Several weeks ago, I wrote a review of Jason Boyett's new book, O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling. Jason recently asked me to write a guest post for his blog on the subject of faith and doubt. Check out my contribution HERE.
Posted by Adam
Author's Note: Matthew Paul Turner asked me to write this response to the video linked below. My response was originally posted at his blog, Jesus Needs New PR. There was a good bit of discussion in the comment section there, if you are interested.
OK. It makes my wife nervous when I wade into these kinds of discussions, especially when I do it publicly. Now, for the record, I claim no affiliation to any political party, as I think political parties tend to demand a level of allegiance that I’m not willing (or at liberty) to give.
That being said, this most recent clip of Glenn Beck “teaching” us about social justice and partnership is abhorrent in my opinion. Of course, it would be merely ridiculous and laughable if I were simply judging it based on content alone. But that’s not the only issue here. What bothers me is the blatant attempt to co-opt Christians for a political agenda (as well as for ratings). What bothers me more is how wildly successful it’s been. To that, some of you might say, “But isn’t that what they are arguing against?”
Yes, it is. And that’s the hypocrisy of it all.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think scripture mandates government-enforced socialism or communism (which are not the same thing). However, it should be noted that under the Mosaic Law, redistribution was actually mandated in some ways i.e. “leaving the edges of your field unharvested for the poor,” and the “year of Jubilee”. But scripture doesn’t advocate unregulated free-market capitalism, either.
The theme that I read over and over again in scripture is God’s concern with what kind of a people we are becoming–both collectively and individually. Are we becoming the kind of people who actually care about the other person…the poor and the oppressed…the widow and the orphan?
Are we becoming the kind of people who find ways to demonize and devalue other people, so that we can justify hoarding wealth and resources for ourselves?
Do we look for ways to baptize selfishness, or is the unconditional love of God that we’ve accepted making us more loving and generous people? Is grace something that we merely accept, or is it something that we embody?
Do we care more about the government trying to take our “hard-earned money” to help the poor and oppressed than we care about the fact that they are poor and oppressed?
Do we use one verse (out of context) from Second Thessalonians to justify our way out of more than 2000 verses of scripture that deal with our responsibility to the poor and oppressed?
(SIDE NOTE: Did you realize that the prophet Ezekiel identifies the “sin of Sodom” as the fact that they were “arrogant and overfed” and that they “did not care about the poor and the oppressed”?)
Are we so troubled by the plight of the poor and oppressed that we wrestle with the complex nature of the problem and the inadequate solutions offered by political leaders on all sides, or are we suckers for T.V. personalities whose confident, righteous-sounding rhetoric gives us ways to justify our selfishness, greed, and/or prejudice?
You see; the term “social justice” was coined because the word “justice” became obscure over time. That happened because the legal, punitive meaning of “justice” began to dominate society’s understanding of the term. But in the Bible, the dominant meaning of “justice” is more akin to what is currently meant by the term “Social Justice.”
(Glenn Beck badly mis-characterizes “social justice” in the video clip.)
Sadly, we Christians have a very pervasive tendency to remake God in our own image instead of the other way around. And we use Scripture as a tool to prop up what we already want to believe rather than allowing God’s story to change our hearts.
That’s why it saddens me to hear Jerry Fallwell Jr. and George Lillback happily lend their support and “wisdom” to Beck’s propaganda. In this clip alone, they oversimplify issues that are deeply complex (Biblical and otherwise), and even poorly reveal the actions and words of historical figures (like Rauschenbusch, for instance, which will be clear to anyone who has actually read his works) and concepts they cite. I’m unclear if their actions are because they haven’t taken the time to adequately research these issues, or if they think they’re serving some “greater good”.
To me, it seems they’ve allowed themselves to be co-opted and used. Multiple positions could be intelligently and compellingly argued by people of faith, if they would simply admit the complex nature of the argument. Instead, we get people passing themselves off as experts to support what is little more than political, social, and media propaganda.
Sure, I’m disturbed by the fact that Glenn Beck is presuming to tell people where they should and shouldn’t go to church. But you know what bugs me the most? The fact that so many Christians actually buy into Beck’s message. Where’s our discernment? Why are respected Christian leaders standing next to him and supporting his propaganda?
And why in the world do so many people of faith feel the need to be at this man’s beck and call and serve his agenda rather than the agenda of Christ?
Posted by Adam
I have always enjoyed Jason Boyett’s writing. I became familiar with him when, on a whim, I picked up his “Pocket Guide To The Apocalypse”. His good-natured sarcasm, combined with the fact that he takes the time to “know what he’s talking about” had me at “Hello”. Since then, I’ve read several of his other “Pocket Guides” and I follow his blog. When Boyett announced that he was releasing a new book with the provocative title, “O Me of Little Faith”, it would be an understatement to say that I was interested in reading it.
Now that I’ve read it, I must confess that Jason Boyett has created a problem for me. On one hand, he seems to have unknowingly written his book about me. I am a confirmed doubter. For me, faith and doubt are like eternal dance partners. It seems to me that “faith” is more closely related to words like “trust”, “confidence”, “hope”, “commitment”, and has less to do with words like “certainty” or “convinced”. I can’t turn off the questions. I don’t generally find books on apologetics helpful. I resonate with the man who cried out to Jesus “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief” in the gospel account. On the other hand, not everyone is like me. I’ve found that some people aren’t given to such incessant questioning, and that the things that are issues for me aren’t issues for them.
So here’s my problem: Jason Boyett has written a beautiful, hopeful, gut-wrenchingly honest book for people like me. I can’t even begin to tell you how refreshingly helpful it was, and how much life it breathed back into my faith. But, at the same time, I realize (as Boyett seems to) that for people who aren’t like me, this book could be devastating. He doesn’t shy away from hard questions, and he doesn’t answer them. He doesn’t defend the status-quo. He doesn’t whitewash problems. He makes no attempt to win any debates. He speaks with poignant honesty as one who is deeply committed to hope. I can’t recommend this book to every Christian I know. However, I know that I will, without hesitation direct my fellow faithful doubters to this beacon of hope. It is a well of living water that I will return to again and again.
Posted by Kenny Payne
For those in the American Restoration faith stream, it is axiomatic that the way forward is to go back. I recently saw a Facebook post by one of my friends who quoted C.S. Lewis as saying, “We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” That quote, I suspect, resonates with many people in the Restoration heritage. Yet for all the passages offered about “seeking the old paths” there are other texts, also in the Bible, that warn us not to go back, but to go forward – deeper into the walk of faith, deeper into the heart of God.
The prime example, of course, is Israel’s experience in the desert immediately following the exodus from Egypt. God’s plan seems to have been to keep Israel in the desert for a few months and then to lead them into the promised land. Unfortunately, Israel had other ideas. God called them to faith, based not on some pie in the sky wish, but on the hard evidence of God’s provision and deliverance from Egypt. Israel persisted in grumbling and complaining, allowing the needs (and they were real needs) of the moment to overshadow their trust in God. In incident after incident Israel entrenched themselves in the habit of complaint and murmuring rather than prayer and expectant faith. They also developed a quote to express their lack of faith – “Let us return to Egypt. At least there we had all the food we wanted!” It is staggering, really, to imagine a group of people who could so quickly rewrite their history of slavery and the accompanying misery into a memory of a well stocked buffet. Of course the Egyptians fed them, how else would they have the energy necessary to work each day. But it is highly doubtful that there was ever a day when the food supply was “all we wanted.” (Exodus 16:3)
On the eve of entering the promised land the spies returned and reported that the land was truly amazing, but there were obstacles. The cities were well fortified and the people were ready to fight for their land. In addition, there were also giants there and “we seemed as grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:33) Rather than answer the call of faith, Israel decided to choose new leaders and head back to Egypt.
The impulse to “go back” can, of course, be a wise decision. But it can also indicate a devastating lack of faith. The path of faith always leads to unfamiliar territory. The only thing familiar about the path of faith is the uncertainty in creates in the hearts of the people who walk that path. The way to God’s will is to trust enough to keep moving forward in faith, even when every fiber of your being cries out to return to the known quantity of the past. It is not just ancient Israel who finds their reconstructed memory of Egypt more palatable than the path that God is calling them to walk.
I once sat on a bed in Gorlovka, Ukraine with my wife, Lora, holding our return tickets to America. We had been in Ukraine about two weeks and it was nothing like we imagined it would be or like it had been promised to us. We stared at our return tickets, wanting desperately to use them, then prayed that God would bless our decision to keep our commitment to what we believed was his call in our lives. The path of faith is never easy, and I have discovered that it seldom leads me back to a comfortable past (whether real or imagined). Instead it continually beckons me forward to a future that God knows and I can only dream about.
What is the primary direction of restoration? I believe that there is value in going back – back to the Bible, back to Jesus, back to the early traditions of our faith. However, I would offer this caution: we do not go back as an escape from going forward. That is the road that leads to death in the desert and a wasted generation. We only go back to get our bearings, to get the courage we need to say yes to God’s call to walk into his will for our future. The call of faith is always forward to the very heart of God. Faith is the spiritual preparation that allows you to say with Jesus, “not my will, but yours be done!”
Check out this great review of Brian McLaren's new book, by my friend Matt Wilson
Book Review: A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren « Dream to Reality
Posted by Adam
Though I'm quite sure he would deny that anyone owed him anything, I owe Brian McLaren a debt of gratitude. Over the years, Brian's writing has breathed fresh life and vitality into my faith. To say that I was excited when Viral Bloggers offered an opportunity to review his newest book would be an understatement along the lines of claiming that Bono is kind of interested in social justice, or that Glenn Beck exaggerates a little.
Most of the critics' objections essentially stem from concerns about orthodoxy. Maybe it's because I'm from a non-creedal tradition, but I've never quite resonated with the orthodoxy/heresy argument. (I realize I may have just painted a target on myself...but that kind of illustrates my point, doesn't it?). For starters, an enormous amount of what has historically been defined as "heresy" was so classified by people who were publicly executing people they disagreed with, in the name of the crucified Christ! I'm fairly sure that misses the point of the Gospel to a much greater degree than having different ideas about whether God and Jesus are made out of the same substance. Secondly, when certain subjects are off-limits for questions, it looks like we're not actually interested in "truth", but rather merely maintaining the status quo. Additionally, for large portions of church history, the "orthodox positions" were precisely wrong (slavery, women's rights, etc.) I could go on and on...but I won't.
McLaren's approach isn't coercive. He explains that he isn't attempting to answer these questions definitively but rather is responding to them and inviting us, as readers and willing participants into the conversation. He is seeking to get conversation out of the polarized deadlock that it is so often bogged down in, because of the bounded categories (liberal, conservative, etc.) imposed in modernity that serve to insure no real conversation can ever take place (which reminds me of the state of a certain country's political system...but I digress).
- The Narrative Question: What Is the Overarching Storyline of the Bible?
- The Authority Question: How Should the Bible Be Understood?
- The God Question: Is God Violent?
- The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and Why is He Important?
- The Gospel Question: What Is the Gospel?
- The Church Question: What Do We Do About the Church?
- The Sex Question: Can We Find a Way to Address Sexuality Without Fighting About It?
- The Future Question: Can We Find a Better Way of View the Future?
- The Pluralism Question: How Should Followers of Jesus Relate to People of Other Religions?
- The What Do We Do Now Question: How Can We Translate Our Quest into Action?
What Brian offers here is a beautiful and thoughtful way forward. Is it perfect? No. And he never claims that it is. Will his responses satisfy everyone? Uh, I've never read any book that did that. However, to Brian's credit, he doesn't pander to any particular category's concept of "orthodoxy." A New Kind of Christianity transcends unhelpful categories and sparks hopeful conversation that I believe could point the way forward. That is, if we have ears to hear, and eyes to see.
I've been running into the label "postdenominational," and it's got me thinking about the meaning of "undenominational" in the SCM context. In a sense, it seems that postdenominational church is really post-institutional church. "Institutional church" has in fact become something of a dirty word in the same literature where I find postdenominational presented as a positive description. While undenominationalism certainly carried with it some problematic attitudes in our history, like so much else it began conceptually as an upshot of the plea for unity, not as fuel for sectarianism. I don't think postdenominationalism is about Christian unity at its core, but unity is certainly an apologetic implication for many who feel that institutional church presents a bad face to the world regarding its fragmentation and bickering about patently institutional concerns.
While I would argue that the Restoration Plea (RP) was initially about a variety of things that I'm in favor of--things I believe postdenominational churches are about at their core--I also believe the RP was intrinsically tied to a particular hermeneutic that Churches of Christ have demonstrated to be untenable (whether they wanted to or not). In other words, I don't think what remains once we excise the RM hermeneutic is properly still the RP. Yet, many of the RP's motivations and agendas ought to remain--I would contend that the predilections often demonstrated on this site are a rediscovery of those (that's the continuity aspect of "post-restorationist" that goes beyond the merely historical, imo).
So, the question for me is this: On what basis do post-restorationist churches unite with postdenominational churches? I ask this for two reasons. First, I believe truly post-restorationist churches still have (or ought to have) their own agendas and their own tradition, which they should not forsake in the frenzied pursuit of the pop-evangelicalism that has gripped the American ecclesial scene (even though there may be significant points of similarity in motivation and agenda). I suspect that point is debatable for many. Second, given that forsaking continuity with the restorationist aspect of post-restorationism is a poor option, I believe that unity is not achieved in facile terms. It is a difficult question.
I started to post these thoughts elsewhere, but I figured it would be more provocative on a site with "friend of emergent village" and friend of missional" logos on its home page, because the currently faddish means of achieving facile unity (or at least cross-denominational commonality) is to append one or both of the adjectives "missional" and "emergent" to one's ecclesiology. I would like to suggest that that is a very problematic move. At the same time, I think it points in the direction I would like to go on the road to unity with postdenominational Christianity.
In the Jan. 2009 issue of Missiology Darrell Guder, one of the leading "missional church" thinkers, pointed out that the term "missional" has become "a cliché, a buzz word, a catch-all phrase that could mean everything and nothing." This is the state of the discussion. The "motivational" posters I've posted here are the way some conservatives have devised to pour salt on the wound that is vogue yet hackneyed Christian culture. I appreciate both their concern and their sense of humor, if not their stance. Obviously, I'm lumping together "missional," "emergent" and "postdenominational" here. I think that's fair enough, though I'd be open to fine-tuning. My point is that a truly missional theology and lifestyle seems to me the best basis for unity between those who are "postdenominational" on purpose (rather than just because they are postmoderns and don't like the institutional)--including ourselves. By on purpose I mean: because of God's telos, his mission. Yet, a challenge faces us to articulate and demonstrate what that really means. Post-restoration churches cannot continue to be the worst of what we were, should not forsake the best of what we were, and yet moving forward with the vision of unity among our core values poses a question we have yet to answer. For my part, I hope that we will not acquiesce to the mainstream, because merely calling ourselves "postdenominational" no more takes up past the theological and sociological reality of denominational differences than calling ourselves "undenominational" did. We've already learned this lesson. Nonetheless, the trend is a hopeful one insofar as it is corresponds to a thorough, substantial recentering upon the mission of God.
One of the most interesting implications of a missional post-restorationism is that forms matter. Forms (by virtue of said hermeneutic) were what really united the RM and gave it its identity. Recentering upon God's mission frees us to embrace the implicit restorationist belief that forms matter and transform it into a radical commitment to contextualization. While I've been prone to argue, as a reaction to my restorationist heritage, that function matters rather than form, I've been driven missiologically to believe that such an argument is a false dichotomy. Contextualization demands forms that serve function. Could it be that post-restorationist churches are in a place to redeem the concern with forms and use it for the good of the kingdom?
Another angle I've considered only briefly and need to flesh out more in my own thinking is how to shift consciously and intentionally from the foundational framework of Campbell's "Christian System" to a post-institutional model in light of contextual concerns. In other words, again, while "missional/emergent" stuff is pointing a way, as post-restorationists we have a particular road to pave in order to get from point A to point B. Perhaps it's as easy as just doing it another way, but that doesn't seem likely to me at this point.
Thoughts . . . ?
Posted by Adam
I recently read A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, by Brian McLaren. I received my copy from The Ooze's Viral Bloggers Network, and I am working on a review that should be up in the next couple of days. In the meantime, TheOoze.tv has begun posting a series of videos featuring Spencer Burke interviewing McLaren about the major ideas in the book. I'm posting the first 2 here. If you have time, watch them and let me know your thoughts/reactions. I'm really interested in knowing what you think.
So, what do you think?
A few years ago I learned that the area in which I grew up has fewer congregations of Churches of Christ than nearly anywhere else in the United States (see Mac Lynn's Churches of Christ Around the World). I haven't looked at this book in quite awhile, and I am not sure if it has been updated recently, but Lynn used to include statistics for the most populous counties in the country that did not have a representative congregation of the Churches of Christ. Several of the counties (Putnam and Hancock it seems to me were two) were in northwestern Ohio. This reality meant that growing up, by and large, I was completely unaware of the vast number of congregations like mine that existed in other parts of the country.
One of the most peculiar characteristics of the Churches of Christ have been their incredible uniformity while at the same time complete lack of any kind of national governing or organizational body. As I argued previously in the section on autonomy, our localized nature may be our strongest attribute for effective ministry in the postmodern world. In a world that eschews "the man" and nebulous bureaucracy, the localized structure (or better said: lack of structure) that describes Churches of Christ is of great value, not to mention its biblical foundation. In this last of the five "Hopeful Fruits" for the Churches of Christ ,I argue that our autonomous nature has created a legacy of strong, localized ecclesiological theology, or, more simply put - we have a strong, positive view of the local church. There is a correspondingly negative that has accompanied this strength (a weak concept of the univeral church), but we'll tackle that at another time.
For the most part, our churches are good at being the church, locally. Now, even as I type that, I admit that I have witnessed much evil conducted in local churches. Our understanding and practice of local church is positive and offers hope . . . it is not, however, perfect - nor has it ever been. While certain theological traditions in the Churches of Christ have led to some very ungodly characteristics in many of our churches, our understanding of what it means to be the local church, in my experience, has been mostly positive. While the individualistic swagger of evangelical soteriology (study of salvation) [which Stanley Grenz so adequately describes in his history and critique of evangelicalism in Renewing the Center] has certainly crept its way into the thinking of those in Churches of Christ, I do not believe that it has to the same as it has in evangelicalism.
The centrality of local theology is perhaps most predominant in the sacramental theology of Churches of Christ. The high place of baptismal theology in Churches of Christ continues to have an important ecclesiological function: baptisms are done in church buildings, surrounded by church families and almost always in public. While often lacking an overt pedagogy of community, the weekly celebration of communion also maintains some emphasis of the visible, local church. We remember the Lord's sacrifice . . . and we remember it together. This is perhaps taken to the extreme in the celebration of communion with one cup by the one cup churches still in existence. (I understand the doctrinal emphasis of the one-cup churches isn't necessarily ecclesiological - they opt for pattern theology's dependence on the example of one cup in Scripture - but the practice cannot help but emphasize the togetherness and oneness of the local church.) I use the example of the fringe one-cup group of Churches of Christ not to say that we should celebrate communion in such a manner, but instead to illustrate how even our most conservative groups maintain a high vision for the local church.
Churches of Christ are good at being the family of God. While I differ theologically with many in our heritage, I think most have a pretty good grasp of what it means to be a church. (Consequently, many think that they have a pretty good idea of what it means to be the church . . . and with that I strongly disagree and see a need for pruning sheers, but we'll get to that at another time.) Congregations of Churches of Christ pray together, pray for each other, have potlucks and eat together, they share their wealth with the needy, and establish important community missions and projects. We do many good things in our communities and for our local contexts. Any discussion involving a critique of this body of churches must first acknowledge the good that we are. No group of churches is perfect, but equally, I think all groups of churches bring something important to our understanding of who God is (here I still hear the ringing in my ears of Stanley Grenz's idea of a generous orthodoxy from the book Renewing the Center that I just finished reading over the weekend), and ours is no different.
By limiting our hopeful fruit to five, I am in no way claiming to present the exhaustive list. I think that Churches of Christ have positive fruits in other regards: some of our churches have been on the forefront of youth ministry since its inception (Steve Joiner's graduate thesis from ACU on the history of youth ministry in Churches of Christ is a good look into how long we've been at it). Winterfest is a premiere youth event attended by over 10,000 people in Gatlinburg alone and has expanded to Arlington, TX. NCYM has grown into a nationally respected youth ministry training event. Dudley Chancey is a visionary and has done much for our churches in this area. Our colleges, by and large, are incredibly healthy and vibrant. Lipscomb, ACU, Pepperdine, and Harding have all grown and established themselves as world class institutions, with Lipscomb and Abilene Christian especially moving forward in the academic world. These schools continue to grow in their influence and stature in the world of academia. As long as these schools maintain a focus on training church leaders, the future of Churches of Christ will continue. More could be said of our theology of baptism and communion - our unique perspective on both maintaining areas of great theological value for the broader Christian community.
But all is not bright for Churches of Christ. As I've noted in each of these sections, our hopeful fruits all have an accompanying reason to be concerned. Call them viruses or attacking foreign insects, there is reason to believe that the Churches of Christ as we know them need some work from some pruning shears. Over the next several posts, I'll offer some areas in which I believe the Churches of Christ must address as our tradition has developed some unbiblical obstacles to the Gospel that have become problematic for our ministry to the postmodern world.
Posted by Adam
Several months ago, I was troubled by the almost gleeful judgment and condemnation that was heaped onto Michael Jackson upon his death...often by people who claim to follow Jesus. Now, in the wake of the Tiger woods scandal, I am experiencing a sense of deja vu. Woods' actions were certainly immoral and he violated both his marriage vows and his wife's trust. This is between him and his family...not us. The truth is, he is a fallible human being, just like the rest of us...who seems to be struggling to put his life and maybe even his family back together. The second we can no longer feel sympathy for him, his wife, and his children as human beings, is the second we stop being human ourselves. Followers of Jesus are to be people of grace. We have received grace, and we are to embody it. Grace. Healing. Redemption. Reconciliation. Shouldn't people who have received (and are receiving) such things be the first to reflect it back to those who need it most?
Sorry if I'm rambling, but it really bothers me. I'm reminded of a passage from David Dark's book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything:
"Pervert is a verb, and we do it all the time. To pervert is to degrade, to cut down to size – and we do it to people in our minds. We devalue them. We reduce them to the limitations of our appetites, of our sense of what might prove useful to us, of our sense of what strikes us as appropriate. We often only file them away – these living and breathing human beings – into separate files of crazy-making issues-talk. When we think of a person primarily as a problem, a potential buyer, a VIP, a celebrity, or an undocumented worker, we’re reducing them to the tiny sphere of our stunted attention span. This is how perversion works. Perversion is a failure of the imagination, a failure to pay adequate attention.
While perversion appears to be the modus operandi of governments and the transnational corporations they serve – and the language both speak in their broadcasts – the reductionism implicit in perversion doesn’t ultimately work. It doesn’t do justice to the fullness of what we are. We, the people, are always more than our use value. Like the God in whose image people are made, people are irreducible. There’s always more to a person – more stories, more life, more complexities – than we know. The human person, when viewed properly, is unfathomable, incalculable, and dear. Perversion always says otherwise. Perversion is a way of managing, getting down to business, getting a handle on people as if they were things. A person reduced to a thing has been, in the mind of the perverter, dispensed with, taken care of, filed away. Perversion is pigeonholing…
I tried to share some of this with my high school students, and a fellow who’s always quick with an encouraging, conspiratorial smile walked up after class (always a rewarding experience) and said, “So we’re all perverts then.”
“Yep,” I said. “But we aren’t only perverts. We certainly underestimate each other, misperceiving and misrepresenting other people from one moment to the next. But we also get it right sometimes. We aren’t just perverts. In fact, if we say of someone that he or she is a pervert and nothing but a pervert, we’re being perverts speaking perversely as perverts do.” Here I had to pause to take a breath. “Like calling someone a fool or an idiot. It’s one of those things Jesus tells us to never ever do. Calling someone a pervert without acknowledging our own inner pervert might lead to the destruction – or at least the perversion – of our own soul. We become perverts in our determination to catch a pervert.”
Grace and Peace,
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- pop evangelicalism
- Restoration Plea
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