Sunday, May 31, 2009
Religion in the ancient world was related to “the cult.” That doesn’t mean what current culture would define as aberrant teaching. Rather, it refers to the practices of the temple or place of worship. It is a sedentary religion. That is not what historic Christianity started as. It started as a movement that had a vision for life that moved people to a mission. It was counter-cultural. As it succeeded it became more of a “cult” (in the technical sense). It’s hard to be counter-cultural when you dominate the culture. But religion is used by people differently. Some secular worldviews are considered “religious” because they have a vision for life for all people. Carson settles that it is best to let each define religion their own way and discern what is meant from the context.
Next, Carson seeks to define the church. He has some good descriptions of what the church is and he doesn’t think it is just two or three people together at a bus stop sharing Scripture together. It is a body of people on mission together (structure is negotiable) doing the things that churches do (worship, Scripture, communion, prayer, etc…). The church has a mission and responsibilities, but he seems to distinguish between church responsibilities and Christian responsibilities. For example, there is an important social engagement that Christians are called to, but it may not be the church’s responsibility. The church should facilitate and encourage people to fulfill the vision of justice, but it should be separate from what the church itself does. This seems to be counter-cultural with much of the social justice emphasis these days. (Note: Carson is not anti-social justice. It just seems that he thinks this is something the church should encourage and provide for on the side – outside the auspices of “church”).
Finally, Carson defines the nation/state. Not sure where the controversy is here. He does note that the nation/state has become the supreme entity whereas there was more intermingling of authority and “religion” in the ancient models. Now the state is largely secular and that has significant implications for the church/state relationship.
More coming soon.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
A high value on freedom comes, perhaps necessarily, with democracy. In fact, which is obviously problematic for Christians, is that freedom can be worshiped. It also raises a host of practical issues that we see played out all the time because there are tensions to freedom.
One difficult tension for the church rolls around each election season. Carson cites a sampling of liberal writers who see Christian conservatives voting a particular way as an erosion of democracy and voting for theocracy. (An insightful writer notes that if political evangelicals got their way (which he doesn’t seem to want) would put us back to the 1950’s, not make a theocracy.) It seems that theological considerations are considered disallowed by some in the working out of the democratic process. Carson seems to speak to this a little later in this section: “Thus every position that is angling for a greater say in the democratic mix is in some sense trying to ‘impose’ its will on others, in the sense that it is trying to build a majority voice, a consensus” (p. 133).
Another challenge with freedom is that the value of the individual is placed so highly that there seems to be no rights of groups to set their own values. When the group values are disallowed, it is simply the work of another group putting their values upon these groups – in this case, those who hold individual rights as superior to all else.
Yet another interesting, yet brief, observation about freedom is how its understanding has shifted in time. Initially it was something that was granted by God and the US sought to make sure the government did not encroach upon it, but it has shifted to entitlements that people expect and the government should grant those freedoms, according to Carson.
Another tension of freedom is that it is both good and bad is that it has to allow some things that we might consider destructive and yet others do not. He uses the example of pornography. Most think negatively of it, but are reticent to limit the freedoms of those who want it for fear the cost of pornography being available is preferable to the cost of losing freedom of choice in general.
Carson concludes with this tension clarified:
The democratic tradition in the West has fostered a great deal of freedom from Scripture, God, tradition, and assorted moral constraints; it encourages freedom toward doing your own thing, hedonism, self-centeredness, and consumerism. By contrast, the Bible encourages freedom from self-centeredness, idolatry, greed, and all sin and freedom toward living our lives as those who bear God’s image and who have been transformed by his grace, such that our greater joy comes in doing his will” (p. 138).
Carson didn’t spend much time here apart to say power is not inherently bad, but the fact that we are fallen people and all of us will be tempted to abuse power in the event that we get it. We should recognize, however, that power is always, from a Christian perspective, delegated from God. Not just for pastors, but for kings as well. It is a lust any would struggle with and we need to use it for good and in a good way if we end up having any at all.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
“Quit speculating about the ‘will of God’ and simply do it – as Mary did [at the Annunciation], as Jesus did [at Gethsemane]. ‘Will of God’ is never a matter of conjecture. It directs a spotlight on believing obedience” (p. 180).
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Keeping company with Jesus (but only by keeping company with Jesus) as we pray ‘Thy kingdom come,’ we will pray boldly. We know that we are involved in detailed participation in the salvation of the world. This boldness is not arrogance. It is chastened by a thoroughgoing modesty. We don’t make up our own strategies and then employ a self-assertive spirit to foment proud visions of a kingdom that uses swords and money and celebrity glamour to beat the principalities and powers at their own game (p. 177).
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The mistake, coziness displacing holiness, keeps showing up in both scholarly and popular writing.This seems like a difficult path to tread. God is personal, friendly with us. But there has to be an awe, a respect present that keeps it from being flippant. I lean toward the awe side, but feel like I miss out on the warmth of the relationship at times. Do you find yourself leaning one way or the other
There is, to be sure, a childlike intimacy and delight in the use of “Abba.” But the word also continues to carry an element of awe and respect and reverence. I don’t cease to be a child in the presence of my father. Otherness is not diminished by affection. Intimacy does not preclude reverence. True intimacy does not eliminate a sacred awe: otherness, Otherness.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
While democracy is good, it is not perfect because we live in a fallen world and mankind can corrupt anything. Also, the minority can be mistreated in a democracy or, it is possible for the wishes of the majority to be held captive by the minority as well. The good and bads of democracy, according to Carson are summarized well in this quote:
“For many pragmatic and moral reasons, we may concur that, granted attendant structures and liberties, it is the form of government least unaccountable to the people and least likely to brutalize its citizens without some eventual accounting. It is a form of government most likely to foster personal freedoms, including, usually, freedoms for Chrsitians to practice and propagate their faith. But it has also proved proficient at throwing off a sense of obligation to God the Creator, let alone the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is another way of saying that it is proficient at fostering idolatry. Its freedoms, so many of which are enormously praiseworthy for political, religious, personal, and artistic reasons, include the freedom to be hedonists, to pursue a life revolving around entertainment, to become inured against responsible family life, communal interaction, and self-denying service in the endless worship of massive egos, passing fads, and this-worldly glitter” (p. 127).While democracy offers many freedoms, it does not deliver the righteousness of God and will, ultimately, come under judgment because we don’t give God His due.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
There are three “seductive subtleties” to secularization, according to Carson, that Christians need to be wary of. Secularism is thought to be an inevitable advancement in the wake of the Enlightenment. This is not a given, according to Carson. There is also a pressure to drift toward a cultural Deism or civil religion. This is what Jefferson and Paine hoped for and Carson contends the loss of this civil religion is not a loss of Christian commitment. Rather, it is a form of secularism itself. Finally, there is a strong divide that limits “meaningful interaction” between Christians and secularists. They may have much in common, but if they do, it is for different reasons. Carson says this is an inevitable divergence in worldviews. Christ and culture are heading in different directions in this context.
Carson doesn’t comment any further, but I think that Christians still need to contend for the public good in culture as an aspect of loving their neighbor – even if the neighbor disagrees it is a good thing. This is contrasted, however, to contending to hold onto a golden age of the past.
Friday, May 22, 2009
“Get used to this: Father. The oldest and most implacable enemy in the practice of prayer is depersonalization, turning prayer into a technique, using prayer as a device. … The question [“How do I pray effectively?”] distorts what is fundamentally a personal relation inot an impersonal technique” (p. 169).Prayer is a challenge for me. This is so elementary, but it is a powerful reminder as I can fall into the very trap Peterson warns against.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I liked Mark Batterson. He seems like a solid guy and I enjoyed that he walked through the Scriptures. I don’t want to go through it all again so I’ll hit on some bullets that I most enjoyed.
1. One of their core values is “everything’s an experiment.” Keeps them innovating and not afraid to fail.
2. There’s a challenge to keep things positive. Each meeting he has with his staff starts with “sharing wins.” I might do this at staff meeting, but I’m definitely making this part of what we do in our small group on Sunday evenings.
3. Sometimes God gives a dream, but we don’t see how it is going to add up. Let God do the math. You step out in faith. God asks, “Do you think I can’t take care of you?”
4. Batterson prayer walks. That will be part of what we do as a small group. I was thinking it before. This was confirmation.
5. Quoting Andy Stanley: “You’ll never be more than 80% certain.”
6. My Biggest Takeaway: This conference isn’t about information. It’s about having someone give you a push. Consider yourself pushed.”
7. Live with a holy anticipation that God can change everything in a moment.
8. Be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. Give God control and He’ll do stuff out of nowhere.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Since we’re a bunch of leaders trying to be missional, we have to check our hearts. His haunting question is this: “Are our hearts so bleeding, do we so care for people, for those who don’t know Jesus that it breaks our heart?” Challenging question. Kimball notes, and I agree (for myself, not necessarily others) that we can package things so much that we lose the heart. We need to have a heart for those who don’t know Christ. This mission should drive us with a passion.
Mission has a huge excitement that comes with it. Look at the short term trips we go on overseas. Why not have that excitement here. The problem is that we aren’t as intentional here as we are there. We lose all of our non-Christian friends the longer we are Christians. We need to be praying for those who have not met Jesus. Another challenging question for some of us who have been Christians for a while: “Who are you praying for? Who’s the last non-Christian you went to a movie with?”
We need to be missional. That means being the church in the world. And Kimball is sure to note that being missional means people are coming to know Jesus personally. To do there needs to be some transition in thinking. Mission should be the organizing principle. You don’t go to church. We are the church in the world. The church isn’t a place you go. It is a people and, if there’s a building, it is a training and support center for sending out. We also need to recalibrate evangelism. We need to care for people like Jesus did. Instead of seeking every opportunity to wedge our beliefs into a conversation, we need to listen and learn. Earn a right to share Jesus.
The most challenging question I remember is this: “What would your ‘missionary letter’ say about your life here?”
That’s jaw-dropping. I intend to have a report of what I’ve done for those who sent me to Kenya, but I don’t think about it here. But when we live on mission, those conversations with baristas and neighbors and fellow parents take on new meaning for the gospel. This mentality needs to start with leadership and be modeled by leadership. In fact, I think I’m going to start writing my own missionary letters. It’s a bit scary, but it might be an interesting insight into how on mission I am (or am not) living.
Kimball unveiled a powerpoint slide to explain what a missional church looks like – or what he’s aiming for. Here it is with some explanation.
Monday, May 18, 2009
One of the most developed industries is ironworking. They have an abundance of tools. The smith is respected in the community and his work is done while paying mind to the ancestral spirits – trusting that they are looking over their work. In their mythology, iron was given as a gift from the gods as wooden knives had driven the wild animals of the jungle out of domestication because their deaths would be so painful. They were driven to being wild by the brutality of wooden knives.
Regarding hut-building, it is a group project where reciprocity is expected when each man builds his home. The work is broken up among gender lines and it is expected that the hut will go up and be moved in all in one day (though materials are collected beforehand). The urgency to move in is that an evil spirit might fill the vacant space if the family does not move in.
There are a few interesting insights that served as a common theme in this chapter.
· The ancestral spirits are important. I don’t know if it is fear or respect, but they are often taken into account. There was also reference to the Great Elder when dedicating a hut.
· In some areas there is a strong gender distinction. Women have nothing to do with weapons. Men cannot get near pottery. While there is cultural pressure in these areas, there still tends to be a distinction based on tradition in other areas. Women don’t play the flute. Men don’t help much with basket-making even though they could do much of it. Gender distinction/division is something we’ll need to keep in mind as we consider the work we’re doing there. We’ll need to be aware and sensitive to the cultural perspectives we’re entering.
· Finally, issues of ritual cleanness were mentioned a couple times. If a couple had sex while food was being prepared, the food would be considered defiled. The flute cannot be played to herds because it will awaken evil spirits and defile the herd. Also, if men touch pottery, it will break. If there is broken pottery, it is assumed that a man came in during the night and corrupted them. I’m not sure how cleanness in Giyuku culture relates to biblical ritual cleanness, but maybe the section on religion will give some clarity.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Carson is not a postmodernist, but he argues that a “soft postmodern” and a chastened modernist are not far apart. His epistemology is essentially that we can know truth exists – through revelation or otherwise – but we do have perspectives that emerge from our cultural background, etc… that color how we view truth. That doesn’t mean truth is irrelevant or non-existent. Instead, it means that we may have an obscured vision of it. Truth remains and it is our responsibility to seek it and conform to it as it is revealed. (This doesn’t seem far from NT Wright’s epistemology in his New Testament and the People of God. It makes sense to me, but some of the philosophy students in my class came unglued.)
In short, a worldview is a view of the world that accounts for reality – answering the key questions of existence. It doesn’t account for everything completely, but they make sense of the world. This whole chapter (last two posts) sets out to defend Carson’s project of discussing Christ and culture. Truth exists, even if it is challenging to discover and culture is definable, even if the edges are fuzzy.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
One of the critiques people have of Niebuhr’s book is that he doesn’t define culture and he actually changes his working definitions/assumptions based upon the perspective of Christ and culture he’s talking about. Carson doesn’t seek to define culture, but seems to argue that we can come to a fairly common understanding of culture even if we don’t agree on all the details.
By refining culture, Carson seems to just deal with a lot of questions that say we can’t do it. I’ll let you read the details, but he seems to settle on the fact that cultures share many commonalities even as people are part of different subcultures. For example, there is American culture, but within it there may be a New York city culture, a Midwest culture, and a Louisiana culture. There are distinctions, but there are also similarities that set it apart as a broad culture as opposed, say, to French culture. If we want to go the other direction, American culture and French culture may unite to create a broadly “Western culture” that is distinct from an Eastern culture that emanates from Asia.
And one can, obviously, be part of a culture and yet be distinct from it in certain ways. Because Christians are part of a culture, this does not mean they are absorbed into it with no distinction. Even though one can be fully American, this does not mean one cannot be fully Christian. The two terms will overlap, but they are not mutually exclusive.
There are helpful distinctions and analogies that clarified my thinking, but this wasn’t an area I felt terribly cloudy in to begin with. Maybe my “feel” of culture is similar to Carson’s – his may just be a little better thought out! :)
In closing for today, one helpful thought was the fact that, based on the non-negotiables of biblical theology, Carson recognizes that certain themes may be emphasized based on certain cultural situations. This isn’t to say the non-negotiables are negotiable; it is to say that certain emphases are appropriate at different times. Some may call this waffling, but I doubt that will be the case when we look next at Carson’s approach to postmodernism (I could be wrong, however. I haven’t read it yet!)
Monday, May 11, 2009
Sunday, May 10, 2009
And Happy Mother's Day to my amazing wife who is the mom beyond compare for our kids!
Everyone else, call your mom if you aren’t going to be with her today!
Saturday, May 9, 2009
The group we’re getting together in the park on Sunday afternoons is putting the “Cause Creates Community” idea to action. We’ll see how it works. I felt like we had a great start to it last Sunday. We’ll fire it up again May 17th. The idea is that we are called to be together for a mission – what we can give rather than what we can get. We’ll see how we do.
Related to this, our desire in reaching out to a segment of our community that has a reputation of being a “tougher” community means we need to dismiss a Christian “profile” in our head before people belong. We talk about letting people come as they are. I think we do a pretty good job at that at our church (but how would I know, really?). In this environment, people are coming into a much smaller environment where any sniff of judgment will be evident pretty quickly.
This doesn’t mean we shy away from God’s Word, but we take people as they are as they’re exploring Jesus. I loved John Burke’s video materials for small groups, No Perfect People Allowed.
A closing common theme Bryant mentioned (closing for me, not Bryant) is that the church isn’t here to meet your needs. It’s here to bless the world, change the world. I pray we will.
Friday, May 8, 2009
His basic goal was community development, not serving the poor. The goal is to get those who have been marginalized and beat down to being full functioning members of their community, caring for their community, taking pride in it, and seeing it transformed. This doesn’t come with free services in and of themselves. It comes by reminding people they have something to offer, something valuable to give. It gives them dignity and creates what they need to restore their communities.
I have often thought about a coffee shop (or something like it) in conjunction with a ministry in downtown LA we work with. It could get people who are doing well (lots of people struggling with addictions down there) out of a bad environment, give them job training, etc… Lupton rebukes that idea. Taking thriving people out of a hard environment only makes that environment worse. God has called the church to care for the poor as brothers and sisters, not to drop in and serve to feel good. That means we’re called to transform communities in a way that leads to the best possible change for God’s glory – and this will take much more than clergy. It takes all kinds of businessmen using their gifts and talents to see God’s glory transform communities.
I’ll probably get mushy on some of the details if I keep going, but it is small enough that it will be easy to scan again as need arises. I highly recommend it. In fact, I have a handful of friends who are good businessmen and/or have a heart for the poor that I’m going to buy one for. Lupton’s book may not be the most in-depth analysis, but I thought it was great for a novice in this area like myself. I’m sure there are others like me who could benefit from it.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
What’s uncomfortable about this space is that people follow you before God because they don’t know Him. But that’s how you introduce them to Jesus. He uses Shakespeare as a third space example (I didn’t get it. Guess it shows how far I am from third space). I understood when he used the movie example, however. You can create movies in the 2nd space, but you know you’re third space when you’re invited to make a blockbuster. A Biola University (a local Christian university) guy was invited to produce (I think) The Day the Earth Stood Still. He was invited to the third space, to be an influencer. You can’t push you’re way in. You have to be invited. Once invited, you can influence.
The problem we’ve had as a church in this area is that when we have superior 2nd space talent, we’ve called them to get out of the 2nd space and use their gifts in the 1st space, where they’ll never (or exceedingly rarely) get invited to the 3rd space to alter the course of history. He said the greatest musicians in the 60s became Christians and the church told them to make praise music for the first space and a huge potential for influence was lost.
I found this a great challenge that I’m not sure what to do with. Their goal at Mosaic is to create a 1st space that helps in the 2nd space and is known by the 3rd space. Sometimes that doesn’t work with people in the 1st space. McManus had to de-friend facebook and Twitter friends because they’re so entrenched in 1st space subculture that they were undermining his mission to connect with people in the 2nd and 3rd space. If you’re committed to making change in the 1st and 2nd spaces, you’ll be shot at from people in the 1st space because you don’t fit their paradigm and the things that make 1st space people happy don’t resonate with the 3rd space.
The goal is to help people find Jesus at work around them. Paul didn’t bring Jesus to Athens, he pointed out, through their own poets, how Jesus was at work to make Himself known to them. He rolled out that God is in everyone’s story. We need to help people get in God’s story. The challenge is that Paul was rejected by many – are we willing to endure rejection. And are we willing to risk the loss of reputation to be part of what Jesus is doing. Get ready for friendly fire.
The final notes I wrote from these plenary session was this: “Triangle: willing to risk, Scripture, we need Jesus.”
I don’t know exactly what this means, but I have a good idea and that’s a good place to start a group committed to reaching our community. We have God’s Word. We need to cry out for Jesus to show up. And it is a risk. Here we go.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The problem with pastors is that we have people in the 2nd space and we pull them out to build the church and then go to conferences to figure out how to mobilize people to get back into the 2nd space. (We shouldn’t have pulled them out in the first place.) If Eldredge is an exemplary 1st space person, Steven Covey is the perfect example of a 2nd space LDS. McManus argues that Covey did far more for the Mormon Church by being legit, having credibility in the 2nd space, than he did as an elder of his local church. I know I benefited greatly from his book … and I’d do well to read it again. If we’re tracing “spaces” with movies, this would be where you’d see The Trial of Emily Rose or Spitfire Grill. I haven’t seen either so I’ll have to take his word for it. The idea, though, is that these are in the mainstream marketplace, not in a Christian subculture.
The goal for the church is to create a second space that helps people engage in their 2nd spaces. Every church is a first space, particularly for believers. At Mosaic they seek to make Mosaic a first space for everyone, but we’ll get more to that in the Eric Bryant’s lab, which I’ll cover in a few days. But it is important to note for pastors that, even though we’re communicating to God’s people in a first space, we’re modeling for them how to communicate spiritual things. They’re going to mimic us in the 2nd space. Are we communicating in a way that won’t sound like an alien language in the 2nd space?
And the success of our people in the 2nd space makes the space of influence, the 3rd space, a possibility. We’ll look at that tomorrow.
Monday, May 4, 2009
If everything we’re doing is working exactly right (at 100% efficiency), will we bring about the change we desire?
When I think about success – even though we’re always told to do otherwise – I think of a big church, big missions budget, etc… But even when there are large churches, the community isn’t always transformed – even if a ton of individual lives are. This kinda rocked me right out of the gate.
McManus said significant cultural change doesn’t happen within the church walls. He went to Paul’s encounter on Mars Hill in Acts 17. Paul was distressed at all the idol worship in Athens. Distressed because God was not being honored and people were seeking gods that can’t help them. So he goes to the synagogue. But you can’t change anything in the synagogue (or church). At least you won’t stop idol worship.
This is where McManus introduces the idea of “first space.” This is where everyone is like us – and we like everyone. There are understood rules and it is “our turf.” We too often pretend to be changing the world inside the church walls. First spaces, I believe, are important, but we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that we are changing the world just talking to ourselves.
In the evening session, McManus unpacked the first space by way of examples. First spaces would be churches (as just noted) or someone like John Eldredge speaking to people about their relationship with Jesus. In terms of movies, Fireproof (Kirk Cameron) is a first space movie. It is made for the Christian community, has great influence within it, but its influence beyond that community is pretty limited.
McManus does not dismiss the importance of first spaces, but he warns that if we “live” in the first space, we’re going to become irrelevant in the 2nd space (we’ll get to that tomorrow).
Sunday, May 3, 2009
The blog usually isn’t this personal, but here goes … since I guess it has public implications. I’ve been intrigued with our church’s vision to plant satellite campuses and have been toying with different ideas as to how that could become a reality. Lately we’ve recognized a need at our church to minister to an area where there are several motels and more financial need than most of our community. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not talking about Skid Row, or anything like that. But there’s an area that we as a church have neglected for some time and I don’t know that any churches are doing anything there.
These two visions/goals started converging lately in my mind (and in the mind of a friend as well). We aren’t at a place as a church – financial or otherwise – to make a commitment to a full-blown satellite. So I’ve announced to our small group, placed a brief announcement in the worship folder, and talked to a couple friends about starting a small group that exists to reach this area of our city. That will be why we exist as a group.
What do I mean? Instead of asking, for example, what study we should go through next that will be beneficial to us, or what kind of social things will be beneficial to us, we should be asking what will it take to reach that community? The goal is to build a small group of missionaries. Our goal will be to build an authentic community that really loves each other, prayer walk the focus community so we can have an idea of the needs, love that community and become a genuine part of it and invite them into our community as well. From there, we hope they become part of our church, eventually. Either way, our goal is to love and minister to that community.
We’ll see how it goes. Pray for us. I’m a bit terrified by this step, but we’ll see how it goes. It starts tonight.