Friday, May 28, 2010

truth, wisdom - and graphs

In the search for truth, that pursuit of a certain and perfect knowledge of what is really real, I like the way DA Carson uses the image of an asymptote.

IF the x-axis measures the passage of time and the y-axis measures how far our understanding is removed from the reality of the thing itself, THEN over a period of time "the knower gets closer and closer to the reality, though without ever touching the line that would mark perfect knowledge: we will never be omniscient." (DA Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, Zondervan, 2005) 119-20). The search for truth is asymptotic - over time we can get closer and closer to the horizontal, without ever touching it. And our knowledge can be true, truly true, without it ever being exhaustive or omniscient.
I often find myself thinking about the picture of the asymptote.

In the practise of wisdom, that application of a sanctified common sense to the issues of our day, another graph comes to mind. But I don't know how to label the x-axis and the y-axis. HELP?! It is about immersing ourselves - even 'indwelling', as some express it - in the Bible and the Jesus whom it reveals. This creates a wisdom that can be depicted as a a solid line. It has a gradient. It has a length. Think of the Wisdom Literature, or the Law, and the slope and length of this solid line is largely formed.

BUT these sections of the Bible do not always deal directly with the complicated issues of our own time and context. What do we do? I reckon it is about immersing and indwelling ... and then extrapolating as a means of discovering the way of wisdom for today.
I often find myself thinking about the picture of 'the solid line and the dotted line on the graph with the unamed axes' ... oh dear!

nice chatting


Sunday, May 23, 2010

reading nike theologically

Nike has done it again.

Another great advertisement (and far better than the Tiger Woods one at the time of the Master's last month!)...

But I suffer from a compulsive behaviour disorder. I love reading cultural texts theologicially. When I do so four observations surface.

the indispensable word
Amidst the staccato imagery and the throbbing soundtrack, the power of word shines through. Just ask yourself where the ad would be without these words: "" and "write the future". Love the images and the music as much as you like but Nike would not spend the money if it could not add these words.
I guarantee that when this 3min full length version is cut down to just 15sec and 30sec versions those two phrases will still be there. There is no advertisement without these words.

the new ecclesiology
Look at the instantaneous way in which a single football game can be watched by people in diverse places all around the world. Look at the interconnected way in which performance on a football field can impact the fortunes of the stockmarket. The globe has shrunk to a village. This means the church in the DR of Congo is worshipping in the hut next door from us and the church in Cambodia is just up the path from us. The decisions we make in local churches in NZ can no longer be the same in this village. The church in the North and West is unalterably shaken. The instantaneous and the interconnectedness means that 'doing church' can no longer be as it was. 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 2 have new applications. As Brooke Fraser expresses it, "now that I have seen, I am responsible".

the lost eschatology
Our churches do not deal in the certainty of hope enough. Afterall when life is relatively comfortable and luxurious in the present the significance of a hope designed to help us endure the present is lost. It isn't needed in our theology. And so it isn't there in our theology. We become sub-christian. And then along comes an ad that puts us to shame. "Write the future"? It resonates with the eternity planted in every human heart by God (Ecclesiastes 3). It feeds the longing of so many football fans worldwide who would just love to break free from their dis-comfortable and un-luxurious lives defined as they are by oppression and deception. It knows the power of hope - which just happens to be the engine of Christian eschatology. God has written the future already. It is a time when all evil will be punished for forever and all good will be vindicated for forever. I long for that day. I know it is coming. I will live in a way that ushers that coming.

the sad anthropology
The eclipse of the hero by the celebrity is one of the sadnesses of our time. Rooney, Ronaldo, Ribery. They capture peoples' imaginations. They are inspirational and aspirational figures. People want to be like them. People want to have what they have. And yet - again and again - these sorts of celebrities live rotten lives. Really - when all is said and done - what is worthy of emulation? Our understanding of humanity is skewed. The answers to the elemental questions - "who am I?" (identity) and "why am I here?" (destiny) - have radically different answers from what these lives demonstrate. The biography of a dead and godly saint is of far better worth than the lifestyle of a living and vacuuous celebrity. But our culture and even our churches are no longer geared this way. It is sad.

nice chatting


Thursday, May 20, 2010

worship wars

While I am one step removed from Kiwi pastors in my new job, I still enter into many a conversation with them. Unfortunately a common thread in these conversations still continues on from year to year. It is the sad state of 'worship' - as expressed, primarily, in our Sunday services in those minutes not given to teaching.

I have written on this before here - particularly heart-felt and pleading, as I remember it!

But I want to address the concern from another angle this time. If I was a pastor I'd host and facilitate a church-wide forum on the issue. Not just the worship team. Open to all - but specific invitations to those I think need to be present, including the worship team. I'd have some short foundational teaching input based around biblical, theological and historical themes. No controversial stuff. Then I'd have small groups discuss what we value in worship - with their ideas fed back via whiteboards in an anonymous way to feed a plenary session. Then I'd return people to small groups to sift and weigh the contents of the whiteboard before facilitating a discussion on what are the 6-10 characteristics of worship that we are going to hold dear in this church. My sense is that pastors need to take this kind of leadership - with the whole church, not just the worship team.

It is important to come to something like this with a genuine openness to where it might lead. People smell a manipulated process from miles away. If the process has this integrity then those involved in leading worship must be expected to align themselves to what the church 'holds dear'. If they can not do so, their own integrity means they must resign and let someone else fill the void. The pastor and church leadership team are right to have this expectation.

Now I am not a pastor so I can go on now and state the sorts of issues that I hope a process like this would surface in the church-wide consciousness. These would be the things I'd be raising in the small group of which I was a part...

(a) The need for worship-leaders to be people of spiritual maturity, a maturity recognised by people from across the spectrum of the church. This is not a ministry to ascribe to an up-and-comer. The service can easily become banal when this happens.

(b) The need for the music to be good for congregations to sing, not so much good for bands to sing. This is not the time or place to perform to a people wanting to be entertained. Performance music is out and congregational music is in.

(c) The need for songs to have strong lyrics that are accurate biblically and deep theologically. Having musicians write songs is so often unsatisfactory. They should keep to writing music and let the poet:theologians write the songs. Yes, sometimes a musician is a poet:theologian but it is not as common as people think.

(d) The need to break-out of this wretched chronological snobbery that thinks the newest is always the best and that when the psalmist said "sing a new song" he had in mind songs written in the past 12 months. There is a desperate need for the enthusiastic introduction and then the enthusiastic singing of the best traditions of christian hymnody. It reminds us that we have a past. It reminds us that we follow in a long line of worshippers. We need this today.

(e) The need to heal the dualism between word and worship in so many churches by achieving greater integration in the service. They are are kept separate, the tiny domains of quite different people. Sometimes delegation by the pastor becomes abdication by the pastor - out of fear basically.

(f) The need for a church to find a little of its own voice, willing to stand against the flow of everyone pretty much doing pretty much the same thing. It'll take a little courage but it might be worth it.

(g) The need for worship to reflect both our response to the immanent God as well as the transcendent God. We pig out on the former and do not know what to do with the latter. There is a level of fear and reverence that needs to be recovered in worship. We are far too casual...

(h) This wonderful Kiwi resource, one step ahead worship, should be on the agenda of every pastor as they make it a priority to sit down together with the worship team to build community together and discover a direction for this worshipping community.

nice chatting


Thursday, May 06, 2010

deep church

In today’s climate when a book is endorsed by both Keller and Kimball, Driscoll and Bell you do tend to take a second look. In my case I decided to read it. Jim Belcher, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (IVP, 2009).

As always seems to be the case nowadays, the subtitle says it all. Writing as both an insider and an outsider to the emerging movement, Belcher is looking for a “third way”.

There is a lot to like about the book. It is readable. The author is open and transparent. It generates more light than heat (which is a change for this topic). He adds a little storytelling as he goes along. And he has an irenic impulse: “we must define our conversation partners in a way that they would recognise”(49).

But most of all I enjoyed the way he structures the book. Belcher wades into "seven protests” made by the emerging church. With each he articulates the protesting view of one ‘emerging’ author before considering the ‘push back’ reaction of one ‘traditional’ author – before going on to describe a third way which attracts the adjective “deep”. He seems pretty fair with people as he makes his way around Truth, Evangelism, Gospel, Worship, Preaching, Ecclesiology, and Culture. [I kinda missed my favourite one - Mission, as in Deep Mission – so wonderfully described by Kiwi Harold Turner through the 1990s and which I have posted about here.)

Particularly in each chapter's "third way" section Belcher makes some apt comments. He confronts the muddied thinking about which comes first - believing or belonging (94-104). He tries to get beyond a reductionist understanding of the gospel (112-122). He allows a critique of Brian McLaren (118) and Doug Pagitt (145f) to remain on the page - justifiably in my opinion. He advocates for old hymns as part of the Great Tradition which we need to ensure depth. Amen! The eclipse of hymnology remains an unwise and mindless arrogance in the contemporary Kiwi church which I hope will soon pass. There are some superb pages on what "deep worship" (137-140) and “deep ecclesiology” (174-178) look like, with the latter discussion concluding with “tradition is profoundly relevant” (178). The highlight of the book for me was his seven suggestions for becoming a deep church (204-206) - careful, thoughtful, accessible ... and just waiting to be put on the agenda of a few church leadership meetings!

Not everything was rosy in the garden for me, however. I did tire of the personal narrative as it kept drawing attention to himself which doesn't play well down here in New Zealand. The chapter on Preaching stands apart from the others as being so disappointing – and not just because it is an area of interest of mine. His creative energy seems so taken up with getting his critique of Doug Pagitt just right that he overlooks offering a clear and compelling 'third way'.

But my primary reaction to the book comes in what I will call a heavy bemusement and a light cynicism.

a heavy bemusement
If what he advocates as the “third way” comes to readers as fresh and energising (194-197) then we have been in a lot of trouble. I don’t mean that unkindly. It is just that his description for “deep church” is nothing other than a return to the first way proposed by Jesus in the call to be salt and light - to be in the world, but not of it - and to be "distinct from and engaged with the wider society"(195). It is not Duckworth-Lewis. I cannot begin to express the bemusement I felt when I got to this point in the book. "What - is that it? Has this not always been "it"? Why do we need a third way - the first way will do me fine thank-you very much?" Light and salt. The emerging church does tend to "over-contextualise" (30) - just like the mega-church, I might add. Too much salt. Not enough light. It has been the essential missional problem in the church in NZ for a generation.

a light cynicism
I am writing this in who-opened-the-oven-door-heat in Chiangmai, getting ready to return home to New Zealand after another tour of service in Asia. In terms of what God is doing in the world this debate about emerging vs traditional is a little eddy off to the side – far, far from the mainstream. It is a complete irrelevance for most of the global church and as we are part of this church, it needs to be more of an irrelevance for us too. I read a book like this and I ask myself, WWAS - what would Ajith (Fernando) say? ... or some other majority world thinker of the same ilk. I bet it is searingly simple and prophetic - and needs to be heard by us all!

In the book a journalist from Slovakia wryly comments that “on the front lines, all Christians are our brothers and sisters” (64). Now we are on to it! If we tried to be deeply counter-cultural and lived distinctively on the front-lines a bit more we’d find enormous unity in our endurance together – and many of these sorts of debates would evaporate.

nice chatting