Archive for the ‘Theology Cafe’ Category

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” – Romans 10:14-15

Evangelism is a dirty word. It is a dirty word because the world had decided that proselytizing is wrong. The world has decided that what ever people believe is completely okay and no one should attempt to show them an alternative way. However, Evangelism is also a dirty word because of the church. The church has taught its people to be forceful and belligerent with their faith. The church has taught people that we are in charge of converting people to Christianity. The truth is the world is wrong and the church is wrong.

The world is wrong because if there is truth than everyone needs to be given the opportunity to hear this truth and judge it for themselves. The world is wrong because all belief are not equal. If all religions are equal why does the world condemn the sexism that has existed in religions throughout the ages? If all religions are equal why do we condemn human sacrifice, cannibalism and others “archaic” practices?

The church is wrong because Jesus did not tell us to get in people faces and be belligerent. Jesus always presented his truth with love. He did not beat the woman at the well or slap demons out of people (yes, this means hitting people up side the head or slapping some sense into people is not Biblical, sorry.) While Jesus did show anger in the clearing of the money changers from the temple, I don’t think this was meant to be an act of evangelism. The truth is Christ-followers are called to love people and live their faith. This will cause opportunities to arise to share who you are in Christ and why you follow him. The job of “convicting unto righteousness” belongs to the Holy Spirit, not us.

Dear Jesus,

Help us to be people of peace, love and mercy, not conquest. Help us to open door and create bridges of faith by loving people. Help us to live our lives in such a way as people desire to have what we have. Let our fruit be are first witness and our words follow them. Thank you Lord for your love. Amen.

Atheism

“Atheism is rationally ridiculous. The most anyone can claim about the nonexistence of God is agnosticism — to say you don’t know. But as soon as one takes the atheist’s viewpoint, he opens himself and his philosophical system to a dilemma. No finite being can say there is no God, for outside the limits of his knowledge, God may exist. To be an atheist, one must claim to know everything. Of course this is one of the attributes that only God possesses. Therefore, the only way one can prove God doesn’t exist is to be God which is rationally ridiculous.” – Bill Gordon

Have you ever felt like you and God were going toe-to-toe? You know from the very beginning that God is going to win, but you also know that your on an intense period of your spiritual journey and the only way to come through it is fight and argue with God. That is what I have been going through.

I have really been questioning this whole idea of church planting. I have been questioning if it is the right thing to do. My questioning is not because I don’t think I am called, it is because I don’t think I was being true to my calling.

I am not a creative person in general. Often, I will take what others have done and tweak it to fit the particular situation in which I find myself. That is what God and I have been wrestling about. I have been planning to plant this church in partnership with New Thing Network (www.newthing.org.) When you are part of New Thing all of the sermons, curriculums and other ministry support materials are co-created and used by all churches involved. Each of these church also look very similar in regards to their services, philosophy of ministry and other features. In fact, if you went from one church to the other on Sunday morning you might think you were in the exact same church (effectively you would be.)

One of the main components of my vision for this new church has centered around the idea of EPIC. It stands for:

Experiential – People experience real faith, real time.

Participatory – all facet of faith are participated in, not just watched – worship, service, fellowship, community etc.

Inclusive – all are welcome regardless of where they are at on their spiritual journey.

Connected – authentic community.

I know that the New Thing Network churches would say they try to accomplish these four goals, but they simply are not designed to do so like God has given me a vision for. I am not sure how, but somehow I will find a way to truly create an EPIC Community.

Authenticity

This is another installment in the “What is the church” series.

Today, I am thinking about authenticity. Specifically, what makes a church authentic.

As I have studies churches, church growth and success, I have become more and more concerned about what it means for a church to be authentic. When I look at many very large churches, I see them growing and reaching people, but I also see them as more orientated toward programs than people. I have seen people become more and more connected to a church, but not because of relationship. They are connected because they become involved in a program. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think programs are bad. In fact, programs can be good and provide good results. However, I begin to think about how many people at my church I truly call friends. There are very few. I stay because I am entrenched in the program. I stay because lives are changed and people are affected for eternity. Yet, I feel like I am missing something.

I feel like I am experiencing great teaching, but I am not growing in community with others. I wonder if it is possible to truly have a place focused on community. I have to admit, I have never experienced it. Then I wonder if it is me. I have never been the type of person to have a lot of friends. In fact, I can count true friends on one hand. I don’t regret this, it is just me. This makes me wonder, is it possible to really start a new church that avoids becoming focused on programs? Is true community possible?

This creed was originally shared at the Emergent Convention, Nashville, May 2004.
By Brian McLaren

We have confidence in Jesus
Who healed the sick, the blind, and the paralyzed.
And even raised the dead.

He cast out evil powers and
Confronted corrupt leaders.
He cleansed the temple.
He favored the poor.
He turned water into wine,
Walked on water, calmed storms.

He died for the sins of the world,
Rose from the dead, and ascended to the Father,
Sent the Holy Spirit.

We have confidence in Jesus
Who taught in word and example,
Sign and wonder.
He preached parables of the kingdom of God
On hillsides, from boats, in the temple, in homes,
At banquets and parties, along the road, on beaches, in towns,
By day and by night.

He taught the way of love for God and neighbor,
For stranger and enemy, for outcast and alien.

We have confidence in Jesus,
Who called disciples, led them,
Gave them new names and new purpose
And sent them out to preach good news.
He washed their feet as a servant.
He walked with them, ate with them,
Called them friends,
Rebuked them, encouraged them,
Promised to leave and then return,
And promised to be with them always.

He taught them to pray.
He rose early to pray, stole away to desolate places,
Fasted and faced agonizing temptations,
Wept in a garden,
And prayed, “Not my will but your will be done.”
He rejoiced, he sang, he feasted, he wept.

We have confidence in Jesus,
So we follow him, learn his ways,
Seek to obey his teaching and live by his example.
We walk with him, walk in him, abide in him,
As a branch in a vine.

We have not seen him, but we love him.
His words are to us words of life eternal,
And to know him is to know the true and living God.
We do not see him now, but we have confidence in Jesus.

Compassion

A question I cannot get out of my head is, “What is the church?”

As I have been planning and preparing to plant a church, the need to come to some understanding or answer has become more and more important to me. While I am not sure there is any one answer, or that there should be any one answer, I am trying to formulate some ideas of what a church that God would have me plant should be. The first thing I want to talk about is true compassion.

Compassion ministry has caused a lot of controversy and confusion in the church. Some churches on the more liberal end of the spectrum have put a great focus on compassion to others, but have excluded explaining the love of God to those they are helping. Essentially, they see compassion as providing for physical needs, but do not see compassion as providing for spiritual needs. I just don’t think this is holistic or Biblical.

On the other hand, evangelicals have often used compassion ministry as an excuse to preach at those less fortunate. During the time I was in seminary, I live in Springfield, Missouri. As I began the process to get ministerial credentials, I found out before I could be given the credentials I had to preach five times. They even called the credentials a License to Preach (I wonder if Jesus ever had one of these. If not, then it might explain why the Pharisees and Sadducees were so upset.) When I asked how I was to get the opportunity to preach five time, they suggested I volunteer at Springfield Victory Mission.

Springfield Victory Mission was a lot like many mission around the country. They provided meals, clothing and other assistance to the homeless and others in need. This sounds great except for one thing. For a person to eat a meal at the mission, they were first required to sit through a sermon. This just seemed like compassion without compassion to me. I felt that this would actually drive people farther from God and caused their hearts to become calloused. I refused to do it and stopped the ministerial credentialing process at that time.

I don’t recall Jesus every requiring someone to listen to him give a sermon before he healed them or fed them. Jesus did compassion out of love. He never used his ability to heal etc. As a way to force people to believe (of course, the idea of forced belief is ridiculous, but has been used throughout history. We all know about the “successfully” conversions during the crusades.) I have been looking for a middle road between these two extremes.

Then I came across the example of The Salvation Army. I worked for The Salvation Army for two years in a fundraising role. I loved the compassion of the Army and that they never required attendance at a church service etc. To receive help. Yet, the Army is definitely on the evangelical side of the spectrum. However, the Army tried but was never able to bridge the gap between compassion for the physical and compassion for the spiritual. I observed that the Army never fully expressed to those being helped that this was being done in Jesus name. They never fully expressed that they considered their spiritual well being as important as their physical.

I am still trying to figure something out on this one. I am committed to planting a church that will show true compassion to all people, but this compassion must include the whole person – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. The answer may be as simple a non-obligatory invitation to participate in the body of Christ every time help is given. It might just be asking spiritual questions along with questions about the other parts of their life. I just know I want to be compassionate toward the whole person just like Jesus.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a progressive Christian. I know these words mean very different things for different people. So, I thought it would be good for me to define what it means to me and for me.

Progressive Christianity is an understanding of the whole word of God. It is an understanding of the radical nature of Christ message for the whole world.

For example, Christian have not been at the front of the rational environmentalism movement. Yet God says in Genesis 1:26 that we are to be stewards over all creation. Due to the terrible translation contained in the KJV Bible, people felt that we were to have “dominion” over the earth. They thought we could do what we want with it. However, this is simply not what God intended. A progressive Christian understands God gave us the earth as a sacred trust.
Another example. A progressive Christian take to heart God’s call for us to help the widow and the orphan (James 1:27), to help the “least of these” (Matthew 25:34-45). A progressive Christian realizes that works without faith is meaningless and faith without works in not really faith at all.

A progressive Christian realizes that God came to seek and save the lost (Matthew 28:19). This includes all of humanity regardless of ethnicity, gender, culture or any other God created category. A progressive Christian realizes that racism is a sin that gets in the way of God’s plan. We are called to do something about it.

A progressive Christian realizes that God gave us his Word as his divine revelation. We are not to take it lightly, nor are we to try to make it say what it does not say. The Bible has been incorrectly used to justify slavery, sexism and many other forms of discrimination. Yet, God even tells us he loves sinners (of course, sinner includes every single one of us.) A progressive Christian treats all people with the same dignity Christ himself would treat them.

A progressive Christian realizes Christ’s followers worship in many different ways and do not always agree on every detail of doctrine. Yet, Christ did not spend him time giving us detailed doctrinal treaties on the trinity, justification by faith or even the meaning of love. Instead he gave us stories of how we are to live, how we are to treat others, and how we are to love. A progressive Christian lives by the motto, “In essentials unity, in non-essential liberty, in all things charity.”

This is my definition of what it means to be a progressive Christian. I do not claim it is the best or even better than any other. To me it is important both because what it includes and what it leaves out.

I received this question based upon a response I made on another persons blog. It is a great blog I would really suggest you check out call Idle Rambling Thoughts – http://www.whatbox.blogspot.com.

“Hi HumanBean! I’m just curious — this is off topic — if you consider scripture as “infallable” does that mean “literally true” or “spiritually true” — because the definition of “infallable” is questionable, particularly when one considers themselves “progressive”. I’m not being sarcastic with all the quotes, but I’m just trying to understand your views. You can email me if you would rather.”

Here is my response:

I am not sure I would use the terms “literally true” vs. “spiritually true” because I tend to believe it is actually some where in between. Let me explain by using the creation story.

In Genesis we read God created the earth in six days. Some literalist take this to mean God created in six 24 hour periods of time. However, the original hebrew word we translate as “day” does not mean a 24 hour period of time. It really means that God created in six periods of time. These periods of time are not limited in length. In this sense, I take Genesis to be literally true.

Let’s look at another issue in the same creation story. It says God created Adam and Eve. In the original Hebrew Adam simply means man and Eve means woman. So the story is really saying that God created man and woman. It would be wrong to take the story literally and suggest that God only created two people and that all humans came from these two people. Are we to believe the there was a literal Garden of Eden, a literal Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that a single person named Adam named every single animal? I truly doubt it.

The creation story is God’s way of telling us the magnificent process he initiated and controlled over millions and millions of years to create everything in our world – including us.

Now how does this relate to infallability? For me it is rather simple. When you understand what scripture is actually telling us – not what our modernistic view of scripture lead us to believe it is telling us – then scripture is infallable.

One thing most people don’t understand that scripture is actually many different forms of literature. There are letter, poems, wisdom saying, narrative, allegory, symbolic writings etc. Each form has unique characteristics and must be translated in light of these characteristics. I believe the creation story is largely symbolic, but that does not make it any less infallable. Scripture only becomes fallable when humans refuse to see what God was really doing and saying.

This is why I believe one can see scripture as infallable in the original language and still be progressive in their faith. At some point I will also define what I mean by progressive faith, but that is for my next post.