Posted by Adam
The Winner of Rob Bell's new book Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering is Melissa Howell. Your book will be in the mail soon. Enjoy!
Posted by Adam
We are giving away 1 free copy of Rob Bell's new book, Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering. Here's how you can enter the giveaway:
- You may enter once by commenting on this post (on the actual blog...NOT the facebook repost)
- You may enter your name additional times if help promote this contest by posting a link to this post on facebook, twitter, or your personal blog. 1 additional entry per method (tell me which methods you used in your comment) Here is a direct link to this post: http://postrestorationist.blogspot.com/2009/09/win-rob-bells-new-book.html
- The winner will be randomly selected and announced Tuesday, Sept. 22.
If you'd like more information on the book, I recently reviewed it on my personal blog.
Posted by Adam
In congregations operating from an attractional model of church, the identity of the church is centered on the worship gathering, and this gathering tends to be centered on the sermon. Whereas the major emphasis in this model is bringing people in, sermons tend to revolve around meeting “felt needs” with Biblical principles, with an occasional presentation of the gospel in transactional terms. Such an understanding of preaching is so prevalent, that it can be difficult for those who do not adhere to an attractional model to see a relevant place for preaching in the life of the church.
But, is preaching inherently attractional, or is it possible that “attractional” is merely one form that preaching can take? Guder offers a helpful reframe in a discussion of missional worship gatherings:
“Thus we join together the various expressions of Christian ministry in community, which are so often distinctive and unrelated to each other. We will experience and proclaim the sacraments as equipping means of grace. We will understand the music and discipline of worship as the supreme form of preparation for the work of ministry outside the walls of the church. Preaching will become the powerful Word of God equipping, challenging, correcting, and commissioning the people for their incarnational witness in the world.”If the church exists for God’s mission, her gatherings should revolve around preparation for that mission. If we are a sent people, then preaching in our gathering should serve the purpose of equipping the people of God for further and deeper engagement in our cooperative mission with God in and to the world.
Generally speaking, preaching in the attractional church was shaped toward the “seeker”, or the uninitiated. The shape of the message was usually something along the lines of “this is how God’s way benefits you”. This framing is decidedly unhelpful, and based on mistaken assumptions. First of all, the typical worship gathering is comprised mainly (if not totally) of those who already claim to follow Jesus, and who are supposed to be maturing as His disciples. Secondly, to perpetually gear the thrust of preaching to the uninitiated (as this is understood in an attractional model), is to reinforce a static faith, offering no encouragement to mature. It should also be noted that we aren’t called to a consumeristic, “what-can-God-do-for-you” Christianity in the first place. As Guder notes:
“Failure to grasp this essential link between benefit and mission results in the one-sided evangelistic preaching so characteristic of today’s Christian church. We tend to present the gospel as God’s way of getting the individual saved. We call upon people to come to Christ to be saves as though that were the ultimate purpose of our proclamation…Our savedness is not our privilege but our responsibility. To reduce the saving work of God, to say that Christ died “to save me,” is to say far too little, and thus to distort the gospel.”Our assumption in preaching should be that those gathered are the people of God, and that the main engagement that the church has with the world will be through their lives outside our walls. Our emphasis must therefore be on equipping the people of God for living witness-bearing lives, as God’s partners in his mission to the world. In other words, if the point of our gatherings is to encourage one another “toward love and good deeds”, then we must allow our gatherings, and our preaching to take its form from that function.
Lee Wyatt suggests a helpful model for missional preaching in our postmodern culture. He provocatively calls it “Agnostic Preaching”, though his emphasis is on the “struggle” implied by the Greek root of the word, and is not meant to imply the more popular definition employed today. Wyatt explains:
“The fundamental shape of biblical faith is narrative. The non-narrative portions…all grow out of, or respond to the gracious story of what God has done, is doing, and will do in human history. If we allow the shape of this Story to inform our preaching, then we will be primarily storytellers…Specific texts will be embedded in a larger Story. We will tease out the ways in which the non-narrative portions of the Story gain their coherence and intelligibility from the baseline established by the narrative. And the Story will be told again, and again, and again, in as many different ways as we can imagine. It is important to be clear about this. We need to allow the shape of the Story itself to determine both the form and function of our preaching.”Wyatt identifies three forms for preaching in this model. First, he argues for preaching as “re-telling”. This form of preaching serves to provide a broader, fuller understanding of God’s story as revealed in scripture for the purpose of reframing how we view and interpret the world around us, the church, and our own lives. As discussed earlier, I would contend that the biblical narrative is not a metanarrative, and I stand by that statement. It is not a metanarrative, nor is it intended to be one. However, it is a “framing story”. Though related, these terms are far from synonymous. While all metanarratives are framing stories, not all framing stories are metanarratives. Brian McLaren helpfully defines a “framing story” as:
“a story that gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives. It tells them who they are, where they come from, where they are, what’s going on, where things are going, and what they should do.”This is exactly the business of the gospel, the biblical narrative and, therefore the business of preaching. When preaching takes the form of “retelling”, it addresses the question of who we are, and is thus reframing our identity and setting our trajectory.
Secondly, Wyatt suggests that preaching can take the form of “Forth-telling”. In this form, the function of preaching is “bringing the insights and implications of reframing to bear on our current situation.” Here, the preacher is facilitating an exploration of where we are as the people of God. When done well, imagination and creativity are ignited for missional responses in our own contexts. However, it should be stated that this “forth-telling” is only really possible in light of “re-telling”. We must understand who we are to even be able to see the problems to engage in our immediate context, but it is impossible to truly understand who we are and not feel the pull of God’s mission to our world.
Finally, Wyatt suggests a third form for preaching, which he calls “Fore-telling”. In this form, preaching is a means of “retooling”, and seeks to address the question of what we are to do. If the church exists for God’s mission, then the church takes her shape from that mission. Form follows function. But, if God’s mission is to the world, and that world is ever-changing, then the church’s form is never static, but rather fluid and dynamic, as relative to the demands of her mission. This would be a difficult situation for any organization. In the form of “Fore-telling”, preaching can encourage the church to think in terms of the future. God’s mission is on-going and in process. As those who have wrestled with our identity as the people of God and located ourselves in His story, we must remember that the story is still unfolding. Whereas “forth-telling” ignites the flames of creativity and imagination, “fore-telling” fans those flames into a holy inferno. Preaching can remind us that our story is going somewhere, and so are we. As N.T. Wright is fond of saying, we are the people of the “already and not yet”. Wright explains:
“What I am saying is, think through the hope that is ours in the gospel; recognize the renewal of creation as both the goal of all things in Christ and the achievement that has already been accomplished in the resurrection; and go to the work of justice, beauty, evangelism the renewal of space, time and matter as the anticipation of the eventual goal and the implementation of what Jesus achieved in his death and resurrection. That is the way both to the genuine mission of God and to the shaping of the church by and for that mission.”Preachers must help the people of God to see themselves individually and as a community as called by God into his future. As a people who have been formed by God’s action in the past, engaged in God’s action in the present, and oriented towards God’s restoration of all things in the future, we enter into that future unafraid, but rather characterized by faith, hope and love.
The church is the people of God, redeemed for the purpose of partnering with God in his mission to the world. The gospel we proclaim is fundamentally narrative in nature, and to be proclaimed, it must be both embodied and spoken. The church is called together in order to be sent out. As such, both our gatherings and especially our preaching function to further equip us for that mission. Thus preaching serves to clarify our identity, ignite imagination and creativity, and instill faith hope and love as we walk with inspired confidence into God’s future.
 Guder, Be My Witness, 234.
 Ibid., 11.
 Hebrews 10:19-25
 Gelder, Confident Witness--Changing World, 161-162.
 Ibid., 161.
 McLaren, Everything Must Change, 5-6.
 Gelder, Confident Witness--Changing World, 161.
 Ibid., 162.
 Wright, Surprised by Hope, 270.
Posted by Adam
If the gospel finds its truest form in narrative, then it would follow that our best articulations of it would come in that form as well. But, if the gospel is this particular narrative of reconciliation and restoration, our practice of telling that story is shaped by it all the more. The postmodern ethos of contemporary culture has a much-noted distain for metanarratives. For many in the Christian faith, this appears to create an impasse in terms of evangelism, for they believe that our story is grand, overarching and true. Indeed, many so-called “evangelism training” programs now include a section defending metanarratives, seemingly suggesting that those who don’t yet believe must be converted to the concept of a metanarrative before they can be converted to the gospel. However, I would suggest that this concern is unnecessary. For the record, I affirm that the narrative of the gospel is grand, overarching, and true. At the same time, I would argue that the gospel narrative is not a metanarrative at all.
In a discussion of Christianity in light of Lyotard’s self-admittedly oversimplified definition of postmodernism as “incredulity toward metanarratives”, James K. A. Smith explains:
“…many assume that metanarratives are the target of postmodern disbelief because of their scope, because they make grand, totalizing claims about reality and have universal pretensions...But this is not what Lyotard means by a metanarrative. What is at stake for Lyotard is not the scope of these narratives, but the nature of the claims they make. Put another way, the problem isn’t the stories they tell, but the way they tell them (and, to a degree, why they tell them). For Lyotard, metanarratives are a distinctly modern phenomenon: they are stories that not only tell a grand story…but also claim to be able to legitmate or prove the story’s claim by an appeal to universal reason.”Smith goes on to explain that that the problem with metanarratives is that they are a particularly modern phenomenon. They claim to be legitimated from an objective, universal standpoint that is above all perspectives and outside all stories. Thus, they function as power-games that coercively demand compliance. The problem is that while they attempt to dismiss all other narratives, they are, in fact, narratives themselves, and proceed as such, while denying their own nature. The gospel is an invitational narrative, and as such does not act coercively. The gospel is not a story of a God who exercises “power-over”, but rather it is of a God who humbles himself, who takes the form of a servant, who saves by exercising “power-under”. As such, those who would bear this God’s image must do no less. When the gospel is spread by coercion or even by intellectual bullying, it ceases to be the gospel. Byron Stone explains:
“…when a hearer’s acceptance of the Christian message becomes obligatory, when witness is no longer surprising but coercive because it is presented as undeniable, the good news is neither news nor good. Weakness, vulnerability, incarnation, and refusability are all markers of faithful Christian witness.”Thus, evangelism is not about winning debates about the “rightness” of the gospel. It is about bearing witness to good news, embodying good news, and speaking good news to the world.
There is a powerful and pervasive temptation to define the gospel as merely information, and thereby to render “evangelism” as the successful transmission of that information. This is deeply problematic. Scot McKnight argues that while the gospel must certainly be proclaimed, it must also be performed. He explains:
“The first without the latter is hypocrisy; the second without the first is not the gospel. But, together they tell God’s story so satisfyingly that others are compelled to join along.”The story of the gospel is hollow and irrelevant if it is not embodied by individuals and by communities of faith to the world. The imperative to bear witness to the gospel is not simply an imperative to speak testimonies. It is a commission to live as witnesses in and to the world. In short, when a person becomes a follower of Jesus, this should be good news to everyone around them on some level, due to the kind of person they are becoming. As those who begin to live lives that bear witness to God’s unconditional love, grace and forgiveness, they will thus embody those things to the world around them regardless of agreement or reciprocation. This is not to say that bearing witness never calls the witnesses to speak prophetically or stand in opposition or protest, for there has always been tension between the people of God and the “powers that be”. However it is to say that even in protest, the “power-under” stance of those who would bear witness looks more like the nonviolent resistance of Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu, and Mother Teresa than the coercive, “power-over” methods so often employed in our world.
Modernity presented us with a further temptation that tends to obscure our approach to evangelism. It comes to us in the form of our obsession with measurable results. While I certainly affirm there is a body of research in the field of marketing that can be quite useful in terms of clarifying our communication, there is an obsession with church marketing among many church leaders (and members) that reveals an apparent syncretism between Christianity and consumerism. Darrell Guder rightly cautions that focusing on things like measurable results and numerical growth tempts us to “dilute the gospel in order to ensure success”. Guder believes that such a focus necessarily conflicts with the practice of incarnational ministry. Emphasizing the role of God in evangelism, he explains:
“The response to the gospel is in the realm of spiritual mystery. We can no more produce faith as the manipulated result of our proclamation than the farmer can make the seed sprout once it is planted. Thus we may properly understand effectiveness as obedient witness, which God uses to present the gospel in power and truth.”Such an understanding is true to the cooperative impulse within the gospel narrative itself. God has invited us to partner with Him in His mission to the world. God is already at work reconciling the world to Himself, and he invites us to join Him. Our call is to bear faithful witness placing our confidence in God’s action. However, this is not to advocate a ham-fisted, unthinking approach that actually distorts the gospel. Many missional leaders have been raising precisely this concern, and there are several recent books exploring this theme from a missional perspective. Pointing to a Christian subculture that exists as a direct result of an attractional understanding of church, Dan Kimball plainly states:
“…please understand, I affirm that the gospel is a radical message that entails faith in the risen Jesus, the denial of self, and repentance to align with God’s will. I know that this message is a stumbling block and that there will be those who reject this good news. Yet I am convinced that we have created a new stumbling block with our Christian subculture that keeps people from even getting to the gospel at all.”In short, there are those who will certainly reject the gospel. However, as those who are called to bear witness, we also bear a responsibility for presenting the gospel with our lives and our words as accurately and as clearly as possible. Ours is a story that must be embodied as well as heard. May we resist the urge to promote a god created in our own image. May we faithfully bear the image of the God of hope, who never gave up on his dream for creation, and who even now is working to reconcile all things to Himself.
(To Be Continued...)
 Lyotard, The postmodern condition, xxiv.
 Smith, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?, 64-65.
 Ibid., 66-69.
 Stone, Evangelism after Christendom, 232.
 Mcknight, Embracing Grace, 3.
 Guder, Be My Witness, 138.
 Kimball, They Like Jesus But Not the Church, 238.
Posted by Adam
As Christians began to drink deeply from the wells of modernity, they began to place a much higher value on things like objectivity and human reason. Additionally, the Biblical text and even the gospel itself seemed to be presented in a manner that proved unwieldy, cumbersome, and frankly inefficient. With modernity’s lenses firmly in place, thinkers began to mine the text for eternal truths in the form of propositions. These propositions were then systematized in an effort to make them more accessible and understandable. Thus, the tendency was toward a simplified gospel that articulated how individuals can make sure that their souls can go to Heaven (and/or not Hell) after they die because of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
Such an approach is problematic to say the least. While, proponents of such a definition can point to key passages in Scripture that (devoid of context) seem to support their case, the meaning of the death, burial and resurrection (not to mention life, teaching, and ministry) of Jesus is virtually incomprehensible outside the context of the broader scriptural narrative spanning from creation to consummation. Additionally, it is difficult to reconcile such an individualistic focus with the God who is revealed in Jesus. Indeed, as Dallas Willard quips in a discussion of what he calls “the Gospel of Sin Management”,
“Can we seriously believe that God would establish a plan for us that essentially bypasses the awesome needs of present human life and leaves human character untouched? Would he leave us even temporarily marooned with no help in our kind of world, with our kinds of problems: psychological, emotional, social, and global? Can we believe that the essence of Christian faith and salvation covers nothing but death and after?”Such an unconcerned, escapist gospel seems not to be very good news for a lost and dying world. Indeed, it seems to require one to become convinced of contextualizing “bad news” before it can even be heard as “good”.
The Biblical accounts of the life of Jesus repeatedly tell us that he and his disciples preached “the gospel”. This is quite significant, since none of the disciples really understood what was going to happen with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus yet (as evidenced by their confusion when it actually happened). Additionally, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, “gospel” is routinely associated with the concept of the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of the Heavens). For Jesus, the Good News seems to be that God’s Kingdom is breaking through. It seems to be that God has not given up on us, or his dream for all Creation. It seems to be that through Jesus, things are being set right. Some might object that Paul doesn’t use this “Kingdom language”, but as Brian McLaren rightly points out (after pointing out 13 overt references in Paul’s writing to the Kingdom message),
“…we should consider that Paul may be dealing faithfully with the new situation Jesus has created. In this light, we can read Paul carefully and see if his message actually does deal with new problems and opportunities created by Jesus’ success.”Additionally, we find all of this language rooted in the OT scriptures, and particularly in the prophets. Language permeates most of the NT documents that points to the “restoration” “reconciliation” of “all things”. The gospel is essentially a true story that begins with God creating all things out of love, including human beings who are charged with bearing his image. It is a story of humanity’s selfish choices that shatter the harmony of God’s creation, and of the God who calls humanity back into relationship with Himself so that they may partner with Him in the restoration of all things. It is the story of a God who becomes a human being in order to free them from sin, death, fear, and their own selfishness so that they might embrace their destiny as the children of God and their mission as partners in God’s dream of restoration. It’s a story that ends with God making “all things new”, the lifting of a curse, and the healing of the nations. It’s a story of hope, peace, and abundant, eternal life. Chris Wright astutely reminds us that:
“…we must not rest content until we have included within our own missional response the wholeness of God’s missional response to the human predicament—and that of course includes the good news of Christ, the cross and resurrection, the forgiveness of sin, the gift of eternal life that is offered to men and women through our witness to the gospel and the hope of God’s new creation…Mission may not always begin with evangelism. But mission that does not ultimately include declaring the Word and the name of Christ, the call to repentance, and faith and obedience has not completed its task. It is defective mission, not holistic mission.”
 for example, 2 Tim. 2:8-9
 Willard, The divine conspiracy, 38.
 McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus, 94.
 Wright, The Mission of God, 319.
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