Thursday, September 29, 2005

The End is in Sight

No, this isn't going to be a "turn or burn", scare-the-heaven-into-you post about the end times. (Sorry if that disappoints anyone!)

The end that is in sight refers to my many months of research and writing on "Post-Charismatics". It was sometime in the summer of 2004 that British blogger Maggi Dawn first suggested (or challenged) that I put some of my thoughts of what it means to be post-charismatic into writing.

Since then, others have also contacted me to encourage me to start writing on it. So, in late January of this year, I started researching. Because of the sheer number of people that I personally know (or have come to know in recent months) who would identify themselves as post-charismatic, I wanted to do a really thorough and thoughtful piece of work.

Originally, I thought I would entitle the whole thing as "Post-Hype", but the more I thought about it, talked to others, and re-read a lot of books from a charismatic perspective, I realized that it goes far beyond the hype of charismania. The reasons people have been rejecting charismatic expressions of worship, spiritual gifts, etc. usually has as much to do with cultural aspects of the charismatic movement as it does with some of the theology.

A very real danger, IMO, that post-charismatics run is that we will reject the charismania aspects and "throw the baby out with the bathwater", and end up attempting to build a community of faith on our own strength and ingenuity. As Bob Girard wrote 35 years ago (nothing new under the sun, eh?):
"The idea persisted that much about (our church) with all its early marks of success was no miracle at all! It wasn't Acts. It was a monument to the kind of good things men can do... all by themselves. (emphasis in original)
My personal contention is that we dare not be post-Holy Spirit in our emerging, deconstructing communities of faith. What needs to happen is a careful re-examination, de- and re-construction, and re-imagining of our understanding of:
  1. A biblical view of authority and the five-fold ministry that is not hierarchical and controlling
  2. A view of spiritual formation (oldskewl: discipleship) that goes beyond the typical weekly crisis-event of "ministry time" but without eshewing genuine Spirit-initiated crisis-events
  3. The role of spiritual gifts -- including the more upfront (and often abused) gifts -- in the gathered Body
  4. The role of faith, and what it means to be living by faith; to be people characterized by faith
  5. Anything else that God brings to mind as I start working on the (final) section of a Reconstructed Praxis!
I received a couple of emails just this morning from other bloggers wondering if I had forgotten or given up on this project. I haven't! Lord willing, it'll all be online as a subsection of this website within just a few more weeks. Thanks should also go to Brother Maynard, an old friend in the analog and digital world, who has been proofing, critiquing, and fish-slapping encouraging me to finish.

The End is in Sight!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Brethren, Hang Loose

This is an excerpt from Bob Girard's Brethren Hang Loose, which was a book that I found by "accident" when I was 21 years old, and which first put into language the things that I was seeing around me in the church at large. Although this book was written 35 years ago, it could have been penned just recently (aside from the very 70's title artwork). It was comforting to know, in the summer of '83 (just a year before I first met George Mercado), that I wasn't the only one thinking these kind of thoughts.
"'New Testament life can't happen within the organized church,' I concluded. 'There is too much against it!'
"Too many "barnacles" from the past still cling to the old institutional church concept.
"Too much emphasis on building and budgets. Too much money needed just to keep the machine running. Too much pastoral and lay effort spent on oiling the gears of the organization. Too much energy expended keeping touchy members happy because you can't afford to lose them.
"Too much dependence on the pastor -- and no way to change that.
"Too many comfortable pews all facing the front so no-one has to relate to anyone else. Too easy for Christians to sit-listen-leave-and-forget without anything really happening in their lives.
"Too much holding one another at arm's length. Too little real fellowship -- gut-level fellowship -- inner circle fellowship. Nothing provided in the church to make it happen at that level.
"Too many rules. Too much government. Too many man-made standards. Too many reports to fill out.
"Too little time to enjoy life. Too little time with the family. Too little time to get to know God. Too little time to pray.
"There seems to be no way for peple to get free from the notion that Christianity is activity in an organization that owns a building someplace. There is no thought of finding one's own ministry under the personal leadership of the Holy Spirit. Christians can never get that free from 'the Church'."

- Bob Girard 1970 -

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What to Make of This?

Someone sent me a link [now defunct] to De-Institutionalized Christians. It's about reaching out to de-churched Christians, so that your own ministry could be increased. Part of the reasoning for trying to re-connect with de-churched Christians, according to this website, is:
  1. "Would it make more sense to first become the kind of church that is highly effective in reaching the Dechurched?
  2. "What we can learn from the Dechurched, may be more important than what they can learn from us.
  3. "Collaboration, rather than assimilation, may be a more appropriate goal to set with regard to the Dechurched.
  4. "This collaboration, done right, could produce the most transformational impact on your ministry and your community of any program presently in place."

The discussion list has had some great discussion on "church marketing" recently, which is one of the reasons that this website -- a part of C. Peter Wagner's "New Apostolic Network" -- has me uneasy. Check this out (from the same linked page above):
"With a little openness and creativity put into it, what could an intelligent 'withreach' strategy that effectively connected with them mean to your church, and in turn, what impact it could have on your city?
"I have more ideas on this, some practical steps and strategies, and maybe even a synergistic marketing strategy that would reach them...
"I've included an additional article on the Dechurched below (brace yourself, you may not agree with them but it's important to understand the Dechurched perspective):
"Detoxing From Church, by Robby McAlpine."
And that's the second reason why I'm uneasy -- they're using something I wrote to market their ministry. Although I had to smile when they told people to "brace themselves" before reading it. :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Psychotic Penguins & Apologetics

1 Peter 3:15 says, in part : "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

Whenever I think of how I've seen a few people approach this verse, I am reminded of the penguins from Madagascar ("the penguins are psychotic..." said Alex the Lion). Most take the posture of the three peripheral penguins: they're on guard, waiting in almost paranoid anticipation of the dreaded "question that we don't know the answer to", and are always ready to attack the perceived enemies of the faith.

A smaller number assume the posture of the penguin in the middle: cocky, self-assured, and smugly confident that they can adequately argue into submission anyone who dares to challenge the veracity of their truth claims.

When I say that 1 Peter 3:15 was "in part", most would assume that I'm referring to the opening phrase about setting Christ apart as Lord. Actually, I was thinking of the end of verse 15, and hoping to dive right into verse 16 as well:
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:15-16 NIV; emphasis added)
Being "ready to give an answer" should never be equated with a posture of either attack-ready paranoia nor one of cocky more-apologetic-than-thou. Some of the most fruitful discussions I've had with people have resulted from doing what this verse actually says (God wants us to get it, so He's made it easy): gentleness, respect, and with a clear conscience (that we weren't offensive, probably).

Verbally beating people into intellectual/spiritual submission through apologetics -- even emergent apologetics (the writings of McLaren, Sweet or even Derrida) -- should never happen among those who claim to be imitators (apprentices) of Jesus. Yes, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive to some, a stumbling block perhaps, but that's different than if WE are offensive in our attitude, actions, and words.

(And it was fun to find a spiritual use for the penguins from Madagascar.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

The Edge of Discipleship

I am such a book nerd. I read all kinds of theology, church history, and practical theology books for my own understanding and research, and when I want to relax, one of my favourite things is... reading a book (often from my Bloom County collection).

One of my favourite diversionary writers is Michael Crichton, and I found a great quote in The Lost World (the sequel to Jurrasic Park) regarding chaos theory that I thought would fit into our larger discussion of discipleship, the shepherding movement, etc. (Yes, even when reading a science fiction novel for recreation, ideas surrounding leadership surface.)

Here's the quote:
"Complex systems tend to locate themselves at a place we call 'the edge of chaos'. We imagine the edge of chaos as a place where there is enough innovation to keep a living system vibrant, and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy.

"It is a zone of conflict and upheaval, where the old and the new are constantly at war.

"Finding the balance point must be delicate -- if a living system drifts too close, it risks falling over into incoherence and dissolution; but if the system moves too far away from the edge, it becomes rigid, frozen, totalitarian. Both conditions lead to extinction.

"Too much change is as destructive as too little. Only at the edge of chaos can complex systems flourish." (emphasis added)

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Remembering Elmer

In the fall after I finished high school, I was enrolled in the Radio, Television & Journalism program at Lambton College in Sarnia, Ontario. A family I had known as a kid, Elmer & Betty Johnson, invited me to rent a room in their basement, and I soon arrived in my rusty '73 Corolla, ready to start life as semi-independent young adult.

When I arrived at the college, I ran into some friends I had known in elementary school, and discovered that we had all become aspiring musicians. And most significantly, they had a working band that was in need of a bass player.

I had been playing bass for almost two years at this point, so I was reasonably confident that I could pass muster, but the bigger question (in 1981) was the fact that I was a Christian, and this was a "secular" band that played at dances and nightclubs (a big no-no in those days, when most churches -- including mine -- still thought Keith Green was too worldly for using drums and electric guitars).

As far-fetched as that sounds now, it was a legitimate struggle for me at the time; how could I possibly justify playing in such a band, and still call myself a Christian? I would read the Gospel of John and see repeated examples of Jesus going to all the wrong places and hanging out with the wrong people, and I started to wonder why more Christians weren't doing the same thing.

The elders at my church had no struggle at all: they condemned the idea and later instructed the youth at our church to shun me until I "saw the light". When I brought two of my bandmates to our youth group, they were treated so judgmentally that they never returned.

In the midst of my own wrestling with this question, there was a knock on the door of my basement bedroom in the Johnson house. It was Elmer, with Betty hovering just behind him.

In his usual soft-spoken, but very direct way, Elmer cut to the chase: "Rob, do you really believe that God has called you to join a band that plays at dances and in bars?"

Weary from the repeated arguments I'd been getting from well-intentioned people at church, I replied, "Yes, believe it or not, I'm pretty sure God is calling me to this."

Locking his gaze to mine, Elmer emphatically said, "Then go do it. And don't worry about what other people say about you. You have to obey what you believe God is speaking to you."

Betty chimed in, "If you'd like, we can ask you the day after any gigs you have, how you conducted yourself, if that would be helpful to you." (Anyone who has met Betty knows that it's virtually impossible to lie to her.)

I felt such a sense of relief and support from both of them. "Yes, I'd like that. Please feel free to ask me any questions at all; I'd really appreciate it."

And thus began the first of many ventures into being salt and light in the musical subculture.

When we were travelling through Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Elmer's son, Brett, who informed me that Elmer had passed away due to post-surgery complications. We were, of course, unable to attend the funeral, and so I was unable to share any stories about Elmer at that time.

I was really touched by the wisdom and helpfulness of Elmer and Betty during that turbulent time in my late teens, and am still very grateful for their input and example to me during that year at Lambton College. Like all of us, Elmer was "stumbling heavenward" as the old song says, and I'm sure he has just recently heard the words "well done, good and faithful servant... Come and share your Master's happiness." (Matthew 25:21)