Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2007 - Our house

December 24, 2007 - Mt. Seymour

Julie and I wish you all a very merry Christmas! May the peace of Jesus Christ be real to you this holiday season and in the year ahead!

As a part of my holiday greeting I thought I would share the words to a Christmas song I wrote a while back:

“God With Us”
(based on Isaiah 7:14; 9:6)

Prince of peace, transforming one
You call us now to love
Wonderful, counselor
Born to make us whole

Mighty God, revealed so small
Raised up to be our truth
Everlasting, one with the Father
Beginning and the end
Beginning and the end

We bow down before you the little one
Knowing your great power
The mystery of your amazing life
Draws us before you
It’s who you are…

Jesus Christ, Immanuel
God with us, God with us
Born to live, to live in love

Immanuel, Immanuel

Intuition and Theology

Recently, in a class discussion, Dr. John Stackhouse made the passing remark that intuition, thankfully, will at times trump our theological inconsistencies when it comes to behavior. For example, a theological view that life on earth is merely a matter of ‘passing on through’ would warrant a pretty dull outlook towards everyday living, as the ‘true’ nature of reality is some disembodied, non-worldly existence (something I believe the Bible does not teach). However, human intuition towards at least attempting to make the best of life often results in actions displaying an inherent worth for life on earth, despite the contrary theological ideology (i.e. Taking care of the daily needs of one’s family honors human life here on earth whether someone knows it or not).

I am not sure why, but I had never considered the issue quite like this before. I have always been intrigued with how/if our theology affects our behavior; however, the question of faulty theology and intuitive behavior adds an intriguing twist. Now, I am not sure how far we could take this, as the common-sense nature of the issue relegates it primarily to the realm of personal ethics (It’s hard to imagine some sort of ‘corporate intuition’ that influences communities, although I guess it’s not out of the realm of possibility). Also, this idea should not be confused with the notion that intuition replaces belief. This could easily lead to a personalized approach to theology that bemoans any outside influence at all, with ‘intuition’ being the sole motivator for ethics. I believe that a discerning community, therefore, is necessary in order to evaluate where our intuitive motivations improve the consistency between our theology and behavior and where they perhaps hinder it.

As a theological student who recognizes my own limits to formulating correct theology, I take solace in this tidbit of wisdom, recognizing the value that my intuitive nature as a human has in my overall outlook and actions.

The Golden Compass – My rant on engaging movies

(Warning: long post – sorry to all who consider brief blog entries a cyber-virtue)

Considering that I have not seen the film, I won’t pretend to offer any sort of review or recommendation for The Golden Compass. If you ask me, anyone offering a review on a piece of art, whatever the medium, should probably take a look before offering a decisive opinion. I would like to comment, however, on the issue of watching movies, particularly in how we engage them.

With the arrival of The Golden Compass, the issue of watching movies, particularly for Christians, is often approached as a polarized issue of worldly-denying versus worldly-embracing. I am using the term ‘worldly’ in the most basic sense of the reality of a culture (‘the world’) separate from organized Christianity, a line likely not as clear as some may perceive, but that’s for another time.

Regarding The Golden Compass, the worldly-deniers can be heard sounding the warning bells. For example, one commentator (I hasten to refer to this as a review) states, “There's so much fantasy stuff out there. Don't be deceived. Don't be swept into the marketing hype. There are serious worldview and theological problems with Pullman's story.” It’s the last phrase that really gets me, as the assumption is that somehow we can close our eyes to everything that’s wrong with our world. Come on people, life’s little more complicated then that. Last time I checked, the world, including Christianity, is prone to possess messed-up views of reality. From a Christian perspective, that’s part of living in a broken, fallen world. Therefore, instead of ignoring faulty worldviews around us, perhaps we can recognize them (and repent if necessary!) and represent a valid alternative…

The problem is that the worldly-embracers are no better off. These are the folks who unabashedly herald anything coming out of Hollywood as acceptable, even more so if those narrow-minded worldly-deniers known as ‘Christians’ are calling foul (a movie must be really good if Christians are opposed to it!). A religion professor, for instance, makes the comment that The Golden Compass is a “theological masterpiece… a treatise on Christian belief,” and goes on to claim the movie makes explicit connections to the Holy Spirit. Hmm, not sure the atheist author of the books would agree with this assessment (To the professor’s credit, she at least gets the point about abuse of power being a major theme).

In a sense, then, both extremes fail to really engage with the movie, with one side ignoring through complete avoidance, and the other ignoring with blind acceptance. Considering all this, I think the hysteria surrounding The Golden Compass is an excellent opportunity for people to engage a movie for once.

What does this engagement look like? Well, for starters, read a few reviews from folks trained in the art of reviewing (preferably not Christian websites). Second, watch and engage the movie (sure it’s entertaining, but what is it saying?). Third, talk about the movie with other people, discussing how it challenges the way you see the world (not just what you didn’t like or thought was heretical). While these three steps are far from exhausting the art of movie-engagement, they are a step in the right direction.

I think the challenge for parents regarding The Golden Compass is that it is hard to imagine children engaging movies this way on their own. My pet-peeve, recognizing that I don’t have kids and it is often far more complicated than this, is this very fact of leaving kids alone to wade through the complex messages that culture, especially through movies, is sending. Very rarely, it seems, do parents intentionally train their children to engage culture. I mean, how many parents enter into dialogue with their children after watching a movie? Now, obviously creativity will be required, as sitting your 8-year-old down for discussion on atheism is no easy task. However, even if it is hard, I think it’s a necessity, as this complex world requires thoughtful engagement more than ever, no matter what the age.

Well, enough said; go engage a movie!


The last month has been a whirlwind of busyness; hence my notable absence from bloggersville. Well, on Thursday I handed in my last two course assignments, meaning that all I have left is one little paper known as my thesis. Ok, perhaps “little” is the antonym of what the assignment actually entails, but I am trying to enjoy the finishing of my course work for at least a few days.

Over the holidays I hope to update you all (if there’s anyone left!) on some of the things I have been wondering. Here’s what I am planning (no guarantees):

-Why I am a “accepting inclusivist” regarding salvation and the Christian faith.
-Why I think “realist pacifism” is possible.
-What do people really mean when they say “tolerance.”
-The inconsistencies of intuition and theology.
-Why watching movies, the Golden Compass in particular, can be a fruitful exercise.

Well, I hope everyone’s Christmas preparations are not too overwhelming. My holiday anecdote for everyone is to try and make eye contact with people when you are out and about. Yes, those really are other people, not just mindless drones of holiday consumption. Blessings!

Out of Context (II)

I told you I would try and provide more quotable gems:

"It just must do so the way porcupines make love: very, very carefully." (Stanley Hauerwas)

First prize goes to the person who is able to use this phrase in a conversation!

(Sorry for the silence - I am BUSY!!!)

Beckham and Soccer – Who Knew!

I had the privilege (?) last night of attending my first ever professional soccer game. Yes, the game was between David Beckham, err, the L.A. Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps in B.C. Place stadium. For those who know me you may be wondering why I would care to go see David Beckham, let alone a soccer game (yes, I would have preferred curling, tennis or golf)! Well, it was a birthday gathering with some of my cousins, and to be completely honest, I was intrigued with all the hoopla surrounding Beckham and this sport everyone seems to love.

The game itself was quite dull (understatement?); ending in a nil-nil draw (I hope my soccer lingo is accurate!). Beside the Whitecaps missing a penalty kick, the highlight was probably the streaker who managed to run his mere 250 pound frame around the whole field before being tackled by security, even coming to within ten feet of Beckham himself.

Ok, so what do I make of all the hoopla? It was pretty obvious right from the get-go a few months back that this friendly match was entirely promotional. Bring in Beckham and create a buzz for soccer. Pretty simple… So I guess the question is whether or not this promotional gig was a success. To my surprise and perhaps others as well, from my uneducated soccer perspective I would have to say yes, it was a promotional success. I, along with a considerable chunk of the people in attendance were doing something we had never done before: attending a Whitecaps soccer game (and yes, I would consider going to another!). However, just going to a nil-nil game is likely not enough to bring hordes of fans back for more. What is necessary is for more buzz in the days and weeks that follow last night. Which brings me to this morning. I am sitting in a coffee shop and at several different points people throughout the room began talking about the soccer game. Interestingly, however, is that from what I could hear the talk was less about Beckham and more about the game itself.

What does this mean? Is soccer itself, with the help of Mr. Beckham, actually creating a buzz in a city where the topic of a certain hockey team's jerseys create more of a stir that any other sports topic? A definite answer may be premature, but for the time being it seems that soccer is at the fore. There is still much the sport will have to do to overtake curling, tennis, and golf from my list of favorite sports (a goal perhap!?!), but for this morning at least it managed to peak my interest enough to at least blog about it. You have got to start somewhere!

Ethnocentrism and DGR Mennonites

I found out recently that Klassen’s, Wiebe’s, Neufeld’s, and yes, Warkentin’s are not the only ethnic Mennonites. Let me explain…

At the M.B. study conference, Bruce Guenther, in his wonderful presentation on Mennonite history, helpfully challenged what has become a realistic hurdle for Mennonites in relation to their past; namely, ethnocentricity (the belief in the inherent superiority of one's own ethnic group or culture). In the historical complexity that defines Mennonite identity one of the legacies is a close identification between the Dutch-German-Russian (DGR) heritage that many members of Mennonite churches call their own. While there is incredible value in recognizing the distinctiveness of this ethnic heritage, the challenge is that these DGR’s are often referred to as the true “ethnic” Mennonites, with all others being “non-ethnic” or “religious” Mennonites (does that mean the “ethnic” Mennonites are not religious?). The obvious result has been an ethnocentricity that pervades Mennonite identity, which in turn creates unhelpful and often hurtful divisions between those on the “inside” and those on the “outside.” Now, do not get me wrong, the DGR heritage that has shaped Mennonite theology should not be ignored, but in the multicultural reality of the 21st century where membership in Africa has grown over 200% in the last twenty years (Leo Driedger, Mennonites in the Global Village), perhaps it is time to reconsider how we define who is a “real” Mennonite…

So next time you hear a Klassen, Wiebe, Neufeld, and yes even a Warkentin, claim that they are Mennonite on the sole basis of their ethnic heritage, perhaps you can take that as an opportunity to gently rebuke them. Then you call tell them of this snappy new acronym people are using all over the place in recognition of their heritage: “DGR!!!”

Kingdom of God and the Stories We Tell

In my last post I raised the question of what the kingdom of God looks like in our world and how people can participate in it. To be quite honest, I am not sure that there is a prescribed formula for how God’s kingdom exists and how we are supposed to participate in it. The biblical narrative provides many glimpses into aspects of the kingdom (i.e. Israel’s mission to be a light to all nations) and Jesus’ ministry as the declaration of the reign of God’s kingdom here on earth (Jesus whole ministry – incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension – is the confirmation of God’s kingdom). In a sense it is God’s redemption plan to bring shalom to all of creation. Not mere peace or harmony, but the unity of all things in living out their full potential of what they were created to be. Not exactly clear, when it comes to practically explaining it…

And then there is the admonition for Christians to participate in God’s kingdom, another vague concept practically speaking… We do have glimpses into this from the biblical narrative such as the Old Testament call for Israel to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). In the New Testament Jesus summarizes kingdom participation as loving God and loving your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). But what does this look like? Would it not be easier to just give me the list of practical actions that I can sign up for that ensure my name is on the “kingdom list” (along with a snazzy t-shirt and promotional material, of course! J)? Well, I am sorry (not really…) to admit that participation in the kingdom of God is not a prescribed entrance into a cool club.

So we are back to the question, “What does the Kingdom of God look like?” This is where I am becoming increasingly convinced that we need to be telling more stories in the area of Christian theology. And I do not just mean as a footnote to the scriptural principles we explicate ad nauseum. Stories are not just an after-thought of theology; but rather they form the very context in which theology lives and breaths. In the words of my man Stanley Hauerwas, “We know who we are only when we place our selves – locate our stories, within God’s story.” As we place our stories in the midst of God’s story (presence of the kingdom bringing redemption to the whole of creation) we are drawn into a life that automatically presumes a certain degree of participation. The unique function of stories, and I think the great challenge for churches in our day, is that stories assume a certain organic character to them. Each one has a unique flavor that contributes to the larger picture. No formula here…

So when I consider this question of kingdom participation I give a hardy recommendation for a book I read this spring titled Treasure in Clay JarsThis book gives the account of six Christian communities in North America that are living stories of what kingdom participation looks like. The structure of these communities ranges from your typical mid-size church, to an inner-city ministry, to a house church and cover a broad denominational spectrum. What is especially important is that there is no formula to be gleaned to fill our ethical appetite. No, there are just stories. Stories of love. Stories of justice. Stories of mercy. Stories of loving God and loving neighbors in a manner that goes beyond any sole theological explication on the kingdom could ever go. In a way, stories can be the tie that binds theology and practice together…

So what does the kingdom of God look like? I guess I really don’t know… But if we start telling and listening to stories of how others have engaged with the kingdom we begin to see the awesome complexity of God’s work in this world. In a way, I have not answered the question of what the kingdom of God looks like in the practical sense that people may prefer. But considering the diversity of the world we live in, and the variety in the Christian faith when it comes to participating with God’s kingdom, I am okay with that…

Acquisition vs. Participation

Ok, here are some more thoughts on the conference.

I am always intrigued at what a shift in language can do in our framework for understanding faith. George Hunsberger, plenary speaker at the conference last week and coordinator of the Gospel and Our Culture Network, proposes a corrective for understanding salvation. What he suggests is a shift from explaining salvation as acquisition, towards understanding it in terms of participation (my ears definitely perked as I have already shared my affinity with the word “participation”).

When salvation is construed on the sole terms of our personal benefit (acquisition) it becomes centered only on the individual, which Hunsberger argues is a partial conception of salvation. Basically, this is the me-centered approach to Christianity, where salvation very easily becomes nothing more than a free ticket out of this world. In other words, salvation is individualistic and other-worldly, with very little to offer for life here and now.

Salvation as participation, on the other hand, focuses on language of the “reign of God” already in the world. While definitely not discounting one’s personal encounter with salvation (yes, this includes heaven!), the point Hunsberger is rightly making is that salvation is far bigger than our own personal aspirations to escape our lives. The question shifts from “how do I acquire my personal salvation to ensure entrance into heaven?” to “how do I participate in God’s reign here on earth?” The implication, of course, is that God’s reign is a present reality that we in fact can experience and participate with. So if we recognize that Jesus came not only to save individuals, but to fulfill God’s promise of restoring shalom to this earth through the presence of his kingdom, we can begin to understand the necessity and in fact the honor that we have of participating with him in this world.

I guess the next question would be: what does God’s kingdom look like? Well, that discussion is for another time…

We see then how a shift in language sheds new light on the life-giving topic of salvation. As we move from selfish acquisition to active participation we are led as individuals and the church to refocus our energies away from personal well-being towards the realization of well-being in the context of God’s reign in the whole world.

Culture, Gospel and Church

Last week I attended the bi-annual study conference of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Church (wow, our denomination is quite a mouthful!). The topic of the conference was “Culture, Gospel and Church.” Personally, I found the topic itself to be the most encouraging aspect of the conference. In years past it would not have surprised me to hear the topic of “church vs. culture” or “how to resist culture, 10 steps to creating a culturally resistant church” (the list could go on…). Thankfully the starting point for this conference recognized that Christians are “living inside our culture” (emphasis mine). In the past this likely would have read “the culture,” implying an implicit otherness of culture from the church. While churches do create their own culture to some degree, they are also always a part of the culture at large in which they find themselves, and to neglect or completely ignore this basic fact is inexcusable ignorance through which many people in the church are thankfully emerging from. Now, this is not to say that there was not much discussion (as their should be!) on the negative aspects within our culture (materialism anyone?), as a full embrace presents another whole list of dangers as a denial/rejection of culture does. I do think, however, that this simple recognition that Christians, and Mennonite Brethren’s in particular, are a part of culture is an integral starting point to any discussion of culture, gospel and church.

I plan on sharing more this week, so stay tuned…

(My friend Ryan has some good reflections on the conference as well if you are interested)

Out of Context

Every once in a while I encounter quotable comments that out of their context can be completely unhelpful, and oftentimes humorous to the out of context reader. Hopefully I can share some of these out of context gems as I encounter them.

Here is an example:

“Moral obligation is not a demand, it’s a gift”

Trying telling this someone facing an ethical quandary. It’s like telling a child you don’t have to clean your room, you get to!

Free Burma - Awareness is better than nothing...

Free Burma!

Know who we are in order to be who we are supposed to be…

Here’s a question I have been asking myself recently of church:

“What are we doing here? Does anyone really know?”

Have you ever wondered if the various practices in your church fail to match up to the theological foundations your church stands for? Do we, or others in our congregations even know what the theological foundations are that drive what it is we do on Sunday mornings and the various midweek programs that make up so much of what we define church to be?

If your answer is yes, or even maybe, to these questions, or ones similar that you have yourself, I want to let you know you are not alone! It seems to me that there is growing neglect to really engage with the theological identity of being a church. This is so much more than what song we sing, the color of Sunday’s bulletin, or which care group has the best ‘fellowship’ (aka. ‘goodies’). What I am getting at isn’t so much the practices, although these will inevitably be a part of the discussion, but the identity of the church. Do we really know who we are? And do we realize what the implications are for our practices as a church in relation to our identity? For example, if a church professes a love for God and love for you neighbor (most do, don’t they???), do its programs reflect that part of its identity? I am not suggesting churches are completely guilty of not properly reflecting their identity, but rather the fact that many people in churches, leaders included, fail to continually reflect on their identity as a regular part of planning and practice.

As many "contemporary" church congregations continually wrestle with how exactly they are to maintain their "contemporary" status, a question that is sadly left aside is this very question of theological identity. Call it ecclesiology. Call it a mission's statement. Call it a confession of faith. Whatever...

The point is we need to know who we are in order to be who we are supposed to be...

What do we think about “them”?

A fundamental topic in my course “Theology of World Religions” centers on Christianity’s relationship with other religions. It is an undisputable sociological reality that Western culture is a diverse array of differing worldviews and religions, constantly in contact with one another. This context contributes to where we get the sociological term ‘pluralistic’ as our world is full of diversity on many different levels, with the goal of maintaining this diversity in a tolerant and constructive manner

Ok, with this very brief contextual introduction I shift to the perspectives Christians often take in response to other religions. An excellent introduction to the various issues is a book edited by John G. Stackhouse, titled No Other God’s Before Me? In the “afterword” Stackhouse discusses a key issue as being how we understand the “means” for salvation (by salvation I mean far more than just an other-worldly, eternal heaven. In brief, salvation could be defined as participation with God purpose in the world of creating shalom in the lives of individuals, communities, and the whole of creation, which would inevitably include heaven however that is to be realized…) Basically, how is a person considered “saved” in the broader sense? Stackhouse presents the typical spectrum of options, ranging from restrictivism to pluralism, with the inclusivist view in between.

Here is a brief overview of each view:

-Restrictivism: This is the perspective that no person can encounter salvation in Jesus Christ without the “explicit preaching and reception of the gospel.”

-Inclusivism: While conceptually presented in a variety of options, the basic gist of this approach still holds to the belief that Jesus Christ is the one basis for a person’s salvation, but the manner in which a person responds varies. The implication here is that a person can encounter the salvific work of Jesus Christ without actually personally acknowledging the name of Jesus Christ in that encounter. Whether that is through the partial truths of other religions or the work of the Holy Spirit, the “gospel” as it is traditionally understood is not explicitly present. Hence, people of other religions are opened up to the possibility of encountering salvation and being considered “believers” without actually being “Christians.”

-Pluralism: Also present in a variety of different forms, this belief adheres to the idea that there are distinctly different and independent religious paths, where the question of validity in the various options becomes irrelevant. Stackhouse argues that this position is actually quite rare, and pluralism as espoused by the likes of John Hick are merely just a more radical form of inclusivism as they maintain that all paths still lead to the same end (“Ultimately Real”).

As we move forward in this class we are examining how each of these views play themselves out theologically and practically. Each perspective has direct implications for how Christians relate to people of other religions. At this point I will abstain from pegging myself in one camp over against the others, although the fact that I am usually a “middle-of-road” kind of guy may give you some insight towards where I lean. As I continue to study this subject I look forward to expanding on some of the issues, particularly in the area of religious dialogue in our multicultural society.

(For those who may be offended with my title referring to "them" I must admit my subtle sarcasm aimed towards what I deem as a possibly problematic "us versus them" presupposition inherent in much of religious dialogue.)

Stawamus Chief

If anyone is looking for a nice "leisurely" stroll through the woods that ends with a view of Howe Sound two thousand feet below, then the Stawamus Chief is for you! This past Saturday I hiked "The Chief" with a gang from church. Located in Squamish, about an hour North of Vancouver, this 1.5 hour ascent is well worth the effort! I think the pictures speak for themselves and thankfully aid in my forgetting how much sweat it took to actually get to the top!

Howe Sound

Me, pretending to not be tired! (the rock I am on isn't as steep as it looks)

A few too many people on this rock.

Anyone got a skateboard?

"The gang"
The crazy ones in the group

The "Sea-to-Sky" highway in the distance

The parking lot way down there...

More of the gang...

Squamish down below

Logs... (I couldn't think of a cool caption...)

Christianity and Culture

Well, after two weeks of classes and more reading than I know what to do with, the wondering has begun…

Both of the courses I am taking this semester (Christian Ethics & Theology of World Religions) deal specifically with topic of Christianity and Culture, constantly raising the question: how do Christians live faithfully while engaging the world around them?

Now, to be sure, this is not a new question Christians are asking. Throughout the history of God’s people, relation to culture has been central to what it means to live out the Christian faith. In the Old Testament, there is the land of Israel as the perennial stomping grounds for many different cultures as they fight over the strategic location of that gateway territory. How was Israel to relate to the ideas of these dominating empires? Or in the New Testament, there is the opening up of the church to include Gentiles (non-Jews) into the mix. While our tolerant minds may scoff at the conundrum that ensued, the fact is that there were definite challenge to opening Christianity up to the pressures of a “pagan” culture. Skip a few centuries and all of the sudden the lines are blurred as church and state meld into one under the reign of Constantine and subsequent rulers. Did the culture become Christianized? Or did Christianity become cultured? Even further along in the 2nd millennium there are countless examples, whether it be the intellectual advances of the Renaissance, the challenge of folk religion in the colonization of Europe, or even the impact of rationalism and enlightenment thought in more recent centuries, the question of Christianity and culture persists. Coming to today, the question remains as pertinent as ever, particularly in the complex diversity of a multicultural and multi-religious context that has probably never been resembled in history, at least in this extent.

Throughout history Christianity in its countless forms has understood itself to maintain the ‘right’ worldview, believing that it has something to offer to the surrounding culture. Now, this ‘something’ has varied from harsh judgment, to political dominance, to a sectarian safe haven from ‘evil’ influences. The point is Christians have historically believed that part of their mandate is to contribute to the surrounding culture. I would say that this remains the same, however diverse the opinions remain for what this ‘something’ should be.

Obviously this feeling of obligation to contribute to society can be evaluated positively or negatively, depending on the nature of the contribution. As a Christian I do not want to suggest that our diverse multicultural society is one in which Christianity no longer needs to contribute, as I believe do still have something, even something ‘right’ to be offered. However, as I study this issue and consider the contemporary application of applying a Christian ethic, or acting christianly towards folks of other religious perspectives, our cultural milieu leads me to wonder if an openly “Christian” worldview will not simply fall on deaf ears. The general sense of hostility towards Christianity in the prevailing culture is a reality (good or bad) that I can no longer ignore as I explore what it means to integrate my faith in the culture I inhabit.

All said I feel a certain tension when I consider an appropriate grid for responding to this issue. I guess I am realizing that the complexity of our world requires a level of complexity in Christian interaction, one which I am still wrestling with.

It is too this end that I continue my wondering…

My two cents...

Many of you know that I have a fairly high view (understatement?) of the church and its importance not only in my life personally, but as an integral part of our society as it strives to be faithful in its participation with God’s kingdom. However, this view is not without its practical challenges, particularly in our N.A. context where church more often than not mirrors our consumeristic culture in place of a faithful community of disciples. That said, my own church and the congregation I am a participant in is by no means immune from these challenges, perhaps even succumbing whole heartily to them at times. Thankfully I am not the only one left questioning as there has been a recent surge in critical discussion regarding the future of our so called “contemporary” service. Ranging from specific frustrations with programs to questioning the level of willingness to authentically encounter Jesus, the discussion has been lively. Recently, the discussion has been brought into the realm of cyberspace through the medium of (like it or hate!) Facebook. Here’s my own contribution to the forum (Let me know if you think I am crazy, overly-idealistic, or perhaps on the right track):

I have appreciated the dialogue in this forum regarding our contemporary service. There is something positive about moving the discussion outside of the backroom where church critique so often remains. My hope is that the openness will extend beyond cyberspace, leading to an environment of honest dialogue in all of our congregational gatherings.

As I consider my own opinion I don’t by any means claim to have all the answers. I am merely entering the discussion. At times I find the present situation in our contemporary service just as frustrating and “stuck” as the rest of you. Describing our congregation I have heard the analogy that our wheels are spinning, but we are not moving anywhere. My fear is that our wheels will stop spinning altogether. So regarding the present unrest from many different circles within the congregation I’m am actually encouraged if not for the simple fact that at least people still care. I’ll take honest frustration over apathy any day.
That said, I still wonder if much of the discussion or “venting” if you will, is not missing the key issue to some degree. The distinction I think we need to make in this discussion is between strategies (music, preaching, Sunday school, etc…) and core values. It seems to me that much of the dialogue to this point (not all!) has been directed towards strategies. While strategies are an important aspect of church life towards accomplishing the goals that we feel called as a church to fulfill, apart from a clear understanding of our core values as a congregation, we are left to wade through the countless personal opinions that people will continue to contribute to the discussion, and which the present survey will no doubt produce.

I guess what I am trying to say is that in order for the Bakerview church contemporary service to grasp how we want to progress in our “doing” of church, we need to take seriously the question of what it means for us to “be” the church. I appreciated Jacqueline’s recognition that first and foremost it’s not a question of personal preference, but God’s will for our church. However cliché it sounds, we can’t let “Jesus is Lord” fall to the wayside.

How does this process of finding our identity as a contemporary service look? Well, I’m really not sure… I think some steps are being taken in the right direction (emphasis on prayer, council discussion regarding surveys), but I also think more needs to be done. I’d be interested to hear from others as to what they think the core values of the contemporary service are. Perhaps Darren is right to assert the need for an open meeting to lay our feelings out on the table. I know I am not ready to give up! I hope everyone else feels the same way!

Here’s a prayer I’ve been praying recently for myself and for Bakerview:

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me (us), a sinner. Grant me (us) the grace to participate with your kingdom in this world however that may look day to day.”

On the roof to under the roof

Well, after spending the past four months soaking up the sun pounding a hammer and providing folks with a roof over their head, this week has seen myself transition back under the roof of academia. While roofing can inspire certain thoughts relevant for discussion, the silence on this blog has probably reflected more my weariness from physical labor rather than a lack of intellectual stimulation. That said I am excited to once again enter a period of time where I have more energy to wonder about the various ideas that I am encountering in my studies and life in general. While I can’t promise a definite degree of regularity, I do plan on sharing more in the weeks and months ahead through my blog.

Here are a few of the things I have been considering over the summer and hope to elaborate on a little this fall:

-The issue of racism in our churches and how it effects our attitudes towards those around us in society.

-Is public transit really that important? (read my letter from earlier in the summer here)

-What are some issues regarding a healthy relationship between the wide variety of world religions we encounter in society (I am taking a class this fall titled “Theology of World Religions,” so I should have all the answers by Christmas!)

-Are values and how I live ethically really just up to my own personal preference? How does this relate to my understanding and involvement in the local church? (I am taking a course in ethics and probably writing my thesis in the area of responding to our culture of individualism)

Well, enough roadmapping, because before you know it I will have set unattainable goals for my blogging participation. I just thought I would break the silence with a little update on my activities.

I look forward to sharing more as the fall progresses.

All Aboard!

This past week I took part in a newspaper letter flood on the issue of a commuter train for the lower mainland. Here's my letter that got published in the Abbotsford Times:

The Editor,

I am proud to say I am from Abbotsford. It’s exciting to see a once fledging town emerge as a diverse and dynamic community in the Lower Mainland. “A city in the country” is an appropriate description of Abbotsford’s historical roots and geographical location. However, in some respects, it’s time to move on. The challenge is that with growth, come growing pains, and this is where I believe it’s time to add a little more “city”, and have little less “country.”

The issue I want to address is public transportation, particularly the point of rail transit between Abbotsford and Greater Vancouver. How many thousands of people commute west for work, school, family, special events, etc… One only has to spend one afternoon crossing the Port Mann bridge (Yes, it can take a whole afternoon to get to Vancouver!) to realize the dire need for residents across the Fraser Valley to wake up and hear the train whistle. Cars, trucks, and SUVS are not the answer to efficient transportation. It’s not too late to consider this as a possibility that will have lasting effects on the future of Abbotsford and the entire Lower Mainland. The train needs to come, and I’m all aboard!"

If only it were this easy...

"Is your life missing something? Do you feel disconnected and unhappy? Tired of the same old tactics for personal fulfillment? Well, have we got the answer for you! Now, before we get into the details of what we are offering, let us briefly explain some of the benefits of what you’re about hear. First, the solution is easy to use and requires little time or effort to become an efficient user. Second, you will begin to notice changes occur in our life almost immediately, with situations automatically being resolved in your favor. And third, probably the greatest benefit of all is that this technique is completely free! What is this amazing method to personal satisfaction you may ask?"

"Well, let me tell you. Through intense research and experimentation our team of experts has developed a technique for personal fulfillment that will blow the socks off all others. The innovative procedures and steps lead directly the concrete results in your own personal satisfaction. It’s name, now get this (pause), you won’t believe it, is prayer. Yes, you know that religious practice many assume relates to spiritual devotion and self-denying faithfulness has now been rediscovered, captured in the motto, 'all of the results with none of the responsibility.' In our unique three step process, creatively titled, 'ask, seek, and knock,' the opportunities to use prayer to your advantage are endless. Are there any takers?"

(this is an excerpt from my sermon at church today…)

My New Favorite Word...

Some people may know me for being one who shies away from picking sides. Well, when it comes to my theological wonderings and wanderings I get excited when situations allow for a harmony of ideas. Case in point, a common theological impasse is the argument for God’s predestination versus human free will in the quest understanding history and the events in this world. When asked my opinion, I prefer to answer, “yes.” When asked for elaboration as to why I choose to default to my typical Daveism trait of non-committal I am able to share my new favorite word:


Yes, I know, profound! Well, for me, it actually is. The reason for this is that I believe God is continually working towards restoring shalom in our world, realized fully through the entire ministry of Jesus (life, death, resurrection, ascension) and then continued today through the presence of the kingdom that Jesus instituted. That’s the God part. In terms of predestination, I believe that God has predestined for his kingdom to be present in history, with the ultimate plan being total restoration. So I don’t completely deny God’s “plan” for history. On the flipside, humans have the opportunity to (here it comes!) participate in God’s kingdom. I think that the essence of Jesus’ teaching, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, is about this very thing; the human choice to participate in what God is doing in the world. So to me, there isn’t really a dilemma, because I believe that God has a plan for history, which includes humanity, and at the same time this very humanity has the freedom to join God in his plan. In a sense, it’s not all God, and it’s not all humanity. There is certain (yes, you guessed it) participation happening (i.e. “Love God, Love your neighbor…” “Thy Kingdom come…”). This doesn’t mean that God is less God, or that humans are somehow like God, but simply emphasizes the dynamic relational unity that I believe the Bible talks about.

Happy participating!

(I realize that I have failed to uphold clear definitions of predestination or free will on their own. This is intentional in my quest to examine the issue as a “both/and” debate, not “either/or.” Categorically, there may be some holes. You also may have noticed I didn’t even touch on salvation. The reason for this is because I think to solely focus on salvation as the end result of either God’s plan or human choice neglects the fact that participation with God’s plan for shalom starts now!)

Vacationing Quotes

As I soaked up the sun these past few days in Summerland, the following few quotes deserved some attention.

First, some insightful comments on the nature of Christian freedom from Rob Bell:

“We’re addictive creatures. We try things, we experiment, we explore, and certain things hook us. They get our tentacles in us, and we can’t get away from them. What started out as freedom can quickly become slavery. Often freedom is seen as the ability to do whatever you want. But freedom isn’t being able to have whatever we crave. Freedom is going without whatever crave and being fine with it.” (Rob Bell, Sex God, pg. 75).

Second, considering the constant search for understanding the latest Christian buzzword, “community” I found these thoughts from Henri Nouwen to be particularly helpful as I continue to explore the implications of this seemingly elusive, yet all important concept in our relationships:

“The word “community” usually refers to a way of being together that gives us a sense of belonging. Often students complain that they do not experience much community in their school; ministers and priests wonder how they can create a better community in their parishes; and social workers, overwhelmed by the alienating influences of modern life, try hard to form communities in the neighborhood they are working in. In all these situations the word “community” points to a way of togetherness in which people can experience themselves a meaningful part of a larger group.”

“Although we can say the same about the Christian community, it is important to remember that the Christian community is a waiting community, that is, a community which not only creates a sense of belonging but also a sense of estrangement. In the Christian community we say to each other, “We are together, but we cannot fulfill each other… we help each other, but we also have to remind each other that our destiny is beyond our togetherness.” The support of the Christian community is a support in common expectation. That requires a constant criticism of anyone who makes the community into a safe shelter or a cozy clique, and a constant encouragement to look forward to what is to come.” (Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out, pg. 153).

Basically, we need to be careful in our search for authentic community, not to elevate our church, friends, or family as representing the whole of what community is meant to be. People by themselves can never completely fulfill this need. While this may seem like a negative perspective on the possibilities of community, I take it the opposite, in that we are finally able to let go of our unreal expectations we place on the people around us, realizing that personal fulfillment is something no one person, or group of people for that matter, can ever provide for us. Nouwen continues by mentioning that “the basis for Christian community is not the family tie, or social or economic equality, or shared oppression or complaint, or mutual attraction … but the divine call.”

I think this realization has the potential for improving how we relate to others. Because as we share in this common experience of searching for the glimpses that God gives us for true community we may just lose some of our selfish expectations, perhaps even giving people a break here or there. Wouldn’t that be something!

Hopefully (and prayfully!) these are more than just words…

You know it's summer when...

Yes, I actually went out in public like this thanks to the dare of my good wife Julie. Let's just say she wishes she never jokingly dares me to experiment with facial hair again. Perhaps others would agree!

Rant of the Week: Cellphones and Vehicular Operation

A story I saw this evening on the 6 O’clock news discussed the concern many folks in B.C. have about the increasing use of cell phones, specifically by young drivers. I am completely on board with regulating (code for banning!) the use of cell phones while operating a vehicle. What frustrates me about the laws that are being discussed is that the focus of the regulation is only towards young drivers who do not yet have their full license. While I agree that the majority of people using cell phones, particularly the increasingly popular method of what the young folks call “texting,” are under the age of 25, I question the logic behind limiting this regulation to young drivers. To prove my point, let’s discuss drinking and driving, something we all agree (I hope!) inhibits our ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. What would happen if DUI was only illegal for young drivers because they are less experienced and therefore at an increased risk of an accident? How many people would support this ludicrous claim? I think the logic follows in the case of cell phone use, in that no matter the age, it hinders the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Now, this may make the lives of some less convenient (thank goodness I don’t have a cell phone!), but I think any discussion on regulating the use of cell phone should include all drivers, including the adults making the rules (who conveniently find themselves exempt in their suggestion to limit regulation to young drivers)

Enough said!

Rephrase the question please!

I was thinking this week about the common Christianese question, “What church do you go to?” For some reason this question has always irked me. Part of it is because what would happen if I didn’t go to church? I guess an awkward pause would be in order, and hopefully the discussion would progress towards the next round of (im)personal get-to-know-you questions (sorry for the sarcastic negativity, but too often this is how conversation is experienced)

However, what’s been bugging me lately is related more to the nature of the question itself, particularly with the word “go.” Perhaps it’s a sad indicator of how for many people church has become another commodity to be consumed. Just like we go to the movies, or go to a sporting event, we simply go to church. So when the question inevitably arises, we don’t even consider what’s being said. The danger is that church ends up being narrowly defined as the slot in my schedule where I go to a worship service at a particular time and place.

Ok, so this is the problem, but what now? I am not sure what the most appropriate alternative quesition would be. Perhaps it should be directed towards the aspect of church that implies sharing our lives with one another in a particular community, oriented around a common faith and approach to life?!? Now, I realize how rephrasing this question results in it being not quite as (im)personal as “what church do you go to,” but the only real ‘problem’ I see is that folks may actually start reconsidering what it means for them to go to church.

And in my opinion, this just may be a good thing…

(If anyone actually has a suggestion for an alternative question regarding church participation, I’m all ears… Who knows, you may just start the next trend for Christian cocktail discussion!)

Nouwen on Individualized Faith

I continue to be inspired by the authentic vision for life and faith that Henri Nouwen inspires his reader towards. The following comment from him on the ills of individualism struck a chord with much of what I am currently wrestling with in my own journey:

It is tragic to see how the religious sentiment of the West has become so individualized that concepts such as “a contrite heart,” have come to refer only to personal experience of guilt and the willingness to do penance for it. The awareness of our impurity in thoughts, words and deeds can indeed put us in a remorseful mood and create in us the hope for a forgiving gesture. But if the catastrophical events of our days, the wars, mass murders, unbridled violence, crowded prisons, torture chambers, the hunger and illness of millions of people and the unnamable misery of a major part of the human race is safely kept outside the solitude of our hearts, our contrition remains no more that a pious emotion.

(Reaching Out – The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, 1975. pg. 54)

No Guns!

My friend Mike whom I have mentioned before is selling these stickers to raise money for a group called Invisible Children who are based in Africa. If you are like me and not particularly excited about guns floating around, especially in countries where civil war burdens much of everyday life, then click here and order a sticker. Hey, it's for a good cause, and you get a cool sticker! (The opportunity to get one of these stickers ends on Sunday, so act now!)

Canada Day and BMX Stylings

For the long weekend Julie and I chilled up in Whistler with her parents, playing games, watching the Canada Day parade, and much to my delight, witnessing an awesome display of BMX aerobatics at the Redbull Elevation competition. Here are a few pics:

(For those of you waiting for some more of my wonderings, thanks for your patience and hopefully some thoughts will come shortly...)

Yoder on “success”

This quote speaks to much of what I have been wondering about in recent posts:

“The standard by which we measure our obedience is therefore Jesus Christ himself; from Him we learn that brokenness, not success, is the normal path of faithfulness to the servanthood of God. This is not to glorify failure or some sort of heroic uselessness, but to claim, as a confession that can be only made in faith, that true ‘success’ in Christian obedience is not to be measured by changing the world in a given direction within a given length of time, but by the congruence between our path and the triumph of Christ.”

—John Howard Yoder, The Racial Revolution in Theological Perspective, p. 9.

Patience and a glimpse of hope

I recently asked this question of a classmate of mine who is a pastor in the Greater Vancouver area:

-As you lead people towards authentically living out their faith, how do you have patience that God is using you to make a difference, especially in the context of our comfortable North American Christianity?

Here was his response:

“That's a great question, David. I am not a patient person. I want change now. And to tell you the truth, almost every day for the last year has been very painful. I saw that we had so far to go. There has barely been a day that has gone by (except for the last couple months) where I didn't ask God to take me out of this church. It has only been by God's grace that I've stuck it out. Every time I was feeling discouraged I would tell God that I needed to know that this is where He wanted me, and without fail, He would send someone my way to tell me that God is doing something subversive. There is something bigger happening than what I can see. And so I would hang on a little longer. I have no idea if this church is even going to survive, but I see God changing hearts. One 71 year old lady who has been a Christian since she was six years old gave a testimony in church that for the first time in her life she is obeying God's call on her life. Last week I had lunch with her and she said, "Jeff, I've changed." She didn't go into details about what that meant, but everyone in the church has seen it. She used to be someone that everyone was afraid of. She never smiled. She was often critical of the leadership in the church. Now, she exudes the love of Christ. She led a couple ladies from her neighbourhood to Christ a couple months ago. She and others like her are the only reason that I can keep going. She said that a gay friend of hers asked if she would be welcomed at our church and she replied, ‘Our pastor has preached from the pulpit every Sunday that God has called us to love God and love people, so I would assume that would include you.’

I have to tell myself over and over again that it's not about me. God is doing something, and it's bigger than me and so I just hang in there. Anyway, I'm not sure if that answers your question.”

I am glad there are some solid pastors around who are faithfully sticking it out and seeing small (or large!?!) glimpses of transformation. Sharing these stories is incredibly valuable in realizing that God is in fact working in our local churches. I know I’m encouraged!

Church leaders… yes, I mean you!

I think that the biggest challenge facing the next generation of church leaders today is to stick it out in their own churches and traditions and faithfully participate in the kingdom, patient that God will touch people’s heart to participate with them. One of the most disappointing aspects of my Christian education up this point has been the fueled alienation students garner towards the church, resulting in many graduates of bible school and even seminary who become so pessimistic about the contemporary church that they leave church altogether, or start their own “perfect” church community.

So my plea to all of you: please stick it out!!! The church needs you! Your church needs you! And as a fellow up and coming church leader, I need you! I need you so that I can persevere and be encouraged that I am not alone on this journey...

(This post is directed towards anyone who may be a “leader” in their church, not just towards pastors. I would define leadership pretty broadly in the context of this discussion; so basically, my plea goes out to all of you!)

(I also recognize that my idealistic plea cannot ignore the personal hurt suffered by many church leaders across traditions. There is no easy solution to these sad occurrences. My hope and prayer is that somewhere forgiveness and reconciliation will allow us all to continue hoping for God’s project to be evident in and through the church.)

(Lastly, I should also mention that some instances do require leaders or church members to leave their particular church or tradition, whether it is for personal or perhaps theological reasons. While this is often a necessary reality in the faith development of any Christian, my caution is against a sort of free floating, loosely committed form of church involvement where one can jump from church to church. [You may be able to tell that I am not a fan of frequent church shopping])

(Sorry my bracketed comments are longer than the actual post!)

Caution: Church at Work!

Today was “Love (your city)" across Canada as churches joined across denominational lines to show God’s love to their communities in a variety of different ways. Now, handing out free food and drinks at major intersections may not be the most practical way of communicating God’s love for people, but behind the scenes practical projects are being done that give me cause for optimism that the church is in fact being a faithful representation of God’s activity in the world.

I had the opportunity to participate in one such project this morning. One bosses’ neighbors recently became a single mother, working three jobs to support her family. At the same time her house was in need of major repair, particularly the leaky roof. So my boss decided to approach his church about the possibility of expanding the vision of Love Abbotsford to making a permanent impact into the lives of this family. Today there were about 50 of us, ranging from roofers, framers, landscapers, painters, and everyone else in-between who went and gave the home a complete overhaul inside and out, including a new roof. The key to the whole thing is that are no strings attached. It is the church community simply saying God cares for you.

It is a breath of fresh air to see people band together and tangibly show that God cares for people, not just their “spiritual” well-being. God’s plan to have shalom restored to his whole creation extends to all things in people’s lives, right to the roof over their heads.

So next time you or I complain that the church is failing miserably in its mission to be God’s representative, take this story as an inspiring caution; the church is at work!

Faithful or effective?

As a Christian, I believe that God has a concern for what is happening in our world. I do not think that God sits idly by watching the world’s event unfold, but has/is/will be active in history. A common theological term that is once again growing in popularity is the notion of God’s “kingdom.” Howard Snyder defines kingdom simply as “the reign of God” and the goal for Christians is to grasp “how God’s saving work in the world may be understood and experienced.” Recently, I have been considering how I perceive God’s reign in our world. Is it represented by the church? Does humanity in general represent aspects of God’s kingdom? Perhaps political structures or even specific societies represent the reign of God? And what is the Christian responsibility in participating in God’s reign? What I do know, however, is that our finite understanding of what (if anything at all for some???) God is doing in the world is a difficult concept to comprehend.

In my wondering about this topic I have come across a concept that has been especially helpful to me. I have called it the “faithfulness principle.” When considering how we comprehend God’s reign in the world, the key is not to conceive of a detailed approach to exactly how, where, what, (etc…) the kingdom of God can be understood in the grand scheme of history and the world, but to be faithful in what we know God is doing. Faithfulness, not effectiveness, then becomes our measuring stick to participating in God’s kingdom. After all, it is God’s kingdom, not ours (Hence, “your kingdom come, your will be done”). This is especially refreshing in our present age where effectiveness in all areas of society, particularly the church often trumps faithfulness. The result is church practices and individual Christian expressions that simply emulate the surrounding culture. Many confuse effectiveness, church attendance perhaps, with faithfulness.

I am encouraged by this approach to understanding God’s reign in the world because while it ups the ante in terms of calling for truly faithful disciples, it also places the authority of the kingdom and the church back into proper hands; namely, God’s.

The implications for this type of church are hard to determine. The reality is that churches that place faithfulness before effectiveness may in fact decrease in size. What does this say about our contemporary concern for numbers and church growth? It may also mean that certain issues in society may lead to persecution of the church and limited freedoms that we have once taken for granted. It’s hard to know… But what I do know is that God is at work in our world and the fundamental Christian responsibility is faithfulness, even at the expense of what some consider effectiveness.

Plane chats and comforting words

On our trip back from Winnipeg, Julie and I had the “opportunity” to sit with a chatty fellow on the plain. While Julie was right next to him, all three of us interacted throughout the journey back to Vancouver, which in the end was a pleasing experience considering that I was not enticed by the French version of Will and Grace playing on the TV’s. This man was a professor of Transportation Economics at the U. of M., and was quick to fill us in on all the latest happenings and present predictions in the world of transportation. The book he was reading on the history of the automobile from 17??-1842 looked quite fascinating (boring???) as I did not even know the automobile existed at that point in history.
All said, the topic eventually lead to human values and religion. It was at this point, already knowing that I was a theology student, that he popped the question, “how do we know which religion is the right one when they all claim to be the right one.” Now, on the spot I honestly did not know how to respond as I usually take the route of careful reflection when it comes to these matters. Therefore, I kind of dodged a straight answer and related my understanding of my own religious experience and how it is a process of discernment done in the company of others, rather than the smörgåsbord approach so many individuals seem to take these days. With that response I think he realized I was not prepared to paint myself into a corner and the conversation shifted to something else.
The rest of this week I have found myself wondering if my answer was adequate and if perhaps I should have been quicker on my feet to challenge his question, particularly the part about how all religions claim they are the only right ones. I felt somewhat discouraged actually, thinking that here I am, a theology student, and I am talking about is my personal religious experience. Shouldn’t I say more???
Then today I read an article by one of my professors, John Stackhouse, which ended offering some comforting words. Discussing the modern approach to evangelism as traditionally having taken the line of “we’re better than all of you” Stackhouse points us to the example of the Apostles where the primary focus was relaying what they had seen, touched and heard (1 John 1:1). Basically, their response to the religiously diverse atmosphere of the 1st century was there own experience of encountering Jesus Christ himself. Stackhouse follows this verse with the comment that I found most comforting, stating that “Jesus called us to be his witnesses, not his experts in comparative religion.”
The reason I found this article encouraging is because my goal as a Christian is to be faithful with my whole life as a witness to Christ, not just my ability to logically prove something beyond a shadow of a doubt. While I recognize the danger of using this concept to shirk the responsibility of intelligibly communicating the Christian faith at all, I was glad to know that my Christian witness is far more just providing the “right” answers to questions from a gentleman on the plane…
Thanks John!

A Good Church Sign - Really???

I have been meaning to comment on church signs for a while now, and this past week while Julie and I were in Winnipeg I saw a sign that gave me the final oomph of motivation to share my thoughts.

I have long thought that churches attempts at connecting with the surrounding culture in the form of catchy sayings is an utter waste of time and likely does more damage than good when it comes to the impact the church has in the world. I have always held the opinion that beyond general ministry information and the all important “everyone welcome,” a church’s sign should not be the place for uncreative and lame attempts at humorous nuggets of Christian “wisdom.” Usually I just end up groaning when I read them (like with this one: God doesn’t reply to email, only knee-mail). However, the ironic part about the sign I saw in Winnipeg at my grandparent’s church is that I actually liked it! Here’s what it said:

Forgive your enemies
It messes with their heads

For some reason this sign struck a chord that actually made me think and appreciate the challenge it gave. Perhaps it struck me because it suggests something lacking in our world: forgiveness. And the reason I liked the “messes with their heads” part is because I think a well articulated theology of forgiveness does go against the grain of a world obsessed with personal satisfaction and power, particularly at the expense of others. I am sure that much more that could be said theologically, but what I liked most was that the sign wasn’t cheesy, but clever and humorous, almost edgy in fact. And coming from a small community church in Winnipeg, this was a pleasant surprise.

All said, I guess my experience with this sign has given me hope for church signs. I still think a “less is more” approach is most suitable, but this one example reveals that churches may be able to say something relevant, even through the medium of their sign…

A New Kind of Freedom

In preparation for a summer class that I took from Tim Geddert called “the Church and God’s Mission in the World,” I did quite a bit of reading related to the New Testament understanding of community. One of the books I read is Robert Banks’ book titled Paul’s Idea of Community. Early on in the book Banks suggests that freedom is an integral part of interpreting Paul’s view of community. This is contra to the common held interpretation that elevates salvation as the central motif for a theology of Christian community. While salvation remains an integral part of Pauline theology, freedom is what Banks’ argues to be the center of interpreting Paul, and in the case of this book, Paul’s view on community.

The vision of community that Banks draws from Paul is a refreshing image of unity and participation that encourages any Christian in the 21st century to continue working towards the realization of true community. Invaluable in maintaining this theme is Banks’ theological basis of the radical freedom that Paul advocates. In our age of extreme individualism, where freedom is almost always understood as the distinct freedom from any binding relationships, Banks presents an interpretation of Paul that challenges any such view. What is important is that freedom is not from something, but for something. In the case of Paul, Banks argues that Christians have freedom for a “new community.” Freedom into community is balanced under the following three headings:

: from sin and for Christ
-Dependence: on Christ and the Spirit
with others and the world

The reason this is an effective foundation for understanding Paul is that freedom is far more than the personal result of salvation. Freedom is the reality of life lived under the lordship of Christ, in direction from the Spirit, and in ongoing relationships with fellow Christians. Basically, freedom expands our Pauline theology to include so much more just individualized salvation. Therefore, this book for me was an inspiring reminder that the Christian gospel doesn’t end at personal salvation, but reveals a freedom into which people enter into the richness of community!

How exactly does this community look? Well, I’m still working on that one…

Out of the Silence…

I’m not going make a big deal out of the silence as of late, except to say that I am still here. So if you're still reading my blog, the following phrases represent several concepts that have been running through my mind in the past month. I’m sure I could expand more on each thought, but for now I just offer some questions that have been swirling in my head related to the ideas.

Strategy or Doctrine?

A major challenge facing churches in the 21st century relates to the question of cultural relevance. How do we distinguish between what are mere strategies what is unchangeable truths? Fun stuff for anyone wrestling with the church’s practical relationship in society…

Distracted Loneliness

Is our obsession with technology a form of distracting ourselves from the fact that we are simply lonely but unable/willing to invest in relationships beyond cyperspace? (ie. Facebook, to which I am also a participant!)

God’s Shalom Project

Do we really believe and embrace the hope that God is in the process of restoring reality? Do we as Christians embody shalom in our lives?

Versatility of Love

Realizing the challenge of universal and timeless ethics, is it possible that the principle of love in the New Testament can guide our practical decision making in regards to ethical dilemmas we have in our personal lives as well as society in general?

Stuck In-between Reality and Ideals

Is it okay for Christian communities to settle for the best realistic option, even if that is less than ideal? How do we live in the tension that the Christian ideal, while experienced in glimpses, is not yet fully realized?

Cultivated Doubt

In our age of skepticism towards organized Christianity, both from within the church and from society, how do appropriately deal with the doubts we have? Do we cultivate doubt or learn to live with it?

Freedom – Do we really get it?

How is the understanding of freedom as “freedom from something” give us a narrow view of what Christian freedom truly means? How can an understanding of “freedom into something” challenge individualistic interpretations of the Christian faith?

Paradoxical Authority

Do we really believe that the biblical witness of true power in the form of unprotectedness and vulnerability will ironically turn other types of authority upside down?

Christian Theology of Everything

In a time of continuing scrutiny directed at Christianity from all sides, are Christians willing to engage the task of articulating their understanding of the universe and existence that is both biblically sound and scientifically believable? (yikes!)

If you have any thoughts or questions on any of these feel free to comments. I hope to elaborate on several of these topics as I continue to reflect…

La La La Luongo

While I am still in the midst of a writing funk, much (all???) of my spare time has been spent watching hockey, especially the Canucks. This video is a tribute to the only reason I am still able to watch the Canucks playing in the playoffs...

Thanks Mr. Luongo!

Blogger’s Block

Yes, that is the official term for the condition in which I currently find myself. The recent events of finishing the semester at Regent College, watching the Vancouver Canucks, returning to my favorite summer job of roofing, becoming acquainted with Facebook, brainstorming the possibility of doing a thesis, and the simple weariness of writing have all led to the silence on this blog. In this time of enduring my silence, I recommend that instead of reading my uneventful blog, you watch the Canucks, join Facebook (I’m not sure why…), and slow down to smell the nice spring flowers!

(This post is code for “sorry I haven’t posted anything for awhile and I am trying to buy time until I actually get the motivation to write something worthwhile.”)

Easter – Confused Expectations and Paradoxical Fulfillment

What are your hopes and dreams for the future? I know for myself this question is often laden with visions of success and well-being; comfort and safety, family and friends. I often wonder how my faith as a Christian influences my expectations. Do they line up with what it means to be a follower of Christ? In light of the Easter season, how does Easter, particularly the biblical account of Easter week, affect my expectations for life?

In his book, Jesus and the Victory of God, N.T. Wright discusses extensively the expectations of the Jewish people for what their long-awaited Messiah would accomplish. Wright states that for Israel in the 1st century, “the king was the focal point of the dream of national liberty.” Jesus’ followers, primarily Jewish, expected that upon his entry into Jerusalem he would become the enthroned Messiah; the “King of the Jews.” This expectation was for political victory over the oppressive powers of the day. However, beginning with Jesus’ ‘triumphant’ entry on a donkey, an aggressive foray into the Temple, humble service to his followers (feet washing and last supper), his trial, sentence and execution, Jesus appears anything but the long awaited king they were waiting for. Looking at these events, either Jesus was not in fact the expected Messiah, or the Jewish expectations were confused…

Wright argues for the latter, as Jesus is the “paradoxical fulfillment” of the Jewish expectations. In Jesus, “the kingdom is present, and the Messiah is present, but neither looks like what had been anticipated” (emphasis original). Basically, Jesus is fulfilling the expectations of the Israelites, but in a way far removed from what they envisioned. Suffering, not political victory ends up being the path to victory and kingship. One only has to look at the subsequent centuries of the early church to realize that life for followers of Jesus as the New Israel was anything but political domination. It was about oppression, suffering, and even martyrdom. The paradox of Christianity is that the achievement of victory comes in the form of what the world would call a failure.

My question in all this is that as I reflect on my own expectations, how do I approach them in light of the events of Easter? Do I live my life with confused expectations, or am I able to accept the reality that Christian ‘success’ often comes in the form of paradoxical fulfillment?

(I realize the tone of this post may seem depressing or negative, but I think that to simply skip the suffering example of Jesus and jump directly to the resurrection fails to grasp clearly this notion of expectations and how Jesus fulfills them.)