Monday, October 30, 2006

The Big Questions

I'm currently working on a book about the emergent/ing church, and I'm trying to be true to what's really going on. I also want to attempt to answer some of the questions that linger for people, both supporters and opponents.

So, what are your questions about the emergent church?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A 6-year Old's Paradise

This week, my son, Tanner, will experience Halloween and Disneyland. I'm just glad that I get to experience vicariously with him!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

My Proposed Syllabus...

...for Olivet Nazarene University:

Monday afternoon: Does Philosophy Really Matter to Youth Ministry?
Text: John D. Caputo, Philosophy and Theology

Tuesday morning: Postmodern Youth Ministry, Part I
Text: Tony Jones, Postmodern Youth Ministry

Tuesday afternoon: Postmodern Youth Ministry, Part II
Text: Tony Jones, Postmodern Youth Ministry

Wednesday morning: What Is “Culture”?
Text: Clifford Geertz, “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight”

Wednesday afternoon: What Is “Postmodern Culture”?
Text: Blog Archaeology Assignment

Thursday morning: The Emerging Church Response to Postmodern Culture, Part I
Text: Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches

Thursday afternoon: The Emerging Church Response to Postmodern Culture, Part II
Text: Doug Pagitt, Church Reimagined

Friday morning: The Future of Youth Ministry, A Discussion

Wanna Take a Class?

I'll be teaching an intensive course, January 22-26, at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. It's in the Masters of Ministry degree program, and the credits are transferable to several other schools. The class is on Youth Ministry in the Postmodern World, and we'll be attacking both the theoretical and practical implications of postmodernity.

For more info, email Mark Holcomb:

Don't Utter Meaningless Statements

A friend emailed me today, wondering about something I said at the late night theological discussion at the Austin National Youth Workers Convention. I said, "Human beings should not make meaningless statements like, 'God cannot lie,' or ask meaningless questions like, 'Can God create a rock so big that even God cannot move it?'"

Len wrote that he must have misheard me, because Numbers 23:19 states, "God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?"

"God cannot lie" is a meaningless statement, I replied. It shouldn't be uttered. Look more closely at Numbers -- it doesn't say that God cannot lie, but that he should not lie. The point is ethical, not ontological. That is, it's a statement about God's trustworthiness, not about his being. As a human, I should never start a sentence with "God cannot....," because, "God can..." is the only accurate statement.

I believe, ontologically, that God is capable of all things. Thus, human statements that attempt to retard the agency of God are nonsensical and should not be uttered.

Wanna have some fun conversations like this? Come to the late night convo in Anaheim or Charlotte!

(See, Marko, I blogged about the Convention!)

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Battle for the Heart of "Reformed"

It seems to me that there's a fight going on right now over exactly what it means to be "Reformed." Now, I'm generally Reformed, but in a kind of post-Barthian, Moltmannian way. The term means little to me, and I don't regard Calvin, Westminster, or Dordt too highly. So, I really don't have a dog in that fight.

But for those of you who do, I'd say, "Wake up!" I talk to a lot of moderate Reformed folks, and they generally poo-poo the "Reformed Resurgence" of Piper, Driscoll, et al. They consider the conservatives to be modern-day fundamentalists, to be ignored like all other fundamentalists. But I say to all Reformed Moderates, watch out! The conservatives are building a movement, and they're happy to be ignored.

Meanwhile, Christianity Today is planting it's flag in ground on the same territory as the conservatives. For three issues in a row, they've shown their true colors: 1) a cover story on the preeminence of the penal substitution, 2) a cover story on the conservative Reformed movement (an article which has been described to me as "uncritical" and "polemical"), and 3) a 50th anniversary issue that leaned heavily on Reformed experts -- at the expense of other voices -- to predict the future of evangelicalism.

Like I say, I'm really watching this all from the sidelines (except when Emergent gets dragged into the fray). But I will say this: if the moderates ignore the conservatives, the conservatives will win.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Keller on Emergent

I have a great deal of respect for Tim Keller. Honestly, of all of the leaders of the Reformed "resurgence," I like Keller the most. He seems thoughtful, evenhanded, and I know many people who go to his excellent church. I've never met him (though I've tried), and he used to frequent this blog.

But I have a bone to pick. At John Piper's conference here in Minneapolis last week, Keller responded to a Justin Taylor question by stating that Emergent is 1) moving away from orthodoxy, and 2) not starting any churches or institutions.

On point one, I'd like to hear how, exactly, I am moving away from orthodoxy. Seriously. This isn't just a question for Keller, but for all who continue to say this. I can't speak for anyone else in emergent (or Emergent Village), but I can speak for myself. I continue to look at my theology, and to write about it, and I have not strayed from traditional Christian orthodoxy. (I will delete any comments that condemn me for using contemplative prayer practices -- this is not what Keller is referring to. Contemplative prayer has a long and rich history in the church (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant).) My point is, if you're going to accuse someone of leaving orthodoxy, you'd better be able to back it up.

On point two, there are lots of folks starting emergent churches, networks, etc. (Just check my in-box.) It's a lot more amorphous than many networks, and the whole emergent/emerging/missional identifiers are still shaking out, but it cannot be denied that churches are starting, books are being written, events being hosted, and seminaries are approaching many of us with thoughts of partnership. Plus, people are starting local cohorts all over the country.

This may all sound defensive. It's not meant to be. I am just getting tired of unsubstantiated indictments, especially by someone who doesn't even have the time to get together with me so that I can answer his questions and respond to his accusations. I expected better of Tim Keller.

My Lunch with John Piper

I wasn't planning to post on my lunch last month with John Piper, but since he mentioned it in public at his conference last weekend, I guess it's on the record. I emailed him (and three of the presenters at his conference -- all the rest said they were too busy to get together) to ask him to lunch or coffee in order to clear up any misconceptions. So many caricatures of emergent(s) exists, that I wanted to see exactly who he thought we are and see if that was accurate.

We met on September 13. I brought Doug Pagitt, and Piper brought three of his co-workers. Piper said he'd never heard of me before, and that he was only vaguely aware of Emergent Village. His beef is with the writings of Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke. He's read Chalke's book, and says that he was personally hurt by Steve's characterization of the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement as "cosmic child abuse" (I personally find this phrase, which Chalke borrows from feminist scholars, to be overcharged rhetoric). I didn't get the impression that Piper has read anything by McLaren, but Brian's endorsement of Chalke's book was enough to concern him (in fact, Brian writes about penal subsitution in Generous Orthodoxy, but in his usual "This is what some people have said about this" way).

The lunch was nearly two hours long, so I am not able to recount everything that took place. I will reiterate what Piper said at the conference: we are all passionate persons, and the dialogue was predictably fiery. But it was also very respectful and generous, on both sides.

One thing that won't suprise anyone who knows about these things: John Piper basically equates a penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement with the gospel. I am unwilling to do that. I don't disparage that theory of the atonement (see my recent endorsement on the back of the 20th Anniversary Edition of Stott's The Cross of Christ), but I believe the birth/death/resurrection of Jesus Christ to be the pivot point of cosmic history. Thus, I do not think that one theory interpreting that event to be sufficient. Every theory of the atonement is 1) human, and 2) bound to a context. The penal substitution -- while there are seeds of it in Pauline writings -- is tied to the development of the Western legal mind. Nor am I willing to condemn the billions of faithful Christians who have lived and died in the past two millennia with alternate understandings of the atonement (here see Gustav Aulen, Christus Victor).

When I expressed these thoughts at the lunch, Piper told me that I should never preach -- his point was that my ideas about historical context would merely confuse listeners. He said this with a smile on his face, but then he turned serious and said that people need "fixed points of doctrine" in order to believe in Christianity. I think I disagree with that statement, and I surely disagree with Piper on which points are most important.

But it was an enjoyable lunch, and I'm glad that John accepted my invitation. He's a fine person, and I respect his church and ministry (even if he's never heard of me!).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Why I Named Names

A good friend and Emergent Village board member emailed me, commending me on my "I'm No Lefty" post, but expressing some concern that maybe I shouldn't be naming the candidates for whom I'm voting. The question whether it's okay for someone in a relatively public position (national coordinator of a non-profit organization) to endorse candidates. I am open to this question, and to possibly removing the candidates names. But, I'll leave them for now. Here's why:

1) I have one candidate's lawn sign in my yard, so my vote in that case is already public (plus the fact that I named these candidates in front of a slew of reporters (and cameras from CNN, ABC, and CBS) at the National Press Club a couple of weeks ago).

2) This is clearly my personal blog, not the organization's blog. My front lawn is also my personal property. Neither are owned by Emergent Village.

3) It is clear that as "national coordinator," I don't really speak for Emergent Village in the way that a traditional executive director speaks for a traditional non-profit.

4) As I noted in the original post, my votes are subject to change in the days between now and the election.

When I was a pastor in this community, I was very careful to never have a lawn sign or publicly endorse any candidates (although a couple asked me to). I did not want people around Edina to think that Colonial Church stood behind one candidate or another.

But now that I am not in a pastoral role (in that sense), I feel more freedom to publish my political views.

Thoughts on this, anyone? (I will be checking with EV's attorney, a non-profit specialist, to get her opinion, too.)

[UPDATE: EV's attorney says that, while not as clear-cut as my front lawn, my political views can be expressed on my blog. She also reminded me how important it is that I never, in my role at EV's national coordinator, endorse a candidate.]

I'm No Lefty

I'm part of a group, convened by Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, and Tony Campolo called the Red Letter Christians (No, I'm not a fan of the name, but it's meant to imply that the words of Jesus are the beginnings of our political engagement, not some obscure Levitical text regarding homosexuality). The group is a direct challenge to the Arlington Group, a collection of far-right Christians who have worked long and hard to be the voice of Christianity in American politics.

Our message, simply put, is that Christian "values" extend far beyond abortion and gay marriage. In fact, there is a direct correlation between abotion and poverty. Sure, rich, white, suburban girls get abortions, but the vast majority of abortions are among poor, under-educated, ethnic minorities (and poor whites). The more educated and wealthy a woman is, the less likely she is to have an abortion. So abortion is the skin lesion on our society, but poverty is the cancer. And I'm not all that interested in putting band aids on cancer.

Now, I can jibe with my friends (like Rudy Carrasco and Len Sweet) who advocate free market economy solutions to poverty, and I can also agree with my friends (like Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren) who encourage our society to protect the "least of these" through government programs. In fact, I am quite convinced that both are needed, for capitalism, unchecked by the Puritanism that Max Weber found in America, escalates into pure greed.

For this reason, among many others, I am not a Republican or a Democrat. I am fiercely independent, and I honestly believe that political independence is the only theologically justifiable stance for a Christian.

At the press conference at which we launched the Red Letter Christians, one reporter asked how many of us are Republicans, his implication being that we're just a bunch of leftist Christians. I went to the podium and announced that I am voting for at least three Republicans in November. Since it's already on the public record, I thought I'd post here the candidtates for whom I intend to vote, admitting that this is subject to change between now and the election.

State Legislature: Ron Erhardt (R)

State Senate: Geoff Michel (R)

U.S. House of Representatives: Jim Ramstad (R)

U.S. Senate: Amy Klobuchar (D)

Minnesota Governor: Tim Pawlenty (R)

Now, some context. I'm not a huge fan of Pawlenty, but I think that Mike Hatch is probably a sociopath; he's at least a very mean person. Now, it's true that I've voted for a sociopath before (Jesse V.), and that last time I voted for the independent candidate (Tim Penny), and that I'd just as soon vote Peter Huchinson (I), but Hutchinson is so far behind that he can't win, and I'm not voting for Pawlenty as much as I am against Hatch. The same goes in the Senate, where I'm voting against Mark Kennedy (R) as much as I am for Klobuchar. And the rest of the Republicans for whom I'm voting are moderate, "Gang of 14" types who regularly work across the aisle. They not only represent me well, all three have been responsive in the past when I've asked them to reconsider a vote of theirs.

So, let the record show that I, a member of the Red Letter Christians, am no lefty.

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