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Entries in emerging church (8)

Tuesday
Jun012010

A new way of 'being community' - Ron Martoia's ttTribe Manifesto

I have been a fan of Ron Martoia's work for some time now.  I devoured his recent book 'The Bible as Improv' (on my iPad no less!) and found it to be one of the most accessible, and clearly reasoned books on forming a Biblical faith in a world of competing truths.  Ron's style is not to skirt around thorny issues, but to approach them head on, thoughtfully and meticulously deconstructing the facts from the fiction.  His work is well researched, extremely well written, but what sets it apart from other such excellent texts are his ideas!

Ron has a passion for authentic faith and an authentic expression and experience of being in community with Jesus Christ.  I find a great personal resonance in his passionate approach to knowing Christ and making him known.  When I read Ron's books, and the posts on his blog, I get an image of someone who is not willing to live with a lie, or a half truth, or a denial of the difficulty of being in relationship with God in Christ in real world situations!  There are far too many Christian authors and theologians who skim over the tough questions and real challenges for the sake of comfort; placing a higher value on appeasing the masses than on discovering and sharing expressions of truth.

Today Ron released his 'Transformational Trek Tribe Manifesto' - it is a challenging series of invitations for authentic Christian living.  As I read it my perceptions of the Christian faith and Christian living were challenged and reshaped.  It is only 12 pages long, but perhaps these are among the best 12 pages I've read this year.  There are some points that I am still digesting, considering, and praying through.  I guess that is the way it should be with challenging thoughts!  You may not agree with everything that Ron writes in the ttTribe Manifesto, but it will certainly challenge you to seek a deeper, more sincere, and more authentic faith life in Christ and the world.  I invite you to read it!

I will be making this required reading for my students!  Once you've read it I would love to hear your feedback and comments!

Monday
May032010

Connected by the strong bonds of God's grace - Sivin Kit a good friend.

I am blessed with many wonderful friends!  I relate to many of them because we share at least one common interest.  There are a few others with whom I feel a closer affinity because we share some deeper and more significant common values.  Then there are those among whom I am privileged to be counted, because we share a common approach to our faith in Christ.

My friend Sivin is one such friend.  

Since we first met in Malaysia in 2007 we have stayed in good contact.  Here's what I wrote in reflection of our first meeting:

Yesterday I made a new friend, Rev. Sivin Kit, he is a theologian, and pastor, and to our amazement we found that we have so many things in common! Rev. Kit kindly collected me from Kuala Lumpur at the end of the MPC to bring me to the 'Seminari theoloji Malaysia'. He is a past graduate of the seminary, and now serves as a Lutheran pastor in KL.

As Sivin and I talked I was amazed to discover just how many things we have in common as persons (for one thing we're the same age, but for another we are both avid bloggers! Please take a look at Sivin's blog here: Sivin Kit's Garden. Sivin is also the co-ordinator for 'emergent Malaysia', a network of pastors and laity that are engaged in the conversations of the emergent Church movement. He knows so much more about both the theology, and the ideals, of this movement than I do! What is more, Sivin hosted Brian Mclaren on his visit to Malaysia (I even got to eat in the same restaurant as they ate!) Thanks Sivin for your hospitality, friendship, and patient engagement with me!

Sivin and I remain close.  We have a common desire to follow the person and ways of Jesus.  

Of course there are as many ways to following Jesus as there are people, since true discipleship of Christ is expressed and discovered in a loving relationship with Jesus as savior and Lord. For each of us this journey has meant that we've had to go beyond some of the boundaries of conventional expressions of the Christian faith.  Of course the aims of these careful explorations in faith are pretty similar to those of conventional Christian communities, i.e., to forge loving obedience, to seek true transformation, and to encourage authentic and courageous living with Jesus and those who Jesus loves (in that last part of the sentence you can read 'Jesus loves everyone, not just Christians 'like you' or Christians 'like me'.  Heck, Jesus has a special love for people who do not yet recognized His love!').

Many find such a radically inclusive Christian position offensive.  Others feel unsettled at attempts to discover new depths in authentic Christian living.  For some the thought of uncertainty that is brought about by change is simply too much to bear.

And so, there are times where we are misunderstood.  There are other times where we face rejection for our approach to the Christian faith. I have come to expect this.  As I've said elsewhere, I don't expect people to be able to understand my theology in its entirety - even I don't understand myself fully!

Thankfully, we are not alone on this journey.  There are millions of believers, all across the globe, who are not satisfied with 'mere Christianity'.  There are many faithful servants of Christ who are serious about servanthood.  Many believe that it truly is God's intention to transform the world, and not only to fill the Church. And so we stand together in a loose affiliation of discovery.  We are bound less by a common set of truths than by a recognition that God's gracious love for the world is mystery of grace that requires a tangible response.  We are frail and imperfect servants of a gracious and powerful God!  Our contexts differ, and so do our responses - but our desire is largely the same; faithfulness to Christ and His Kingdom.

Here's a wonderful video of my friend Sivin Kit at the Transform conference (with Brian Mclaren). It gives a great overview of Sivin's ministry and context.

From this video you'll see that Sivin and I have one other thing in common...  the ability to film while driving!

Please visit Sivin's blog here - you will find hours of wonderful reading.  Many incredible resources, and enough challenging thoughts to sustain both your mind and your soul!

Thursday
Feb252010

Church decline and neuroscience... How people decide.

A few times a year I have the great opportunity of teaching some classes at Media Village (mainly in their school of video production and school of photography).  This is an incredible place, run by Graham and Diane Vermooten, two of the most gifted and passionate media specialists I have ever encountered.

I think it is safe to say that their yearly video are among the most effective mobilization tools that the Global Day of Prayer has!

So, today I started my two days of lectures with an incredible team of people - the classroom is abuzz with intellect, commitment and engagement.  It is one of the highlights of my month to be with such a diverse group of people (they always come from all over the world).

The title of today's session is: (A theology) of media, ministry and minds.

In this first session I cover some of the major shifts in Christianity (mainly drawing on the work of Jennings' 'The next Christendom', and my own research published in my recent book 'Christian and positive: Reflections on Christianity in an HIV+ world').  What is clear is that Christianity is moving from the West to the East and from the North to the South.  However, there are some other radical shifts in the 'Christian world'.  In parts of Europe (where Christianity was once strongest, and from where so many of the missionaries came) the faith is loosing ground at a rapid pace!

What is clear is that the traditional Church is in decline.  There are two pragmatic reasons for this decline (you'll be surprised at how simple they are!)

 

  • Fewer people are joining the Church.
  • More people are leaving Churches.

 

These are two simple facts!  The statistics are clear, and I will gladly share them with you - as a start you may wish to read the lecture that I presented in the UK in March last year which has some statistics on South Africa and England.

Simply stated, Church attendance is declining because people are no longer going to Church.  There are many complex reasons for that.  Central to my argument, however, is the thesis that the message of the Gospel, and the person and work of Jesus, have not lost their effectiveness.  However, the Christian faith's method of engagement, support, and community is no longer finding favour in many contexts.

My theory is that there is a neuroscientific explanation for this choice - let me explain.

Human persons choose to do certain things and not to do others.  At a very basic level choice is a function of the brain's operation.  The core purpose of all brains (including those of animals) is survival.  Basically the human brain is a complex survival mechanism (I have written about this elsewhere in detail).  It is designed to help you survive and to help the species survive.  Moreover, the human brain is not only a survival mechanism, it is an efficiency system!  The human brain is incredibly efficient at processing choices for survival!

Let share the following narrative to explain this point.  I'm sure you would have heard about the epic battle of minds between Gary Kasparov (the Chess Grand Master) and the Artificially Intelligent Super Computer, Big Blue (designed by IBM)?  Big Blue was the first computer ever to beat a human at the game of chess. What the programmers and engineers did was to design a machine that could massive linear processing that was both accurate and fast, and pitted all of that power against the Chess Master's years of experience and skill.  As the two opponents faced off against each other they would examine the chess pieces on the board and then each decide in turn what would be the best, or most effective, move or set of moves to make in order to defeat their opponent.  What Big Blue did was to study the chess board and then process every possible move that could be made working out the statistical probability of success for each series of moves (aggregating these statistics by considering a few moves into the future.  For example, if Big blue moved this piece and Kasparov moved that piece, then what set of choices would be presented and would that be good or bad).  You can see how complex that is!  However, the computer's power and speed allowed it to sift through all of the millions of options that had been programmed in each instance to decide what move would be best.  However, this processing is extremely energy intensive!  So much so that Big Blue had to be cooled in order to avoid the risk of fire!

Kasparov, on the other hand, made use of years of 'tacit' learning (basically neural pathways of experience, coupled with dopamine reactions and the input of the occipital frontal cortex) to simply glance at the chess board, see which 4 or 5 options were best (based on years of experience at chess) and so only had to process the probability of those 4 or 5 moves.  Kasparov hardly broke a sweat!  

The human brain is incredibly efficient!  It has been designed for survival and efficiency (which, as I argued in this post, is the reason why greed exists!  We know we need to survive, and so we hoard money and possessions in order to survive for longer with less effort - anyway, watch the little video as well, it gives a succinct explanation of my thoughts in this regard).

What makes all of this even more significant is that the decision-making centre of the brain resides predominantly in the 'old brain', an area of the brain that processes what is best for survival and efficiency without bringing every choice into the 'new brain' (the frontal cortex).  For example, your brain does not alert you of the need to breath, it just does that because you need oxygen to survive.  The same goes for metabolizing your food etc.  The choice to expend energy doing these things is a 'no brainer' as some have said.  It just happens because it is necessary for survival.

Now when you couple this to the way in which the Church operates, you can see why people sometimes choose (consciously or unconsciously) not to attend Church or adhere to the Christian faith. 

I have often asked Christian groups and Churches what tangible value we contribute to society - it is, perhaps, best phrased in a question that I first heard asked by Rev Dr Ross Olivier, "Would anyone in your community (other than your Church's members) notice if your Church shut down today?"  This is a challenging question!  I'm sure that there are many Churches that add little or no value to the communities in which they exist.  Yet, there is a hope that through these communities people will come to experience the Good News of salvation in Christ!

As such, I have come to think that the average person simply does not even consider the role of the Church in their lives.  Moreover, until we are able to effectively meet the 'felt needs' of our communities we cannot expect them to respond to propositional truths about our faith! I've quoted this before, but Ed Silvoso, an Argentian minister once said:

Preaching the good news without love is like giving someone a good kiss when you have bad breath.  No matter how good the kiss, all the recipient will remember is your bad breath!

I think that sometimes my faith, and the faith of Christians communities I am a part of suffers from this unfortunate situation.  Our intentions are pure.  We long to encounter people with the truth that God loves them, and that God loves all people.  Yet, as with the instance of Ecclesia de Lange and Bishop Paul Verryn, we do not show love.  Rather we show judgement and condemnation...

And, when we're 'hard-wired' for survivial and efficiency we will avoid all uncessary pain and all unecessary commitment that does not add value to our lives or the lives of those we care about.

What do you think?  Am I missing the mark?  Is there something that you can see that I've missed, or some point on which I have it completely wrong?

I'd love to hear your views!  I long to discover, and help other discover, ways of bringing the unchanging, transforming, Gospel of Christ to the whole world!

Just on a final note, I am coming to understand the incredible value of shared narrative!  For this new generation 'conversation' is so much more important than 'content'!  They can learn most of what I can teach from books, google searches (and even from I've written on my blog and in books).  It is far more valuable to learn with each other and from each other by conversation and mutual discovery of some truths!

Tuesday
Feb092010

Are social justice and evangelism mutually exclusive in the Christian faith?

Among evangelical Christians there seem to be some basic differences, perhaps one could even call them divides.  One of the more common differences relates to what the intention of the Gospel (good news) of Jesus is about.  

Some would suggest that the intention of the Gospel is to 'preach truth' to people so that they are convicted of their personal sin and so make a commitment to Christ that saves them from eternal damnation.  The outcome of that process in this life may be a transformation of behaviour.

Others, such as myself, believe that the thrust of the Gospel has to do with connecting people with the saving power of Christ that not only deals with their personal sin, but also empowers them to engage with structural sins in the world around them.  Why do persons steal?  Frequently it is because they have need, or they have been poorly socialized.

So, are these two approaches mutually exclusive of one another?  Here's a great video from Skye Jethani, the editor of the Leadership Journal and a founder of the 'Out of Ur' blog on this topic.  I'd love to hear your feedback!

Thursday
Nov012007

Was John Wesley "Emergent"? - an interesting thought!

My friend Jenny Sprong posted a link to the following very interesting article to a list for Methodist ministers.

I think the notion has quite a bit of merit... Although, one should always take care in trying to fit contemporary categories to persons, or approaches, from bygone eras!

Andrew Jones writes, “The emerging church might well be a protest (Don Carson) but it might also be a corrective measure to the excesses and imbalances of the reformation and the Enlightenment. Let the Reformation continue.”

Writing in the Advent/Christmas 2007-2008 issue of the Church of the Nazarene’s Preaching Magazine, Hal Knight (no relation), Professor of Wesleyan Studies at St. Paul’s School of Theology in Kansas City, writes about “John Wesley and the Emerging Church.” Keith Drury has helpfully summarized Knight’s points of comparison in this nifty table (HT).

Graduate student and research assistant/reader-grader Kalev Hinrich summarizes Knight’s article: “John Wesley has been turned into a leading Emergent, postmodern theologian who not only endorses Generous Orthodoxy from his grave, but was its leading founder without knowing it.”

Hinrich offers a pretty lengthy critique, concluding: “In short, Wesley becomes a gracious liberal theologian … but given the context of [Knight’s] argument, so does the Emergent Church and postmodernism. The grand conclusion: The postmodernism and the Emergent Church are basically new forms of liberal modernity, and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Both the original article and Hinrich’s response are interesting reads.

Please follow the links in the article to get the meat of the post... I think it is quite sound and sensible!

What do you think?

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Friday
Aug242007

Do 'emergent' church, and post-modernist approaches to Christianity, mean that everything goes!?

My friend Jenny posted an incredibly poignant blog entry about the emergent church movement. When it gets down to it does the emergent movement fall apart because of its lack of boundaries?

Read Jenny's post here.

Here's my response to her in which I try to make a case for two contemporary theological movements that seem to inform the emergent church, i.e., post-liberalism and radical orthodoxy:

Hi J,

I agree, this is the tension between 'everything goes', and 'nothing is allowed'.

Every theology comes with an up side and a down side. The up side of the emergent church is that it allows enough freedom for people who have been constrained by, or hurt by, structures and hard nosed ideals to find a place within the faith. The downside is that it lacks enough structure to be safe for those of us who need it.

I have recently been reading in the areas of 'post liberalism' (who are the 'brains' behind the ideas that inspired the emergent movement) and radical orthodoxy (what I perceive to be a further move beyond post liberalism - with the Anglican theologian John Milbank). Both are very popular movements in contemporary theology.

Among the post liberals you have persons such as Hans Frei and George Lidbeck (from Yale), and my favorite - Stanley Hauerwas from Duke.

Check out the following links for some insights:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrative_theology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_orthodoxy

Whilst there are some shortcomings, this still seems to be the most sensible theology for our time. It is a mistake to think that there are no boundaries in this theology, and that everything goes (that is liberalism, and some would say heresy). Rather, this theology asks 'what is truly orthodox?', and also 'why have we believed certain things to be wrong and others to be right?' i.e., do we still believe that this is where the boundaries should be? Or should they be shifted (as opposed to completely doing away with all boundaries, which seems to be a simplistic liberal approach)?

Rather than being unquestioning, which is what most assume, it is asking MORE rigorous questions in the pursuit of real truth... However, many of us (myself included) often feel a little bit uncomfortable with some of the questions that are asked, and also by who is asking them. The questions are no longer framed by respectable old white men from Europe and America. Now they come from young women, people from the two thirds world, young Americans who dislike their society and don't have jobs... Of course their questions are just as valid as those of the 'old theologians' like myself.

I think that this too will change... These radicals will one day become the establishment and a different process will challenge the same old content when that happens. Then, those people will wish for the days when things were their way once again... I guess that's part of being human. Revolutionise the world until it is your world, then build structures to support it (like the oxymoron of an 'emergent' 'church' - church is establishment (i.e., it has already emerged). You know what I mean!? I hope I've been sensible enough with this.

Of course, all this is great for theology! It pushes the boundaries, and stretches our thoughts... But, it is not so great for a person who has been beaten up.

Rich blessings,

Dion

Friday
May182007

U2charist... Have U2 songs become the new songbook of the emerging Church?

I have been preparing for an address that I will be giving at a conference in two weeks time (here's a link that will give you some details on the conference).

One of the talks that I will be doing is on the future of worship... I have been praying, pondering, reading, and thinking about the topic. In my search I came across a remarkable article on the 'Preaching Today' blog, called 'Mixing Pop Culture, Video, and Church'.

Of course there are many of us who have already begun to create multi-sensory worship experiences (through the use of sounds, video, drama, interaction, and of course silence [by the way, watch nooma 005 | Rob Bell silence, it's a superb challenge to contemporary Church!). However, at the end of the article the author, Ray Hamm, makes the following interesting comment, and asks a few pertinent questions:

One of the things they did was to play lots of U2 songs. Each Sunday had a separate focus centered around a U2 song: "Mysterious Ways," "In the Name of Love," "City of Blinding Lights," and "Beautiful Day." The band played covers of each song almost note for note, and produced great versions.

They said that some people in the church community were upset by their initial mailer, but the director of creative arts here at Daybreak said there were more concerned with attracting non-Christians than offending people [emphasis mine, I like this approach to Church!].

So what do you think about this? Are these sorts of services (that mix pop culture and church) a good way to reach people or a way of "selling out" to the culture? And, between this and the U2Charist, are U2 songs the new prayer book of choice?

Would you be brave enough to have a Eucharistic service and use U2 songs instead of hymns and worship songs? Perhaps that's just exactly what we should be doing to attract a new generation of 'seeker'....

Check out the following link for more on the U2charist (it even gives an order of service outlining which songs can be used).

What is the future of worship? Leave me a comment, I'd love to include your thoughts (properly referenced of course!) in my presentation.

Wednesday
Apr252007

What is the 'emerging church'?

My friend Arthur, who is the Children's Pastor at Bryanston Methodist Church, sent me an email about the emerging Church. WOW Art, this blows my mind! AND...., your blog needs updating.....

What is the emerging Church? Here's a quote from the paper you can download below:

Perhaps a little Mark Twain tomfoolery will give us a fresh start. Here's the urban legend: The emerging movement talks like Lutherans - which means they cuss and use naughty words; they evangelize and theologize like the Reformed - which means, in the first case, they don't do much of it, and in the second, they do it all the time; they confess their faith like the mainliners - which means they say things publicly they don't really believe in their hearts; they drink like Episcopalians - which means - to steal some words from Mark Twain - they are teetotalers sometimes - when it is judicious to be one; they worship like the charismatics - which means with each part of the body, some parts of which have tattoos; they vote liberal - which means they all move to Massachusetts come election time; they deny truth - which means Derrida is carried in their backpacks.


Ha! Isn't that GREAT! I loved the bit about worshiping with every part of the body, "some of which have tattoos"!

Download Scot McKnight's address to the Westminster Theological Seminary on the emerging Church here. (Gus, you and I will enjoy this guy, he is a progressive New Testament scholar! Very few of those around! Except you and I of course ;-)

Wes, I would love to hear your learned thoughts (being a Doctor of the ecclesiological arts yourself).

The article is a GREAT read, and certainly resonates with my idea of what the Church should be! I will be using some of this when I preach at the Highveld and Swaziland SYNOD of the Methodist Church in a few weeks!