Tag Archives: church

Books!!!

Those close to me know that I always ask for books for Christmas. Its nerdy, I know, and I think it annoys my wife, but I do it because I get stocked up for the following year. So Amber bought me my first two books:

  • Foolishness to the Greeks by Leslie Newbigin – I always encourage my family to buy me used copies and this one is used.  I love it because it is full of underlined sections and commentary by the previous owners.  Newbigin argues that Christians must now approach the western world as a mission field.  The book was written in the 1980s and from what I can gather from other books I have read on the subject, is one of the foundational books for missional theology and the missional movement.
  • The Great Giveaway by David Fitch – Fitch is one of my favorite bloggers.  I remember the first time I found his site he had a post up about politics and Zizek, which in my mind, any pastor/theologian who engages Zizek in a constructive way is worth respect and worth reading.  The book is essentially about how the modern evangelical church has given away so much of what it means to be the church (be it to big business, parachurch organizations, psychotherapy, or consumer capitalism) that it has become barely distinguishable from other societal institutions.

So these are the first of hopefully many that I will be reading in 2009!

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The Gospel and Culture

I decided to try and pick up where I left off with Missional Church.  So I am on chapter 2 which starts with this very rich and thought provoking paragraph:

“The gospel is always conveyed through the medium of culture.  It becomes good news to the lost and broken humanity as it is incarnated in the world through God’s sent people, the church.  To be faithful to its calling, the church must be contextual, that is, it must be culturally relevant within a specific setting.  The church relates constantly and dynamically both to the gospel and to its contextual reality.” (Guder, 18)

Today, when we think of the church being relevant we imagine the megachurch with the incredible graphic arts program and the best band in town.  However, I do not believe that is what the author is referring too (although I do not believe that can be completely ruled out either). I believe this goes much deeper than just finding new methodologies. The author goes on to say, “In order to contextualize responsibly, the church must assess its culture critically, discerning and unmasking (deconstructing – my addition) its philosophical foundations and values.”  So this issue is much deeper than just using new technology and a great speaker to reach our culture.  It requires a very deep understanding of the world around us (and especially within our own Christian culture). 

So Chapter 2 is a study of how North American (US and Canada) culture has evolved into its current state.  It begins going all the way back to the Enlightenment and analyzing the birth of modern culture.  Critically assessing how those ideas have established who we have become, both negatively and positively.  The author reminds us at the beginning that this is not something Christians can simply choose to do if we want to truly live out the Gospel in the US, it is something we must do for our own sake as much as for the people we are called to love and reach.

“…because culture is not neutral, this discipline will assist the church to discern how it might be compromising gospel truth as it lives out its obedience to Christ the Lord.”

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Questions and Faith

Over the weekend I received a call from a friend of mine back in Arkansas.  I hadn’t talked to him in awhile so it was great to hear from him and we talked for over an hour.  We have always had an interesting relationship because while I have always “had” faith, he hasn’t.  In high school and into our early twenties he was an agnostic and would tell me about his desire for faith, he just had a lot of questions.  After a lot of prayer and a lot of conversations over a couple of years and his girlfriend’s persistence, he finally started attending church.  It is amazing and beautiful to see how far he has come in his journey.  He is at a point where he believes in God and enjoys going to church.  The problem is he is afraid that many at his church resent him.  You see, there is something special about him…he asks questions!  He doesn’t take churchy answers for granted and won’t accept the easy answers and I pray that never changes.  What is sad is that the church (most modern churches) is not a place where he is welcomed to explore his questions, and that is tragic.  What safer place should there be?  Especially when it comes to questions about God.  Anyways the conversation made me think of a paper I wrote in college about interpretation (hermeneutics) and discipleship, so here are a couple paragraphs of it:

(Jacques) Derrida also warns about the dangers of exhausting a text.  In his interview with Evelyne Grossman he states “Imagine that someone claimed to have said everything that needed to be said on the subject of this poem or that line of Celan, that someone claimed to have exhausted the subject.  That would be terrifying; it would be the destruction of the poem.”  Does this not ring true of the state of Christianity today?  Has the text not in some way been exhausted?  Is this why (G.K.) Chesterton complains that Christianity has some how lost its wonder?  Take for instance a child growing up in Sunday School.  The modern church structure is one of “yes, but” discipleship that stifles creativity and individuality.  Rather than empowering people in a way that will allow them to grow spiritually on their own or from each other, the current system makes them look only to a pastor, priest, or Sunday school teacher for guidance (or answers).  Such a system seems to work to cultivate a spiritual life in a child or an adolescent; however, this becomes problematic when they become young adults and enter the university.  On the one hand the student has professors that encourage critical thinking, something that the Church never encouraged when it came to faith, while at the same time the student no longer has the spiritual guidance of their former pastor or priest.  This more than anything else is the reason why many conservatives fear the so called “liberal” agenda of American universities.  It is not because the student is being force fed liberal values, but the students are learning ways of becoming independent and begin to question these former institutions that in a sense suppressed their intellectual faculty.

This circles back to Chesterton’s need for both a feeling of security and wonder.  On page 166 Derrida simplifies the way in which he reads a poem, “Here is what I believe on can reconstitute, what that could mean, why it is captivating and beautiful and strong, while leaving the unsaid intact, inaudible.  That will, moreover, authorize other readings.”  If the Church would instead teach the Bible in just such a way then they will have the opportunity to still guide participants in a “sound” or “good” theology, but at the same time empower them and give them the freedom to figure out for themselves what the “unsaid intact, inaudible” is.  This, I think, will create a faith or spirituality that can survive and contribute to the life of an individual because it is his/her own personal faith, rather than something that was fed to them in a building with a steeple.  So in this sense Derrida’s form of postmodern hermeneutics offers religion, specifically Christianity, a way to rekindle wonder back into the tradition and empower the people which it serves.

All of this is to say that Church should be a safe place.  A place where people can come with questions and find a warm, loving environment in which to explore faith and Jesus.  We should never be afraid of questions and never offer shallow answers to deep questions.  Rather than love that conveys a level of disrespect both ways.

My prayer is that my friend will never stop asking questions and never accept the easy answers.  I hope he wrestles with faith and in doing so fall ever deeper in love with God.  I believe that God is pursuing him and that he is much closer than he thinks to finding Him.

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