Speaking a Missional Gospel? (part 1)  

Posted by Adam in , , , ,

The most visible manifestation of the North American church in recent history has generally adhered to an “attractional” model. Put simply, in this model, the church is in the business of organizing events and activities that are to be attended. This understanding of “church” is so commonly held, that it functions for many as a largely unquestioned presupposition about what the “church” is supposed to be, both historically and biblically. Additionally, congregations and church leaders who embrace this model may become what Brian McLaren refers to as the “purveyors of religious goods and services,”[1] as they attempt to use marketing principles to engage a culture that is increasingly consumeristic and entertainment-oriented. From the perspective of an attractional understanding of “church,” the “worship service” becomes the main focus, and the sermon acts as the clear centerpiece. The main thrust of evangelism tends to be encouraging members to invite their un-churched friends to this event that is designed to encourage conversion experiences.

While the attractional model relies heavily on the idea that conversions mainly take place in the context of worship events, interpersonal evangelism is encouraged (though possibly not expected). However, even this interpersonal evangelism tends to take the form of a micro-event where the Christian sits down with the non-Christian for a semi-formal gospel presentation. Additionally, the thrust of this presentation tends to be transactional (not to mention coercive), focusing on mental assent to certain propositions and steps/actions to take in order to avoid eternal punishment and thereby secure eternal bliss after death.

Though these assumptions about the attractional nature of the church and the transactional nature of the gospel are commonly held, they have also arguably led to a church that is unquestionably in decline[2]. Frost and Hirsch lament that,

“The church is in decline in almost every context in the First World. The Church is worse off precisely because of Christendom’s failure to evangelize its own context and establish gospel communities that transform the culture.”[3]

This situation has led many to reconsider their previously unquestioned assumptions about the shape and nature of church. Voices from Biblical Studies, Theology, and Missiology have begun to suggest that the church is essentially “missional” in nature, and that perhaps her forms were always meant to follow her function or, as Chris Wright eloquently states,

“Certainly, the mission of God is the prior reality out of which flows any mission that we get involved in…it is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission.[4]

Thus, the church exists precisely for participation in God’s mission, and God’s mission is precisely to and for the world. Whereas an attractional understanding of church tended toward the idea that members were the primary beneficiaries, a missional understanding insists that the church exists for the benefit of non-adherents.[5] In a missional understanding, the church sees itself as existing “for the sake of the world”.[6]

A Missional understanding profoundly reframes what it means to be church, particularly for those steeped in the attractional model. At the risk of overstatement, an attractional understanding of church, and a transactional understanding of the gospel, centered church around speech, cognition, and a certain level of piety. A pendulum-swing-style overcompensation that rendered speech, cognition and morality/behavior as irrelevant would be huge mistake. However, it would also be a mistake to view “being missional” as a strategy for church growth or renewal. It is a reframing, a different understanding of church that is characterized by its external focus, its holistic engagement, and its view of mission as primary rather than secondary. In such a context, what is the role of proclamation? If the gospel is to be in any sense spoken, how is it to be done? Is there a place for the Biblical practice of preaching if an attractional model of church is abandoned? How is the gospel to be communicated interpersonally from a missional understanding? What is the Gospel if it is not primarily transactional?

(I will continue my thoughts on all of this in subsequent posts. I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions (particularly if you'd like to respond to the questions that conclude this post)

[1] McLaren, A new kind of Christian, 156.

[2] “American Religious Identification Survey 2008.”

[3] Frost and Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, 12.

[4] Wright, The Mission of God, 62.

[5] McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, 111.

[6] Barth and Michielin, A shorter commentary on Romans, 97.

Book Giveaway Winners  

Posted by Adam

Our winners are:

Chris Lockhart and Mark Willis.

Contact me through email or facebook with your addresses so that we can mail your books.



Book Giveaway: Ron Martoia's Transformational Archietecture  

Posted by Adam

Occasionally on this blog, I will do a book giveaway. For our first giveaway, I'm offering a chance to win Ron Martoia's excellent book, Transformational Architecture: Reshaping Our Lives as Narrative. We have 2 new copies of this book to give away.

From the Zondervan Product Page:
Author Ron Martoia is one of today’s keenest Christian observers and thinkers. And in his latest book he explains why evangelism is more difficult now than ever before: postmodern society has lost its overarching stories. People today are disillusioned, disenfranchised, and less open to the biggest “story” of all: the message of God’s redeeming grace.

“How Can I More Effectively Reach People of My Generation with the Message of the Gospel?”
Start the story where God starts the story.
In other words, it’s not about “lifestyle evangelism.” Or being cleverer than the person with whom you’re talking. Or knowing everything there is to know about the Bible.
It’s about knowing what’s most important to your friends, family, coworkers, and others you meet along life’s journey. It’s about, to use author Ron Martoia’s words, discovering the “story” each of us lives every waking day of our lives. Once you know that, you’ll know how God’s story fits into our human stories.
Jesus spread the Good News this way. He talked to people, asked them questions about who they were, what they were doing–in short, he found out what made each person get out of bed every morning. And then he shared with them a bigger story–and how they fit into it. Jesus knew that when people grasped God’s big picture, they felt compelled–even overjoyed–to be a part of it.
In today’s increasingly individualistic, disenfranchised world, it’s never been more important to know God’s story and how one fits into it. Let Transformational Architecture be your guide to reaching those around you with God’s life-changing message of hope.


NOTE: There has been some confusion over this due to a lack of clarity on my part. We are not referring to Google Reader or the Facebook Post-Restorationist group. You must press the "follow" button for "Google Friend Connect" on the far right sidebar of this blog (under the heading of "Followers") or by using the "Networked Blogs" application on Facebook (which can also be reached through the far right sidebar). If you have already entered the giveaway indicating Google Reader or Facebook in general before 9:30 EST on August 21, your entry will still be counted as is. However, all entries from this point on must indicate whether you follow through "Google Friend Connect" and/or "Networked Blogs". My apologies for the confusion.

Follow these 3 steps...

1. Follow this blog through "Google Friend Connect" or through "Networked Blogs" which is associated with Facebook. See the sidebar of this blog for links.

2. Leave a comment on this post indicating which of these 2 methods you are using to follow this blog. You may only enter once for each method you use to follow the blog. (max of 2 times, if you use both methods)

3. Winner will be randomly selected next Wednesday, Aug. 26th. Winner will be contacted and asked to provide a mailing address, so that the book can be shipped to you free of charge (be sure I have some way of contacting you).

That's it. Good luck!
P.S. Keep watching. Rumor is that we may be giving away a copy of Rob Bell's new book, Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering, some time in the next 2 weeks.

Quoting David Dark on Politics/Offendedness  

Posted by Adam

I have mentioned David Dark's excellent book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything on this blog a couple of times before. I simply can't recommend this book enough. The health care "debate" has re-ignited a climate of mud-slinging and rancor that I thought was reserved only for presidential elections. I already posted McLaren's call for civility from Christians. I also wanted to post a few quotes from Dark's book, that speak to such an ethic. As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

"...no one gets to insist on the right to not feel silly. We will treasure one another's testimony, even past the point of feeling offended. We'll risk it in the hope of truth. And we might even go so far as to confess that actual conversation, genuine listening, and authenticity aren't states toward which many of us tend. Instead, we ought to seek out the company and conversation of folks who'll dare to disagree with us, people who will tell us (perhaps with our encouragement) when they think we're wrong, confused or hateful. The risk of feeling offended comes with the territory. It's worth it." pg. 52-53

"To keep it all simple and safe, we often become selective fundamentalists. We know where to go to have our prejudices explained as just and sensible, our convictions strengthened, our group or party reaffirmed. We process whatever already fits the grid that is hardwired (or re-hardwired) in our heads. It's difficult for anything else to get through." pg. 57-58

"If we've deluded ourselves into thinking that our angry mass emails or conversation-stopping talking points serve as a ministry or carry out the purposes of God, we need to slow down and take a breath...Perhaps our big ideas (religious, economic, political) take a murderous turn when we think they're more important than people's lives--the lives of those who aren't convinced of the rightness of whatever it is we get all trembly about. When we're ready to hurt someone, if only in our minds, for not getting in line with what we take to be our values, we need a gadfly (a Socrates, a Jesus, a Stephen Colbert) to make fun of our vanity, our arrogance, and our pretensions toward Godlikeness." pg. 60

"To confess that I play Tetris religiously isn't to say anything pro or con about religion. But to do it more than once a day, visit the Drudge Report every hour, check my cell phone every three minutes, and listen to Rush Limbaugh more often than I listen to any other human voice and then to claim that these things have absolutely nothing to do with my religion is to be, to some degree, delusional. My religion is my practice. It's what I do." pg. 34-35



Brian McLaren's Open Letter to Conservative Christians in the U.S. on Healthcare  

Posted by Adam

Reposted from http://brianmclaren.net


Dear friends,
Although today I would not call myself a political or social conservative, I am grateful for my heritage as an Evangelical Christian: my faith is rooted in a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, I honor and seek to live in harmony with the Scriptures, and I love to share the good news of God's love with others. Since my teenage years when I decided to follow Jesus, I have pursued wholehearted discipleship, and my life has been shaped by that commitment. After completing graduate school and teaching college English, I became a church planter and pastor and served in the same congregation for twenty-four years.

But for almost that many years, I have been growing more and more deeply troubled by the way so many from my heritage in conservative Christianity – in its Evangelical, Charismatic, and Roman Catholic streams - have allowed themselves to be spiritually formed by various conservative political and economic ideologies. It's been disturbing to see how many Christians have begun to follow and trust leaders who live more by political/media/ideological codes than by moral/spiritual/biblical ones.

As a result, I sometimes think that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Fox News may now influence many conservative Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Catholics even more than Billy Graham, Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, Pope Benedict, or even the four gospels.

Now in a free country, people certainly have the right to choose their ideology. But Christians of all sorts, I think we all can agree, have a special calling - to increasingly harmonize our lives (including our lives as citizens) with the teaching and example of Jesus. My concern is that many of my sisters and brothers, without realizing it, have begun seeing Jesus and the faith through the lens of a neo-conservative political framework, thus reducing their vision of Jesus and his essential message of the kingdom of God. As a result, too many of us are becoming more and more zealous conservatives, but less and less Christ-like Christians, and many don't seem to notice the difference.

Thankfully, many Christian leaders are far more thoughtful and nuanced in their integration of faith and public life. They don't jump on talk-radio's latest conspiracy theory bandwagons, nor do they buy flippant talk of "death panels" or inappropriate comparisons to Hitler and so on. But still, so many of them remain silent about what's going on, and thereby grant it tacit approval.

I too was silent for a long time during my years as a pastor. But during the lead-up to the Iraq War, as I saw how little discernment was being exercised regarding the moral logic of pre-emptive war, I began taking risks that I hadn't taken before. I was similarly moved to speak out when, in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, relatively few Christians in America took a stand against torture. (In fact, according to survey data, Southern White Evangelicals were the group most likely to support doing unto others as they would never want done to themselves.) And when I heard Christians (mis)using the Bible to argue against environmental responsibility, again, I could not be silent.

Now, in the debate about health care, I am similarly disheartened to see the relative silence of thoughtful Christian voices as counterpoint to the predictable rhetoric of the more reactive voices. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been getting mass-emails and weblinks from Evangelical and Charismatic organizations that present frightening and outlandish claims about what President Obama is planning to do regarding health care. I’ve checked into these claims, and in case after case, they are simply false. They’re based on rumors spread by certain dramatic radio and cable-tv personalities, but they are not based in truth.

Again, people are free to disagree humbly and respectfully with their fellow Christians and their government. (As readers of my books know, I take this freedom seriously in my own life). But we Christians, it seems to me, have a high calling – to be radically committed to integrity and civility, even (especially) with those with whom we disagree. God, after all, is merciful, generous, and kind to "the just and the unjust": how can we not have that same obligation regarding those with whom we disagree? Even if others resort to dirty political tricks and distortion of the truth through exaggeration and fear-mongering, we simply cannot. At the very least, we should be seekers of truth, seekers of wisdom, not consumers (or purveyors) of propaganda – even if it comes from members of our own political party and people who quote a lot of Bible verses (often out of context). We have a higher calling.

So, without going into health-care reform specifics (which is still difficult to do, since there are many fast-changing proposals in play and the process of developing a vote-able proposal is far from over), I would simply like to plead with conservative Christians – conservative Evangelicals, conservative Charismatics, conservative Catholics, and so on – to take a stand for integrity and civility in the health care debate, alongside and in solidarity with those of us who love Christ just as you do but do not rally around the conservative political banner.

If you take this stand, you will be heard by your fellow conservatives in ways that some of the rest of us can’t be heard. And lives could be saved as a result of our joint calls for Christian integrity and civility: we've already seen what happens when people translate religious and ideological passion into violent action. Recalling the words of that great 19th century British conservative Edmund Burke, think of what could happen in the next few years if too many good conservative people sit back and do nothing ... while less scrupulous and more desperate conservative people whip their followers into a frenzy through fear and inaccurate information.

I will continue to speak out on these issues as I have done in the past. But I don’t expect the most extreme Christian conservatives to listen to me much. Since I was an outspoken supporter of President Obama’s candidacy, and since before that I was equally outspoken against torture, against the invasion of Iraq, for environmental stewardship, etc., many of them have written me off (sometimes with quite spicy language). But if you are a conservative Christian who cares about integrity and civility in communication and debate, perhaps they will still listen to you when you call them to a higher standard. I hope you will take the risk of speaking out with that in mind.

As my friend Jim Wallis recently said so eloquently (http://blog.sojo.net/2009/08/06/truth-telling-and-responsibility-in-health-care/), we may have honest differences with our fellow Christians on the issue of health care and many other issues too, but even in our differences we can agree that debates should take place in the light of truth and civility, not in the shadows of misrepresentation and prejudice.

Be assured, I am no uncritical supporter of health care reform. I am no more in favor now of rushing into expensive health care reform without sufficient debate than I was a few years ago when we rushed into an expensive pre-emptive war without sufficient care and discernment. I’m eager, like many of my conservative friends, to see the kind of reform that encourages small business and entrepreneurship. I'm interested in the kind of reform that reduces the power of both unaccountable mega-corporations and unaccountable government bureaucracy. I’m eager to see the kind of reform that doesn’t pave the way for powerful health insurance companies to do to the public in the next few decades what "too big to fail" Wall Street debt-repackagers did to us over the last few. I’m eager to see the kind of reform that in the long term reduces rather than increases our growing national debt and that truly helps our poorest neighbors without creating reductions in real service for our more prosperous neighbors.

Getting the kind of reform we need won’t be easy, especially with so many powerful interests spending huge amounts of money to achieve their own ends, with too little concern for justice, the common good … or the truth. That’s why, for there to be the kind of debate that produces good results, we who call ourselves Christians - conservative or otherwise - need to stand for full integrity in communication, whatever our political leanings. We need to be sure that the best arguments on both sides are heard ... not being satisfied to compare "our" best with "their" worst, as unscrupulous politicians and media personalities so often like to do, and not reducing the views of others to absurdity, even if we disagree with them vehemently.

The moral authority of Christians has been severely compromised in our culture in recent years. The most serious kinds of sexual scandals have rocked the Catholic, Evangelical, and Charismatic communities, not to mention financial scandals, ugly denominational lawsuits, and high-profile divisions. Studies have shown that some kinds of Christians are not only more likely to support torture - they are also more likely to hold racist views, to engage in domestic violence, and to end their marriages in divorce. No wonder young people are turned off as never before to a hypocritical face of Christianity that radiates shame, anger, and judgment rather than grace, love, and truth.

Even if we disagree on health care reform and other political issues, I hope we can agree that it is time for us to start walking - and talking - more worthy of the calling to which we have been called, to use Paul's words, to speak the truth, and to do so always in love. Or as James said, we must remember in this fire-prone political climate that the tongue can set off tiny rhetorical sparks that create huge flames of unimagined and unintended destruction. It can spread a false wisdom that sounds good on the surface, but beneath the surface is driven not by love but by bitter envy and selfish ambition. In contrast, he said (3:13 ff),

"The wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise of harvest of righteousness."

Wise and needed words to guide us in the weeks and months ahead as health care reform is debated for better or for worse. May both the debate and the outcome bring us to a better place.


By the way, if you’d like to do some fact-checking about the health care debate, here are some faith-based sources that I believe can be trusted to avoid uncritical and inaccurate reporting about health care. I understand they will be offering correctives to rumors and misinformation in the months ahead.


Tent City Benefit with Phil Keaggy  

Posted by Phil

Hi all. I wanted to invite all of you to a benefit for Tent City on Wednesday night at Otter Creek Church of Christ, 409 Franklin Road. There will be a reception for Tent City residents at 6pm, and then a concert by Phil Keaggy from 7 - 8:30. As a part of the evening as well, an art show of pictures taken of Tent City residents will be given to the Temple, a Jewish synagogue in Nashville, for display.

It will really be a great night and I hope as many of you as possible can be there.

A Night for Tent City - Ministry Moment Video from David Woodard on Vimeo.