Ah HAH! No Wonder Emergent is Threatening to Evangelicalism!

I've been reading this month's issue of Christianity Today. In two separate articles, David Neff and Philip Yancey both cite British historian David Bebbington and his four-part definition of evangelicalism.

In Yancey's article, A Quirky & Vibrant Mosaic, excerpted from the introduction of the forthcoming book, The Beliefnet Guide to Evangelical Christianity (by Wendy Murray Zoba) he writes,

“The British historian David Bebbington suggests this overall summary of evangelical distinctives:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a ‘born again’ experience.
  • Activism: the expression of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts.
  • Biblicism: a particular regard for the Bible as the ultimate authority.
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross as making possible the redemption of humanity.”
In Neff's "Editor's Bookshelf" column, in which he interacts with Kenneth Collins' new book The Evangelical Moment: The Promise of an American Religion, Neff writes,

"No one can write about evangelicalism without engaging in the difficult task of definition. Collins follows David Bebbington's four key characteristics, which when taken together help us recognize evangelicals: the normative value of Scripture, the necessity of conversion, the cruciality of the atoning work of Christ, and the imperitive of evangelism."

No wonder many evangelicals get upset when Christian leaders (especially those in "emerging" circles) begin to ask questions about these four things.
  • When somebody suggests that we need to re-think how Scripture functions in the life of a believer, that's a threat to evangelicalism's Biblicism.
  • When somebody suggests that conversion may be more of a process than an instant decision, that can be a threat to traditional evangelical ideas concerning Conversionism.
  • When somebody suggests that penal substitutionary atonement is not the only way to describe the gospel, again we sense that threat--to Evangelicalism's Crucicentrism.
  • And when somebody says that evangelism methods that have been used for the last century need to be reshaped, that is (can you guess?) yet another threat, this time to Evangelical Activism.
This is just one of those "Ah-hah" moments for me.

Colon Blow

One of my favorite old Saturday Night Live sketches was Phil Hartman's "COLON BLOW." (The transcript can be read here).

I'm having my colon blown today for a colonoscopy tomorrow. I ate four pills at noon, and at 3:00 PM, I had the colon equivilant of Niagara Falls. Now I'm forced to drink 8 glasses of this clear, thick solution that makes me gag.

It has not been fun.

But it has been funny.

Pretty Good Article on Emergent from the Tennessean

The Emergent Convention was held a couple weeks ago in Nashville. The Tennessean wrote a pretty good article, introducing us to what it was like.


Album or iPod?

There was a time when I’d bring home a cellophane-wrapped album from one of my favorite bands. Trembling with excitement for the experience to come, I would unwrap the LP and place it upon the turntable, looking at the graphical artwork on the album cover and in the artistically-rendered liner notes, reading the poetry or insider-information provided there. Then I’d listen to the album in its entirety…reading the lyrics, listening to the transitions between songs, the artistry of how the songs weaved together flawlessly to create the total listening experience.

Is the rock album a thing of the past? Not if bands like Porcupine Tree have their way. Steven Wilson, the band’s leader, said in a recent AP story, “When rock 'n' roll was born in the '50s, it was all about the two-minute pop song, and the album was just that single with some filler. Then we had the 'Sgt. Pepper' era, when the album became more important than the single. But then MTV came along and took everything back 20 years to just being about the pop single again.”

He’s right. And now, with the advent of the iPod, listeners are encouraged to download singles from their favorite artists, put them in playlists of their own choosing, and listen to a completely customized, individualistic set of songs, with the (eeeeyuck!) choice to shuffle those songs in a haphazard way. This is different than the communal experience of listening with some close friends to an artistically formed album that the artist has crafted as such—not just as a compilation of single songs, but as a total listening experience.

In the AP interview, Porcupine Tree’s Wilson adds, “For too long rock has suffered from lack of focus on the music, as well as turning its back on album structure, which can fuse a batch of songs into something greater than their own sum. There are so many people out there who mourn the loss of that great album era.”

Stop and think about that a moment...Granted, there are a lot of great bands today. But how many put the effort onto creating "album structure" and attempt to create a total album that is "something greater" than the sum of the individual songs? That is the beauty of albums.

Wilson has another take on what the iPod will do to bands in the future: "The iPod-and-download culture means that bands that really live or die by their next hit single are suffering more than the bands that make (proper) albums. Bands that offer just a couple of hit singles and a lot of filler — you can download them from iTunes, 99 cents."

Porcupine Tree’s latest album, "Deadwing" entered the Billboard magazine "Top 200" chart a few weeks back at number 132, and nabbed fourth place on its Alternative New Artist roster.

Maybe, just maybe, bands of a new era of the progressive rock genre like Porcupine Tree can bring on an album renaissance.

I just signed the ONE Declaration

"WE BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty. WE RECOGNIZE that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing additional resources for basic needs – education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans – would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries, at a cost equal to just one percent more of the US budget. WE COMMIT ourselves - one person, one voice, one vote at a time - to make a better, safer world for all.”

The ONE Campaign is a new effort to rally Americans to fight the emergency of global AIDS and extreme poverty.

Each ONE of us can make a difference. Together as ONE we can change the world.

We can beat:

  • AIDS
  • Starvation
  • Extreme poverty
ONE billion people live on less than ONE dollar a day.

ONE by ONE, we can help them help themselves.



Ryan Bolger on DA Carson's Critique of the Emerging Church

Here's a link to what Ryan Bolger, Professor of Church in Contemporary Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, offers as his thoughts on D.A. Carson's book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.

D. A. Carson: Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church


Putting Theories of Atonement in Their Place

Earlier on this blog, I asked, “Is DA Carson right about the ‘Heart of the Gospel?’”

For Carson, the “Heart of the Gospel” is the penal substitution theory of the Atonement. My case is that this is not the “heart,” but rather an “aspect” of the gospel.

Dallas Willard writes,
“If you ask anyone from that 74 percent of Americans who say they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ what the Christian gospel is, you will probably be told that Jesus died to pay for our sins, and that if we will only believe he did this, we will go to heaven when we die. In this way what is only one theory of the ‘atonement’ is made out to be the whole of the essential message of Jesus. To continue with theological language for the moment, justification has taken the place of regeneration, or new life. Being let off the divine hook replaces possession of a divine life ‘from above.’” (The Divine Conspiracy, p. 42)

Leonard Sweet writes,
“Over a two-thousand year period, but especially in the last two hundred years, we have jerked and tugged the Christian faith out of its original soil, its life-giving source, which is an honest relationship with God through Jesus the Christ. After uprooting the faith, we have entombed it in a declaration of adherence to a set of beliefs. The shift has left us with casual doctrinal assent that exists independent of a changed life. We have made the Cross into a crossword puzzle, spending our time diagramming byzantine theories of atonement. How did the beauty of Jesus’ atoning work get isolated from the wonder of restoring an authentic relationship between God and humanity?” (Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, p. 5)

What do you think? Do you think that it’s possible that we’ve been teaching and preaching an anemic gospel? And what is the overall effect (or lack of effect) of such a gospel?

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What is Faith?

For far too long, this has been my definition of faith: “Believing the right things about God and Jesus Christ.” My faith, when-push-comes-to-shove, was reduced to, “I affirm that Jesus lived and died and was resurrected. At least I know the facts of doctrine.” And the more enmeshed in evangelical Christianity I got, even pastoring a couple churches, the more faith became defined as believing correct doctrine.

In order to evangelize, I felt that I primarily had to explain to people the facts that they needed to know. Even though we would never explicitly say so, evangelism was an invitation to think like Christians think, not an invitation into a relationship with God.
Apologetics in this context was all about defending the faith of correct beliefs: a philosophical argument for the principles and propositional statements that my “faith” was based upon, rather than an incarnational display of the relationship that I have with God.
And in order to join the churches I had pastored, I felt I had to teach the doctrinal statement of the church—since, in order to “belong” you had to “believe,” I had to make sure they believed all the doctrines of my church.

But in this subtle slide into defining faith as belief in propositions, I began to lose the real essence of faith.

So, “What is Faith?” This is the positive side of Leonard Sweet’s book, Out of the Question...Into the Mystery, whereas “What is Sin?” (an earlier blog post here at vanguardchurch) is the negative. Is faith the belief in propositions? Is it being able to believe the right biblical doctrine?

One of Sweet's biggest points in his book is this:

“The Bible does not cast faith as a spiritual footpath to heaven or an inner stirring that we try to rev up when the chips are down. Neither does Scripture describe faith as a cognitive capacity that God activates to effect our justification. Rather, faith is consistently defined by Scripture, at base, as a set of trust relationships—with God, with neighbor, with the world, with creation.” (p. 14)

“The word believe is an ancient compounding of the verb be and the noun life. To ‘believe’ is to
‘be live’—to live your being, to trust your ‘being’ to ‘life’ . The root meaning of believe as ‘credo’ did not originally mean nodding in intellectual assent; it meant ‘to give my heart to’ or ‘to hold dear’ or ‘to love’…In almost every place where the Torah talks about someone ‘believing’ God, you can insert the word trust or be living…The English phrase ‘right relationship’ captures more accurately the biblical meaning of the phrase ‘right belief’…If one understands ‘belief’ as intellectual asset, even the devil is a ‘believer.’” (p. 27)

“Biblical faith is not about living a moral life. That’s religion. Biblical faith is not about living the ‘good life.’ That’s capitalism. Biblical faith is about living the GodLife. An abundant life with the living God is living in a GodLife relationship. Obedience, in the biblical sense, is not ‘doing what you are told.’ Obedience is living relationally, even ‘indivisibly,’ with the Holy One so that we honor, uphold, receive, and follow all that God is and all that God is calling us to become. Biblical obedience means living in the light of who God is as much as in submission to what he says. That’s obedience in relationship” (p. 59)

So, to paraphrase, faith is not an adherence to a set of beliefs; faith is a trusting relationship with God. The ministry of Jesus Christ is the ministry of reconciliation—the restoration of the relationship.

And then it follows, since this is what faith is, that sin must be defined as the breaking of relationship.


I’ve accepted the position of AREA DIRECTOR with the CCO

The CCO is a college ministry that is very open to Emergent ideas for reaching a new generation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

My ministry is to supervise and equip about 20 CCO staffers on Northern Ohio college campuses as they spiritually form college students to be transformative agents in the world.

Transformation is the key—this isn’t simply about us going up to Heaven (though eternity with God is the wonderful hope of all believers in Christ), but rather about God’s Kingdom coming down to earth. We pray for God’s will to be done down here as it is done in heaven—in the very vocations for which these students are training and in the very lives for which these students are preparing. We want these “transformed students” to “transform their world”—in their schools, their workplaces, their families, and their churches. These students are the future leaders of the world.

This kingdom-oriented understanding of mission means that there is a reintegration of things like evangelism, social action, vocation, and all of life. There is not a "sacred life" (where we go to church, pray, and share the gospel with people) and a "secular life" (where we work, play, enjoy relationships and God's creation). The two are really two facets of one integrated, holy and holistic life that has transformative power.

In other words, the best thing we can do for non-Christian college students is help Christian college students get a clearer understanding of God’s kingdom and the identity that it gives us—people who are blessed to be a blessing, to reach out into the world with the saving and transforming Good News of Jesus Christ.

Read more about my ministry by following this link.

What is Sin?

For far too long, this has been my definition of sin: “The breaking of God’s commands.” Somehow, I got it in my head that sin was either active rebellion or my passive indifference to the law of God. God has high standards of conduct, and if we "fall short," or “miss the mark” of that moral conduct, we have sinned. I had defined sin in juridical terms. The problem with humanity is that we can never live up to God’s “glorious standards,” so God, as just Judge, must sentence us to a destiny in Hell. But God, as merciful Savior through Jesus Christ, lived the perfect life of obedience to the moral law and then died the death that we each deserve because we all fall short of that perfection. Those who place their trust in this juridical transaction are saved from Hell and assured of Heaven.

It all sounds so biblical—it’s straight out of Romans. But it is not the whole story.

Leonard Sweet, in his incredible book, Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, defines sin this way: “Sin is a relational concept. It is a violation of and damage done to our relationship with God and others and ourselves. God’s grace is the gift of relationship. Both sin and grace are defined biblically more in relational than juridical terms…Sin is not a breaking of commands; sin is a breaking of relationships. When we sin we do not break stone-bound laws, but heart-carved love.” (pp. 144-45)

So, God’s commands are given to ensure relationship. I recently had my kids draw their own stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. Trey, my six-year-old, asked me why these commandments were so important. I thought, “What a great question!” I said to him, “the first four commandments tell us how we can love God—how to have a great relationship with Him. The other six commandments tell us how we can love people—how to have great relationships with them.” He liked that answer better than, “Thus sayeth the Lord!”

There is a reason for the commands; there is a reason for God’s law. They are there to ensure healthy relationships—with God and with others. Sin is the breaking of relationships. That is why Jesus was able to sum up all the commands as simply as this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (see Mark 12:28-31; Matt 22:34-40)

If I can move my thinking away from simply “law-keeping” to the more all-encompassing “relationship-keeping,” the law-keeping will come more naturally, for the law is all about relationship-keeping. If I focus on law-keeping and not relationship-keeping, I won’t accomplish either.

Jesus said, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command." (John 15:9-14)


A Conversation between Joel and Linda about Eternity

The other day, my five-year-old son Joel said to my wife Linda, “I don’t want to die.”

Linda responded, “But because of what Jesus did, even though we’ll die, we will live forever with Him.”

Joel looked intently at Linda and said, “That’s eternal life” (life, in Joel lingo is pronounced, “wife”--"That's eternal wife.").

Linda nodded, “Yep. And everything you love here will be there--only much better.”

To this Joel said, “Oh... I thought eternal life meant being in Ohio forever.”

...Eeeeeeks! Let’s hope not!

I like what Michael Wittmer wrote in his must-read book, Heaven is a place in Earth.

“Because the cultural mandate has never been rescinded, we may rightly expect to continue our cultural activity on the new earth, much as we are doing now. So the new earth will be an exciting, interesting place to be. We will be always growing, always learning more about ourselves, the world, and God. We will never bottom out and become bored, for we will never know as much as God knows. There will always be some new joy to discover, some place to visit or revisit, some new dish to create, a new flower to breed, a new song to sing, a new poem to write, a new golf club to try out, a new lesson to learn and then pass on to someone else, some person to know more deeply, something new in our relationship with God. And this stretching and growing will go on forever.” (p. 207)

New TNIV Paperback Bible Fits with Emerging Church

I really like this new give-away Bible from the International Bible Society.

Fits right in with Emerging Church ideas about how to present the Bible to a new generation.

The cover reads:
How God created the world... ...Watched it turn against His purpose... ...Lived among us... ...Was still rejected because He didn't fit expectations... ...Turned everything upside down to get things back on track and now invites you to find your place in THE STORY OF GOD.

I like the TNIV translation; it seems very well done (though many on the more conservative side have been upset with it).

And this give-away Bible costs only $1.99 each (in a case of 24). That's worth every dime!


Underrated Movies

Rick Bennett has taken a short (hopefully!) respite from political analysis and dialogue to discuss favorite underrated films.

He lists such films as Fletch Lives, Spartan, Miller's Crossing, Unbreakable, and Manhunter.

Take a trip over to Cheaper Than Therapy and read what my underrated films are, and add your own!


Is DA Carson right about the "Heart of the Gospel?"

On another thread here at vanguardchurch, Moses commented, "At no point whatsoever in the book did I read Carson saying/assuming that the emerging church is aiming to overthrow Reformation Calvinist Christianity. I think Carson thinks emerging by and large ignores/misreads/misunderstands Reformation Christianity but you are putting words in his mouth saying he assumes emerging is trying to overthrow it. That's not fair!"

I want to be fair, especially to a scholar I respect as much as DA Carson. So, I had better define what I mean when I say, "I think that the problem lies in the fact that DA Carson assumes that the goal of emergent is to overthrow Reformation Calvinist Christianity"

Disclaimer: I have not read (nor do I intend to read) Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (having listened to the Staley Lectures from Cedarville, and having read Scot McKight's analysis of the book, I think I've had my fill). The comments here are based solely on my listening to the Staley Lectures and from being pretty familiar with Carson's theology, having studied under him and having been very influenced by him in my own theology.

Here's the main reason I feel that Carson feels that Emergent/Emerging Church is a threat: Carson states in lecture #2 that the heart of the gospel is God's loving plan to remove our guilt and shame and to set aside His wrath justly in keeping with His own integrity. "Unless you see THAT as the problem, you cannot possibly be faithful to the gospel!"

He then says that other themes relate to this "heart of the gospel" theme: like Christus Victor (Christ victorious over Satan and God's enemies). Carson basically feels that anyone who does not see forensic justification as the heart of the gospel is a threat to orthodoxy. Carson basically accuses anyone who is articulating the gospel in other historic forms or with other biblical concepts as being eccentric, off-center, and in danger of sliding off into the occult or the irrelevant. He accuses anyone who does not make Penal Substitution the foundational doctrine of the Atonement as not knowing where they are going—into heresy.

But in reality, Forensic Justification is one of many ways to describe the gospel. Christus Victor and other biblical articulations of the Atonement are not “sub-themes” but are equal themes, on par with Forensic Justification. Just because the Reformation stressed Forensic Justification does not make it the “heart of the gospel.”

But since Carson is convinced that the Reformation got this one right (never mind what the rest of Christian theological history has to say about the Atonement), anybody that does not make this Reformation Calvinist Christian Doctrine the center of the gospel must be seen as a threat to “orthodoxy.” (I am not saying that forensic justification is not a major theme in some important parts of Scripture--the question is whether or not it is the FOUNDATIONAL doctrine of the Gospel).

His “heart of the Gospel” statement shows that Carson has been very influenced by the Reformation. The Reformation has shaped the way he approaches the Bible. Therefore, other ways of explaining the Gospel (even if it is found in the biblical text) gets submerged as a “sub-theme” to the Central Doctrine of the Reformation—Forensic Justification.

This is why I say that he sees the threat of Emergent as the attempt to overthrow Reformation Calvinist Christianity.


Somebody needs to be told that...

Hat tip to my buddy Matt for this article from the AP via CNN.com:

Ousted church members ponder next move
Kicked out for not voting for President Bush

Saturday, May 7, 2005 Posted: 10:43 PM EDT (0243 GMT)

WAYNESVILLE, North Carolina (AP) -- A pastor who led a charge to kick out nine church members who refused to support President Bush was the talk of the town Saturday in this mountain hamlet, with ousted congregants considering hiring a lawyer.

"This is very disturbing," said Pastor Robert Prince III, who leads the congregation at the nearby First Baptist Church. "I've been a pastor for more than 25 years, and I have never seen church members voted out for something like this."

In the days since the nine members were ousted, many more members have reportedly left the church in protest.

"He went on and on about how he's going to bring politics up, and if we didn't agree with him, we should leave," Isaac Sutton told The News and Observer of Raleigh. "I think I deserve the right to vote for who I want to."

Sutton, a deacon who worshipped at East Waynesville Baptist Church for the past 12 years, said he and his wife were among the nine voted out.

Prince said he noticed during the presidential campaign that more pastors made endorsements -- although not from the pulpit -- than in past years.

"It used to be that pastors would speak about the issues and not specific candidates," he said. "I think that line is being crossed."

I know that this is not what the majority of churches have explicitly done in the last election year, but isn't it what they have done implicitly?

And does not the dominant Radio Church of Contemporary Evangelicalism (led by James Dobson and many others of the Religious Right) implicitly make evangelicals feel that there is only one way to vote?

We need to allow for open debate on issues of biblical proportions in our churches--issues like Sanctity of Life, War and Peace, Economic Policy, Creation Care, Marriage and Family, Poverty, Hunger, AIDS, Globalization, World Debt, and other issues.

See my
Social Action page.


Blogging: The Next Evolutionary Step in Essaying

Scot McKnight has a very good post--he says that the Emergent conversation is best understood as the literary form called the "essay."

I'd say that blogging is an interesting animal in the essay category...
Because a blog is not really a blog if you don't get to know the person writing it.

Scot wrote that blogging "is essayist -- unless, of course, it is the simple journal form where someone tells us what she is doing today."

However, I think that this is an essential element to a real blog--it is not just disconnected thoughts from somebody you’re not getting to know. Instead, it is an interpersonal conversation. Interspersed throughout a good blog are tidbits of interpersonal communication that allows you to create a relationship with the blogger. What makes blogging so unique is that you grow to understand the person and what he or she is living through as they ruminate on the topics in their more “essayistic” posts.

This is a wonderful step in the evolution of the essay: the creation of a virtual conversational community. When you are in conversation with friends, you “shoot the breeze”—you talk about sports, your kids, what you did over the weekend—as well as about serious matters. And the “shooting the breeze” makes the serious conversations that much more rewarding.


The Terri Schiavo Case—Some Balance Please

As I listened to my conservative and my liberal friends speak out on the Schiavo case, I kept asking questions to myself. Is it really as black-and-white as they both seem to make it? I felt that the case raised more complex questions than it provided simple answers.

Thanks goes out to Christianity Today’s Mark Galli, who had the guts (in his article, Questions for Both Sides) to ask those questions in this month’s CT. I've placed Christianity Today in the “Christian Center,” and Galli's column seems to prove my point.

Here are just some of the questions Galli raises:

Why did the courts consistently refuse to allow new evidence to be introduced in this case, when they often seem eager to allow new evidence to be introduced in death penalty cases?

Why is it that so many who believe one should "love your neighbor as yourself," say they would want the feeding tube pulled on themselves but would not have done it for Terri?

Many doctors were confident that Terri's apparent responses to friends and family were random, unintelligent, motor-driven, and meant nothing. How did they know that?

Why did so many Christians on the Right, who insist Christians should obey governing authority, talk about defying officials and forcing their way in to save Terri?

Why did the single case of Terri Schiavo get so much front-page coverage, and the more than 10,000 per month dying in the Darfur genocide get hardly a mention in the newspapers in the last month?

Why does the Religious Right consider this a test case of whether the nation believes in the culture of life or the culture of death, when the legal case hinged on whether Terri wanted to live or die?

If there are people who were willing and able to take care of Terri, why weren't they allowed to practice such extraordinary love?

Why have many devout believers—who believe in the Resurrection—spoken about all this as if the worst thing that could happen to a person is dying?