Jamie Arpin Ricci has some thoughts around the debate on Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity. I am going to quote a big chunk of it here but make sure you go to Jamie’s site and read the entire post.
McLaren, who finds himself in a cultural context that is incredibly polarized theologically, politically, etc., has too often been the target of ungodly attack. This is not to say he is above criticism, but rather acknowledging that he has been subject to indefensible treatment by many people. In light of this reality, it does not surprise me that Brian would very quickly want to make some distinctions for his readers up front, which I believe was his intention with the cited material. That is entirely understandable. That being said, I believe he pushed too hard, writing more for the extreme critics than for those of us who might be cautiously interested. As a result, I believe that he unintentionally alienated many of his readers.
I am not suggesting that Brian was simply misunderstood, that if we could just understand his intentions, this would all be cleared up. Of course not. First, the poor communication is his mistake, one that should be acknowledged. Frankly. it is a small issue, worth mentioning only for clarity. Second, he clearly does present beliefs that run contrary to what many of us hold as sacred. This is not an indictment, but rather an acknowledgment that, beyond the misunderstanding that exacerbated the problem, there are still very real, underlying differences.
I point this example out because it illustrates a dynamic that is problematic. It seems to me that both sides are so focused on their position, be it defend or attacking, that they continue to talk- yell past each others. Again, there are exceptions to this rule on both sides, but even they are not saved from getting caught in the cross fire. I recently read a very gracious critique of the book that one defending blogger (who is a notable voice and who I greatly respect) cited as unreasonable, bashing and even jealous. Was I missing something? Can we not disagree on something graciously without resorting to character assassination?
Frankly, I am ashamed. I am ashamed that on a public platform before a watching world, sisters and brothers in Christ are letting this get so out of hand. Disagreements within the Church are nothing new and will always be with us. It is right to be passionate about what we believe is true, even taking to task those with whom we have concern. I’m not advocating some limp hope that “we can all just get along”. I am advocating for some grace, self-restraint, humility and- for the love of God- maturity. Or are we hoping that the world will know we are Christians by our fights with each other?
Without question there are some serious issues at hand. I have some grave reservations about some of the theology I see being put forth in sectors of the church, be it emerging, missional, evangelical or otherwise. However, we need to acknowledge the relational dynamic at play here. For myself, I have seen people who I consider dear friends publicly go after each other, feeling helpless to do anything about it. I even fear that this post will only fuel the fire.
I have long felt that the American political discourse of hyper partisanship continues to shape the way we discuss theology in the church. Of course this is a really big issue because it isn’t as if we have a proud tradition of doing this without the influence of FOX News (how many wars were fought during the early stages of the Protestant reformation over theology?). Add in the time lapse in which we order something from Amazon, read it, and then rush to review or write about it in internet time (often to capitalize in on the traffic that comes from an trending topic) and no wonder why the discussions seem to be lacking.
I was thinking back to the emergence of neo-orthodoxy in the 1930s amongst Barth, Bultmann, Brunner, Tillich, Bonhoeffer and others. They debated largely in private through letters, in person, and in more thought through essays in journals. The debates were a lot more private and a lot more measured, partly because there was time for theological reflection. The net has taken that away from us and has given us immediacy. We know it has hurt journalism. Look at how many times NBC has referred to Michael J. Fox when they meant Terry Fox on their broadcasts. Today I was reading the news online and saw a half-dozen factual errors (not just differences in opinions but obvious mistakes in facts). In some ways “internet time” is great but in other ways, it has hurt our ability to discuss substantial issues and I think we have to take into account it’s influence.
We also need to take into account what we are doing is in public. Ever since Google Alerts has come out, I have received mentions of jordoncooper.com and Jordon Cooper when they are used online. I have seen my writings misquoted and misconstrued by those worried about those of us in the emerging church. I have no problems with a difference of opinions, after all you are entitled to be wrong but some of the stuff never represented what I said of believe. Later on I have had the privilege of meeting the people who have said what they said and they have no idea the impact of the crap they said.
One of the things I love about living in Saskatchewan is that there is only one million of us and we do run into each other. My MLA goes through Wendy’s till at Safeway. One of the reasons why I stopped talking partisan politics is that I really like people from both sides of the ideological divide. When I posted some photos of Flickr that showed a city councilor, I was contacted that day to see if they could get a print because they saw the photos and liked them. Somewhere along the way we forgot that this stuff is read by the people we are talking about.
Of course we also have to take into account how bloggers get played by the publishing houses. In exchange for “review copies”, they get to turn us into their own personal marketing whores. You don’t think Harper Collins isn’t feeling pretty happy for the “buzz” that we generate from their free cheaply produced review copies. We get to feel like “insiders” when we are marketing pawns, rushing to review the book on Amazon and posting the reviews on our blogs. Harper Collins (as a division of News Corp.) has an obligation to the bottom line, not to the faith.
I think Jamie is right. We need to have passionate debate about theological matters but there has to be a better way of doing this than what has been acceptable practice for the last couple of years. That is a project worthy of some time and effort.
I posted about Andrew Jones’ decision on the weekend and I can respect what he is doing as he has been a person of his convictions and one has to do what one has to do.
He makes a pretty good case for leaving.
Also over is any official relationship I have left with one of those emerging church groups called Emergent Village. EV is a hard group to leave because its a flat structured organization and there is no one to inform that you are de-friending yourself, or getting de-friended, from this "generative friendship". Also hard because there are so many wonderful people still involved.
The EV website stated last year, "Those who started emergent were at the National ReEvaluation Forum in 1998; those who will take it into the next chapter will be at Christianity21." I wasn’t at Christianity21 but I have been watching as new theological emphases and sectarian attitudes towards church emerge (well described by Wikipedia’s North American Emergent Movement) and it is just not something that I can lend my name to or my time. In the early days, I joined the leadership of the Young Leaders group (that eventually became Emergent Village) because it was more about uniting churches around mission and equipping people to reach the next ‘postmodern’ generation. I hope they can shift it back again to its origins.
I remember cringing when I saw the Emergent Village stating "Those who started emergent were at the National ReEvaluation Forum in 1998; those who will take it into the next chapter will be at Christianity21." They were right in the fact that Emergent Inc was started back then but the emerging church was taking seed all over the world. As far as the statement about Christianity21… well Tony and Doug had a conference had a conference to promote and I take that statement as nothing more than that. Emergent Village’s desire to be a promotional commercial vehicle of a flavor of the emerging church in the United States was a flaw from the start but in the end I think it was a reflection of the entrepreneurial commercial context that seems to define the American church industry. While emergent talked of this being a global conversation, they never realized how incredibly American they are. In that way by Andrew saying that he won’t be using the language of Emergent Village and the emerging church may be a good one because while language is really important, the discussion of the emerging church has been more about language than it is has about incarnating the gospel for a long time.
You know what, I am okay with it. I think that is the reason many of us gathered in Three Hills in the 90s, later some of us started Resonate and why the conversation in the U.K. and Europe is so incredibly different. We all have our national contexts and it does shape our ideas of church and the Gospel. While I am friends with many south of the border and I deeply appreciate them, I am also okay with them doing their thing and I’ll pipe in from the sidelines from time to time.
I guess what I struggle with is the idea of removing oneself from a conversation because in the end, you have given up on the conversation as a whole. Maybe Andrew is correct but I think his ability and unique place as a global missionary is a voice that is needed in Emergent Village, even if the North American church doesn’t realize it.
Of course that for me not talking to the emerging church very much anymore, I think it is comes from the amount of pure crap that has been sent to me to review. I just got a copy of Dwight Friesen’s new book, Thy Kingdom Connected and it may the only book of 2009 that I want to review and think more about. A friend of mine used to say, “I’ll preach better when Max Lucado preaches better”. I find myself feeling the same thing. When the conversation (and books) becomes more compelling, I’ll start paying close attention again.
Update: January 10th – I am totally okay with accepting the fact that Emergent has always seemed too American because I am too Canadian. If I can say that I find Emergent too American, it’s also fair to criticize me back so fair is fair.
Right now I am actually more happy with Emergent than I have been in years. I think having Doug and Tony work (and I really hope they make money as well) as consultants and event organizers through JoPa is good while leaving Emergent to be an organic grassroots expression across the country. I do agree with Mike Morrell’s comment that the next thing to figure out is the relationship between publishing and Emergent.
For those of you in the Greater Toronto Area and are looking for a place to discuss theology in a casual setting, you will want to check out Toronto’s Theology Pub.
Theology Pub is a monthly gathering of Christians in Toronto. We gather for fellowship and to discuss theology with a desire to grow in our love for God and obedience to him; to sharpen and encourage each other; and to pray for the city of Toronto.
It’s hosted by our friend Darryl Dash and looks like a great night out for all of you theologians out there.
I was reading Scot McKnight’s post on the TNIV today and while I agree, he added a graphic that made me ask some questions about Bible marketing.
What is Zondervan’s marketing department up to. I can understand why Microsoft brands Microsoft Office by the year. I still have a copy of Office 97 kicking around on an old computer. If you don’t use Outlook 97 (a dog of a software program if there ever was one), it works pretty good but it’s 2009 now and every time I use it, I am reminded that I am not using the newest and the best. In exchanging files with others, I am also stating that I am using old obsolete software (which it really isn’t).
Yet with a Bible, it seems like Zondervan is putting a shelf life on something that should not have a shelf life on it. I know the NIV is being constantly revised but are we going to be seeing a NIV 2013 or maybe just a NIV 2011 Service Pack 1 come out. Seeing Zondervan use the same kind of marketing as EA Sports on a timeless work seems to commoditize something that should be bigger than that.
Of course a quick trip inside any Christian bookstore will tell you that the commoditization boat has sailed long ago.
While up at the lake, we ran low on homogenized milk for Oliver and needed to get some on Sunday. We drove out of Arlington Beach to the one horse town of Cymric. There is a store in Cymric but they don’t have whole milk. Instead of turning right to Strasbourg, we went left to Govan. Govan was totally shut down. Not a thing was open. We then drove 20 kilometres to Nokomis where again the entire town was shut down except for one gas station and it was closed down for lunch. Still no milk. So we headed back to Cymric where Wendy wandered into the store and the owner phoned down to Digger’s in Strasbourg to make sure there was milk for Oliver. (Map of our route). A quick look at Google Maps, shows that we took 126 kilometres to get 4 litres of milk and an Oreo ice cream bar.
Of course as we got back to the cabin, Mark wanted to go to the local ice cream stand which was open on a Sunday afternoon. After sending him down on his bike to confirm the unthinkable (that in one of the mecca’s of Free Methodism, commerce would be allowed on Sunday), we all went down and had ice cream on Sunday at the Treat Spot (you can also find it on Dopplr). The kicker would have been if they had whole milk but they didn’t but we did grab some pop, a game of mini-golf, and found a nice cool summer breeze.
Growing up, my mom talked about the first time she was allowed to get an ice cream cone on a hot Sunday and what a big deal that was. Somewhere in heaven she is celebrating the fact that even Arlington Beach is now cool with having ice cream on a Sunday afternoon.
Pastors no longer automatically hold positions of community influence. But they can — and should — earn a place in their communities by participating in them, says pastor and author Nelson Granade.
If one only assumes the role of prophet, however, folks quickly will begin to avoid you. As in our congregations, we often earn the right to speak prophetically by serving well pastorally. On the morning of the 9/11 attacks, I was in a meeting at our Chamber of Commerce. The group immediately turned to me for prayer and comfort. I heard similar stories from pastors across the country. People, especially leaders in need, remember our care.
Second, we’re not being honest about what we’re trying to do. We’re not even trying very hard to go all the way back. We take a vast amount of theological, historical, and cultural baggage with us when we look back. Even people who read authors like N.T. Wright in order to understand the first century Palestinian context stop too short. When I hear people saying they want to do church the way the early church did it, they don’t really mean they intend to strip down their evangelical systematic theology, their Western wealth and (white) power, their Protestant Reformation, their Christendom power, their Augustinian conceptions . . . they just want the pragmatics of meeting in peoples’ houses and sharing possessions and giving money away to those in need. The idealism is commendable in some ways, but it’s mostly just that – idealism, and an artificial idealism at that.*
I would like to suggest that if we really want to get back to basics in the way we embody the bride of Christ, we do so more honestly. When Pentecost took place, and the church was both born and unleashed in a series of radical events, they were creating something truly new, without a template. They had a religious memory and heritage, which they honored in many ways, but they also knew the rules had changed. We, too, have a religious memory and heritage – some of which can rightly be honored. But if we’re going to do/be church the way they did it back then, we’ve got to be creative enough and courageous enough to know when to break the rules of our day, and take some risks. In our fear of abandoning “orthodoxy,” I think the vast majority of us lack the courage to break those rules. We’re so beholden to our denominations, our subculture, our seminaries, and (once again) our power that we chicken out.
Andrew Jones is blogging on the debt dependent church. Here are some of the gems from the post
I have seen a number of Seminary graduates come overseas to hang with us and to potentially find work in the "emerging church". After a short time, they have gone back to USA disappointed that there are no paid positions. Huge and wonderful opportunities . . . puny financial benefit. What did they teach those students about the emerging church? My guess is they pointed to a few cool mega-churches and said these were emerging. Wrong!
Of course what do they find in the United States?
And what about traditional church ministry and its dependence on buildings? I heard a Desiring God podcast last week where one pastor claimed some of his churches in Texas were worth $150 million and $250 million. How is it possible to reproduce this model without incurring incredible levels of debt? And has anyone stopped to ask if buying a huge building is the best way to spend God’s money?
How much does it cost to start a traditional church with a building and paid pastor? A million? Two million? A million dollars on the mission field could help launch a huge sprinkling of house churches that would saturate an area with small vibrant communities of faith where every believer is a minister. This is happening today and it is wonderful.
I think Andrew has some good things to say here but he is missing the point that a privately funded (this means paid for by massive tuition bills and student loans) theological education creates a system where all by the wealthiest have to find full time ministry jobs just to service the student loan debt. Right from the time we start to seriously educate church leaders, we ask them to embrace a worldview of debt and unless your parents are rich and want to help out, there are few alternatives paths to explore. I wish Andrew had kept pushing the idea of Suddenly Seminary. I am not sure if it the alternative but it was a way of creatively addressing the issue and it is one that keeps needing to be explored.
Cultivate Gathering is coming to a Hamilton near you on May 16, 2009.
Cultivate is for anyone who is interested in missional church, and is happening because of numerous conversations between different people, organizations, networks and churches in Canada that long to see new forms of church thrive and relational networking happen. We are tired of the same old, same old conferences and just simply want to be friends, inspire each other, and swap stories, ideas, and encouragement.
Cultivate has taken place twice a year (in the Spring and in the Fall) since 2006.
Steve Taylor is coming in from New Zealand and for the first since it launched, I am flying out from Saskatoon (Saskatoon > Regina > Calgary > Toronto) to take it in. I am looking forward to seeing some old friends and meeting Steve for the first time.
In amidst the activity that has been my life lately, several friends have done an excellent job and launched Missional Tribe, which is a hybrid social networking site and portal for those engaged in the discussion and praxis of the missional church around the world. The implementation of the technology that powers the site is amazing and the team has done an excellent job pulling it all together. The community has responded as well and everyday there are new bits and bytes being posted worth reading.
I am registered over there but I haven’t had much time to do anything other than look around. When I get some time in two weeks (that is such a depressing thought), I will fix up my profile and respond to the friend requests.
A couple weeks (crap, maybe it was months ago, I have been kinda busy…) I got a copy of One size fits all and it is a DVD about innovative Christian gatherings across across Canada.
It was done by Joe Manafo and Nathan Colquhoun from Sarnia and they did a good job in this this 45 minute examination of missional, emerging ideas and experiments.
Some of the leaders they interview include Pernell Goodyear of The Freeway; Greg Paul of Sanctuary, Cyril Guerette of Freedomize, Jamie Howison of St Benedict’s Table, Kim Reid of The Open Door and Garry Castle at Next Church.
If you are interested in what is happening in the fringes of the church in Canada, it is worth the time to sit down and watch, alone or with your entire community.