with facts, figures, soundbites, advertisements, conversation and messages from all angles. In the midst of this confusion of sound we do well to discern the truth.I have noticed driving the taxi that people really do want to be listened to.

A young lady in her early 20s got in last week and I asked how her day had gone as I do most passengers. "Terrible" she replied. "It's been an awful week. Don't ask" she went on to say. "I asked the question and I don't mind what answer I get" I said. With that opening she poured out a story of betrayal at work by a colleague and by the company that she works for. She told me about the Union supporting her in a strong case and how she just wanted to be respected as a young woman in the corporate world.

The story she told me was not unfamiliar although, nevertheless, sad. What interested me was that when we arrived at her destination she sat for around 5 minutes relating this story. She was unapologetic and was glad to unburden herself. I really don't mind people talking because I say "How was your day?" expecting all sorts of answers.

I have noticed that "How are you?" is another way of saying "Hello". There is no intention behind the words in most cases. All societies have their variations but the message conveyed is that people will be polite but please don't engage with me beyond this facade of respectability. Taxis are known as modern day confessionals and I am trying to be genuine in my responses.

Take time today to listen to someone. It could well change your day for the better.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Emerging from the Shadows

Driving around talking to people about faith and God has caused me to think more about how Christians communicate their faith. One of the key developments of the past few years is what has come to be known as the Emerging or Emergent Church.

The Emerging Church movement seeks to develop churches that are more attractive to those outside of the institutional church culture.

Many people these days are not comfortable standing and singing songs with other people or sitting through a long exposition of the Bible. Various groups have sought ways to bridge this divide and present the message of Jesus Christ in a more manageable format.

As I have reflected on this and investigated contemporary church responses to what may be called the post-Church era I have found myself uneasy at one particular aspect. It seems that some new churches may just be a response by bored, disenfranchised Christians who want to do something that they like. These Christians get together with like-minded Christians and form a new, contemporary church which they all enjoy. What has happened is that it the same Church in different clothes. To be blunt, these churches are still glorified social clubs.

What I am praying through is how to connect with the people I meet in the taxi and not creating a trendy cafe church environment for Christians who lack a stable social network. If anyone has any information on setting up a cafe church please let me know. I have sounded out the idea with non-Christians and a lapsed Anglican and have received a very positive response. One person, last week, told me he was in and I haven't got anywhere for him to be "in" yet!

Too much of what passes as Christian responses to the postmodern era is a shifting of the deck chairs on the Titanic. I don't want to rearrange a sinking ship; I want to be part of manning the life boats and discovering a new place where people can ask difficult questions, explore spirituality and journey towards Jesus without feeling judged or condemned.