Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Creative Repeat

So get this....

There's a ministry conference going on here on campus right now, meaning that there's a whole lot of speakers giving a lot of instruction to people who paid to hear them in the hopes that the secret to ministry nirvana will be unlocked. The timing, for me personally, couldn't be worse. We just came off a week where we spent 50 hours listening to Dr. Bill Arnold (a professor of OT and Provost here at Asbury), Steve Chalke, and Brian McLaren, and are gearing up for another class that starts early next week. With dissertation deadlines looming near, another three days of lectures just wasn't what I needed right now.

But we were told to enroll in this ministry conference thing, and because they're paying the freight, I did what I was told. Yesterday, I supposed to hear Dr. Gutenson talk about post-modern ministry and Dr. Ellsworth Kalas (current interim president and our preaching prof for the first half of the year) preach. Well, let's just say that I'd had all the post-modernity I could handle LAST week so I bailed on that lecture, and then last night instead of hearing Ellsworth preach, I spent some time with the boys (wrestling in the front room) and then a little quality time with the wife (I'm sure Ellsworth would approve... he's that kind of guy).

So, if you are keeping score, I'm 0 for 2.

This morning I was scheduled today to hear Ben Witherington speak on his understanding on the afterlife, which I was really interested in, but I had to take a phone call from an executive pastor who I'm trying to set up a visit with for my dissertation. He asked lots of questions I really wasn't prepared to answer, so I had to go get some answers, and by the time everything was straightened out, I missed the lecture. FORTUNATELY, I know somebody who's got a cousin who dated this girl who's friends with guy who knows someone "in the know", and was able to procure a digital copy of the lecture.... so I'll get to it, eventually. Just not today.

Was then supposed to go hear someone from the General Board of Evangelism talk about evangelism, but ended up going to lunch with a DMiss student from Bulgaria who is writing a dissertation on how the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) is reaching gypsy populations through charismatic worship.... which was really cool. I mean, how often do you get to meet someone who is knowledgeable about Bulgarian gypsies? Not often.

If you are keeping score, I'm now 0 for 4.

I had to break out of the slump, so tonight I went to Estes Chapel to do some singing in worship led by Matt Maher, a worship leader who leads praise and worship at St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Tempe, Arizona and writes some good music. I also heard some preaching from Ed Young Jr., pastor of Fellowship Church in Dallas. Young's entire sermon was about the need for pastors and churches to be creative in their worship. To not be predictable and just do the same old, same old. He told stories about stuff Fellowship Church has done, like build a stage with a moshpit for a worship service and hang a rope from a ceiling so he could swing over his congregation to illustrate how anger works (don't ask for particulars... they weren't offered). He's very "hip" and very "now". His hair is styled complete with highlights. He wore hip clothes, and used the hip-hop phrase "off the cha-hain" at least four times even though he's (I'm guessing) in his mid to late forties.

Um..... yeah.

Here's what I know as a former youth pastor. Sometime around about, oh, I don't know, 23 or 24 I ceased to be hip. I no longer knew any of the songs on the Top Forty and all my eighties slang terms sounded dated. I remember watching youth pastors ten years older than me trying to use "the lingo of the youth of today" and thinking.... I think it'd be better to just not be hip. I have never looked back, so, note to self, leave "off the cha-hain" out of my vocabulary.

Done, and done.

Anyhow, he's all high energy, running all over the chapel, and is just kind of frenetic for 45 minutes. He's illustrating being creative by even preaching creatively, which is creative in and of itself. Then he sits down, Matt leads some more worship, and we take off.

After the service, fellow BP Jason McIntosh and I are on our way home when we bump into Randy Jessen, the Director of the Beeson Center. He asked us how we liked Ed's presentation and then he drops this little bomb on us:

"You know, last year at the Beeson Module, when Ed spoke he gave that same sermon, word for word."

Dude gave a sermon on creativity that was a repeat. How ironic is that?

For me, then, the ATS Ministry Conference has been a bust, but I'm going to hear Richard Foster (author of "Celebration of the Disciplines") tomorrow, so I'm hopeful that things will end on a high note.

Or rather, that he's off the cha-hain. Fo shizzle my hizzle.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) If you missed my four part series (which, if you read it when it was first posted was largely unedited due to some problems I had in uploading... sorry about that) on Steve Chalke, Brian McLaren, and the Emergent Church here are the links:

You might ask, why write a four-part series on, well, anything? I just wanted a reminder of the experience, because I enjoyed it immensely, while it made me think. I hope you enjoy it.

2) The War in Iraq is hitting a little close to home. While serving First UMC (Goshen IN) I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Wade (here he is):

We met Wade during an interesting time in his life. He was dating a girl (who he ended up proposing to in one of our worship services), attending and playing guitar in a church for the first time in his life (his band at the time, which mainly played in college bars up in South Bend was named "Confidence Johnson"), and was just trying to keep his life moving in the right direction. In the end, the thing with the girl didn't work out, and he ended up moving away from Goshen to kind of figure out his next move. I lost track of him about four years ago, when recently, through the power of MySpace, I stumbled upon him again. A father who has always put providing for his daughter first (she lives with her mother in Elkhart), Wade made the decision to join the Army, where he now serves in the First Infantry Division. I'm sure making the choice to be away from Hannah was not an easy one, but I'm also sure that he saw this as a way, in the long run, to improve her life. I've nothing but respect for his willingness to sacrifice not only for his country, but his little girl.

This week, he sent out a bulletin to all of his MySpace "friends" that as of February 4th, he's deploying (again) to Baghdad for an 18-month stint back in the field doing the necessary dirty work to try and bring some resolution to one of the most chaotic places in the world. Knowing he'll be in harms way troubles my heart.

You know, when you baptize somebody there is a sense that you feel somewhat responsible for them for the rest of your life. Babies, adults, teens.... doesn't matter. In the moment when I'm sprinkling or dunking a human being, my only prayer is that in real ways they'll encounter the peace Jesus promises, and their soul will find rest.

That's what I'm thinking about as I say that prayer now for Wade.... that he finds peace, and peace finds him.

3) Since Aaron Wymer, a fellow BP linked my four part emergent series to his blog, I decided to lift some pictures off of his. They're a few pictures of the recent visit some members of Shawnee made to Asbury to sit in with our class to hear Dr. Tom Tumblin (who is a prof here at Asbury and a DS in the West Ohio Conference) talk about times of transition and conflict in the life of a church. Here, you can see Roger Rhodes, SPRC chair and Charlotte Hefner, an Associate Pastor at Shawnee, sitting on either side of BP Jason McIntosh, listening to Tom:

Here's Glenn Derryberry, Ad Board Chair, putting on his sweater after an exercise Tom had us do illustrating how most people feel about change (don't ask me to explain it):

And here's another shot of Roger in the break room with Alicia and Travis, commiserating over bagels and juice:

Tom lecture was a good one with lots of great input from BPs and Shawnee-ites alike. One of best moments, for me, was a response Glenn, who has basically been a life-long member of Shawnee, talked about how much the church has changed in his life time. How it has been re-invented again and again whenever a compelling vision of the future is laid out.

And how, without this kind of vision, the church starts to head downhill.

Just a great morning with a lot of food for thought. I'm looking forward to not only meeting with all the members of SPRC, but lay-leaders throughout the church to start thinking about the future very, very soon. You can just feel things moving forward now, about 1000 mph. Here's hoping we're all ready for the ride.

4) This week we'll be attending workshops and seminars at the Asbury Theological Seminary Ministry Conference here on the campus of ATS. Here's my schedule for the week:

Monday, January 29th
1-5pm The Challenges And Opportunites of Post-Modernity for Christian Faith (Dr. Chuck Gutenson)

Tuesday, January 30th
8-Noon How to Have A Nice Afterlife (Dr. Ben Witherington)
2-5pm Risking All For the Sake of the Gospel (Karen Greenwaldt)

Wednesday, January 31stdfff
9-11am Worship
1-5pm Celebration of Discipline: Renewal (Richard Foster)

Also, at some point during the experience we will also hear Ed Young Jr., pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX (although the schedule I have doesn't make it all that clear as to when it's going to happen). You might remember a post I made about my experience in Houston about meeting Ed's dad, Ed Young Sr., who pastors Second Baptist Church, which is another huge megachurch in Texas. We're all looking forward to seeing how much the Eds are alike, or different. It ought to be interesting.

5) The boys are all finally starting to emerge from being sick... thankfully. Aimee has taken the brunt of this in a week where they were largely out of school and not sleeping through the night. The bottom line is that Bucher men are wusses when it comes to getting sick. We are sure that we will never get better and that no one could feel any worse. The fact that we're big babies when we get a cold, is amplified when one of us is, in fact, a baby (or at least a toddler). Given the toll of the week, it wouldn't surprise me if I received a call from Aimee on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean drinking some drink out of a coconut. She deserves it.

6) Watched Greg Oden play for the first time with Eric Stalkamp, a Shawnee-ite who was in Wilmore for the weekend with his lovely wife Vanessa, and daughters Abby and Leah, visiting Vanessa's parents. Vanessa's father, Dr. William Clark Crothers is serving as the Interim President of Asbury College, meaning that he's splitting time living here in Wilmore and at their home in Michigan where he runs his own consulting business.

We watched the game at the President's house (which, I kid you not, has 11 outside doors.... ELEVEN! The President of Asbury College must need lots of escape routes out of his home) which was a treat because the Buchers opted for no cable this year (something my wife would like to continue at home which, in the words of my British friends, isn't bloody likely). Considering the guy is recovering from a broken wrist on his shooting hand (he's shooting free throws left-handed as a result, something Michigan State tried to exploit, without success), Oden looked pretty good, but there's no way he's ready for the NBA. He'll need to bulk up his upper body a little more before he bangs with big bodies night after night. Considering he couldn't move the opposing Spartan center who looked like Opie's mutant cousin, Yao, Emeka, Dwight, and Big Ben would eat his lunch if he played with them, as is.

Of course, that being said, he'll still get drafted number one, and get paid millions to develop his game playing for some NBA lottery team if he makes himself available for next year's draft. Eric and I decided he'd be better off letting the strength coaches at OSU work with him another year. Here's hoping he really likes Columbus, and being in school..... I mean REALLY LIKES being in school.

All in all, it was great hanging out with Eric, talking about stuff Buckeye fans and Lima-landers (although he can't remember every hanging out at Arcade City when it was on Elida Road, or lusting after a pair of Air Force Ones, so I'm wondering if he really did grow up in Lima.... you can tell he went to a parochial school) talk about. Thanks Stalkamps and Crothers for the nice evening of college hoops, and for a nice dinner for the entire Bucher clan the night before.

AND, by the way, If you want to find out what it's like to eat dinner with our family, and hang out in our townhouse with five active kids, ages 19 months to seven years, running around like wild banchees, like, just ask Eric and Vanessa. I'm sure they can give you a vivid description of each experience.

Hey Eric and Vanessa.... next time, we'll get babysitters.

7) Here's a link to a recent blog post by Dr. Ben Witherington, a professor of New Testament here at Asbury. It's a great story of the time he heard God speak, which occurred right around the time he faced the real possibility of being drafted to go fight in Vietnam. It also contains an excerpt of Donald Miller's book, Blue Like Jazz, which if you haven't read it, please consider doing so. The book, and Dr. Witherington's post, are both very good.

8) Just for the record, I'm taking Indy in the Super Bowl next week.... but remember, I'm the guy who thought for certain that the Bucks couldn't lose to Florida, so you might want to take that prediction with a grain of salt (or maybe the whole shaker). And if there are any Indy fans who'd like me to change my prediction, I'm sure I could be persuaded to plant the kiss of death on the Bears.... for the right price.

9) We'll be home next weekend, as I'll be in the pulpit at Shawnee next Sunday, and you know what that means? We'll be doing a bit of house shopping.

I don't think finding a house is going to be all that fun this spring. We've been approached by many people looking to sell their house, which is fine. As a matter of fact, if you have a home in Shawnee you'd like to sell to us, or are aware is coming up for sale, please email me at


It's just that us trying to find the right house at the right price has been about as easy as successfully levitating upside down. Considering we have owned two homes, one that was the wrong house at the right price and the other that was the right house at the wrong price, the prospect of doing this again gives me the willies.

To kind of complicate matters, we're kind of looking now for a place that might have a little independent living space for Aimee's dad.... not saying he'll be moving in with us for sure, but it is something he seems open to. Aimee has been soliciting possible homes on the "Mom's Network", and we've gotten a number of good leads there (well, that and a number of homes we'll never ever be able to afford unless I start my own television ministry or write a book that rivals "The Purpose Driven Life" in overall sales). Aimee wants to start looking, and have something nailed down by the end of April/early May, so she's thrown herself into this thing with gusto.

To be honest, the thought of buying a home makes my head hurt because of our first two experiences. Our first was a home we bought in Toledo from the government in a gentrifying (the Old West End for you Toledo-ites) part of the city. It was seized as a part of a drug raid (it was, in all likelihood, a crack house), and was so rundown that even after about $15,000 in improvements and 18 months of living there we never got the sawhorses out of the living room. Ask anyone who visited us... the interior of the house looked like it had been ravaged by wolves.

The second home we bought was in Goshen, and while we loved the house, the weight of the mortgage/taxes/mortgage insurance was heavy. We didn't want to spend the kind of money the the house demanded, but the real estate agent, a lovely woman from our church, was intent on getting us in a "good neighborhood". I can laugh about it now, but every time we'd give her an address of a home we'd like to see, she'd just shake her head and we'd end up in a home that was 20-40K above our upper limit (but well within the limit the bank said we could afford.... no wonder there's a real estate crisis in this country right now).

I mean, how bad could a "bad neighborhood" in Goshen, Indiana truly be? By her reaction you'd have thought the houses we wanted to look at were located in the middle of junkyard next to a family of rabid pitbulls.

We'd have totally lost our shirt after only five years in a town where real estate values were flat, if a member of the church I was serving at the time hadn't been looking for a home in the neighborhood where her parents lived (thank you Angie!). God delivered us, and some spare change, in our pockets.

So, here we go again. I keep hearing that buying a home is a great decision financially, but I'll be hornswaggled if I've ever realized that windfall myself. I guess we'll see what happens.


10) And finally, Happy 29th Birthday, Mom! I am, as your 8 year old son, metaphysically sending you many hugs and kisses. I hope you enjoy your day, and remember that you are growing finer with age. I'm sure my younger, taller-but-less-good-looking brother (he's two) feels the same way.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Steve Chalke and Brian McClaren- part 1: What did Jesus Accomplish On The Cross?

(This post is the first in a four part series that I've written about the emergent church, and two of it's leaders, Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren. Note that these posts, for most, are probably long and boring. If you have little interest in the "emergent church" or the effects of post-modernism on Christianity, this is your invitation to skip this and the next three posts.)

This has been an amazing year for lots of reason, and here are two more. The two fellows to my left (your right) of me are Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren. I spent a good many hours with these two blokes listening, and sometimes conversing, about the present and future of the church. It was fascinating, indeed!

Chalke, for those of you who don't know him, wrote a controversial book called "The Lost Message of Jesus". In this book, Chalke attacks the idea that the message of the atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross as serving as a penal substitution for each individual as the central message of Jesus Christ.

For those of you out there saying, "What's this "penal" thing Bucher is talking about? Did he just swear?", "penal substitutionary atonement" is the theory that the main thing that happened when Jesus died on the cross, and then was raised from the dead, was that he took the punishment you deserved for the life you lived, enabling you to escape Hell, and enter Heaven after you die. In other words, if after you die, your soul goes to court, with God as judge to determine if how you spent your life warranted either the reward of Heaven, or the punishment of Hell, because holiness is well, perfectly holy, and nobody on this earth could be perfectly holy, the result for all of us would be Hell. And even if you lived a perfectly holy life, you still wouldn't qualify for Heaven because you were born sinful. By choosing Jesus, by this reasoning, what happens in court is that you are given credit for having been to Hell by Christ, who has done it for you, and off to Heaven you go!

Chalke claims that at best, this reasoning (which starts largely with Augustine, but finds its voice in the writings of Martin Luther and John Calvin) is incomplete. Since Jesus talks so much about the "kingdom of Heaven being near" and things functioning "on earth as it is in Heaven", that there must be an earthly dimension to Jesus' teaching. Chalke posits that humans, by definition of Genesis 1, were not created sinful, but rather, good. If humanity was originally created good, and yet fell from that state by choosing between being holy and sinful, to be sinful, that Christ came to restore our basic goodness. So that life on earth would become as it was intended to be, good for all people and the created order. Thus, in Chalke's thinking, when one becomes a disciple of Jesus, one basically agrees to give up living sinfully, in terms of personal choices and how you live that out in a world that has been shaped by sin instead of righteousness. Thus, a change of behavior and values from what we have, to what Christ has, is fundamental to be a Christian, an idea and reality so important that not even death itself should scare us from living out his teaching in this world.

More fundamentally, Chalke's critique of penal substitution is that it focuses ultimately on the question of "who's in and who's out", when his reading of the Bible seems to indicate that "we're all in, we just don't all know it". That's an over-simplification of Chalke's argument, but would be close to it (I think... Chris Seay asked for a correction on this blog, so if Steve Chalke would like to respond and ask for correction that'd be fine).

Thus, for Chalke the aim of Christ's teachings aren't the eternal questions, but the earthly ones we all face each and every day: Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? What is my purpose? In Christ, Chalke claims you find the answers to these questions, and by living out the answers, you find life now, and life eternally.

Of course this has stirred up a hornet's nest among those who have made penal substitution the focus and foundation of their ministry. Their argument is that the eternal question is an important one, and seems to get left in the dust in this understanding of Jesus' atonement for humanity. Even more fundamentally, it calls into question whether or not "works" (doing good things) is necessary to get into heaven and if Chalke is a "universalist"(meaning that he believes everyone gets into Heaven, regardless of who there god is and how they lived their life.... which sound appealing until you start thinking that maybe Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin might have the suite next to yours in God's house).

So, what does this mean in terms of the ideas of salvation and Hell? For that we go to part 2.

Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren - part 2: What Is Hell?

Into this discussion steps Brian McLaren. McLaren (who is getting beaten in the blogosphere for his own theological views ) says that people who have based their theology on "penal substitution" have misunderstood Christ's teachings on Hell. He believes Christ doesn't introduce the idea of Hell (as is suggested by many scholars) but is responding to the way the concept of Hell - which by the way doesn't seem to come onto the scene until Judaism connects with Greek Hellenistic (no pun intended) thought which occured when Israel was conquered by Alexander the Great - as it was expoused in that age. McLaren says that in Jesus day, one of the end products of people asking the question of "How is God going to restore Israel to her proper place in the world?" is a train of thought which states,

"If in the Old Testament Israel is punished because she isn't faithful to God's law, then she'll only be restored if each and every Jew becomes faithful to God's law".

Thus, when the people who kind of followed this idea saw Roman soldiers marching through Jerusalem, they blamed those who were sinful for this fate. Thus those who were, for example, prostitutes, drunkards, the diseased and handicapped (because their physical condition was believed to be the consequence of some sin on their or their parent's part), and others who were obviously "sinful" were told that if they didn't turn from their ways, not only would Israel still be occupied and ruled by pagans, but that they as individuals would also spend eternity punished in Hell.

And who were the people making these arguments: a group of radical Jewish religious leaders called "Pharisees".

McLaren believes that Christ's teachings on Hell are commentary on Pharisaic ideas, hence all the criticism Jesus makes of the Pharisees who he claims (among others things) "makes new followers twice the sons of hell than they are" (which is a pretty strong critique). It's this idea that the sinful are to blame for all Israel's problems that Jesus takes and turns on its head. Instead, Jesus tells the sinful that theirs "is the Kingdom of Heaven", where "the last shall become first and the first shall become last". This for sinners is "the Good News" of the gospel: that Christ has come to set them free.

In this way, McLaren believes that Jesus calls everyone to a new understanding of what it means to be faithful. Instead of remembering 600+ laws, and countless scholarly commentary on them all, instead we should enter a new world (a new Kingdom) where the top priorities are a love of God and a love of neighbor that makes them as high a priority as ourselves. To be a light, to embody hope, for those who are desperate, feeling cursed by God in this life either because of the stupid things they or their family have done, or because of the evil that's been visited upon them without invitation. It is to these people that Jesus' coming is designed to bring hope, and you and I have the opportunity to join into great work of the Father.

McLaren posits that by telling people that they are going to Hell if they don't accept Jesus, and then subsequently the particular doctrinal teachings of that particular church or preacher, that essentially the Christian doing this is simply repeating the same mistake made by the Pharisees: the use of Hell to scare people into giving religious authorities the ultimate say in who gets to go to Heaven and Hell, which then has all kinds of consequences by marginalizing the earthly demands of Jesus' teaching.

A better understanding of Hell, I think McLaren would say, would be the realization that people live in pain and squalor, or essentially "Hell on earth" while religious authorities make and enforce rules leading to little more than condemnation and demonization WHICH is a perversion of what it was God intended in the first place when Abram first heard him speaking. Hell used in this way is just another religious idea meant, in the end, to give religious leaders authority they don't deserve over people who deserve better...

nay, have been promised by Jesus that something better is available.

While McLaren is reluctant to rid us of the idea of Hell completely, partly because Jesus did speak about it, and partly because he's afraid a person who heard that Hell didn't really exist would respond, "Whew! Now I can buy that second BMW." (an exact quote, by the way), his hope is that his hypothesis will lead some Christians to de-emphasize the "Heaven or Hell" question, and a concentrate more on what it means for a Christ-follower to live into, and even help usher in, the Kingdom of Heaven. An idea, he inferred, that if it had been emphasized five hundred years ago might have led the Christian church, and the development of the western world, in a different direction.

So, what might this kind of thinking do in terms of development of the Christian church, now? For that we go to part 3.

Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren - part 3: What Are The Consequences of Emergent Thinking for The Church?

So, if the primary thing Jesus wasn't trying to accomplish was taking the eternal punishment we deserve by dying on the cross and then rising to new life, then what was he trying to do? Here are some of Chalke and McLaren's thoughts:

Chalke and McLaren both are adamant that both conservative evangelical and liberal Christian thinking has gone awry in a response to centrality of the theory of penal substitutionary atonement within Christian circles since the days of Luther and Calvin.

On the one hand, conservative evangelicals have so marginalized the need for any kind of service as a means of propping up the idea of "faith by grace" that their "means" in real world terms, have no "ends". No "ends" except for the worship service itself, which has now taken the central role in the focus of these kinds of churches. Thus, as more energy is spent on how to make worship more "culturally relevant", Chalke, in particular, says that evangelical churches are "entertaining themselves to death", meaning that people are hungering for meaning and purpose, to make a REAL difference in the world, while, at best their only being invited to sit a seat/pew, enjoy the service, and perpetuate the church's ability to do more services either by helping make the worship service a reality or contributing money to make it a reality. Thus, churches like this, as they become more appealing in the commercial sense, tend to build bigger front doors to accommodate larger crowds clamoring to get into "the show", but also tend to lose scores of people out the back door who are disillusioned that there isn't something more.

On the other hand, both men pointed out that in order to make the kingdom a reality, one must not only be active in the service of the world, but also be intimate with the Creator. This idea, they say, is established by Jesus, who spends time with God both alone in prayer and in a corporate context as a means of re-fueling and re-focusing. By downplaying, or outright refuting, the idea that God can be known and that one can have a relationship with God is, particularly in McLaren's eyes, undercutting theologically liberal Christians, who do a lot of work to change the world but without the comfort and instruction of the Holy Spirit. Too often the end result is a person growing more angry and frustrated as things appear to not be changing. Or, in other words, this kind of theology offers no real hope for change, for the future, or for eternity.

Chalke, in particular, claims that the model the church in the west will need to follow will be the one established after the ministry of Jesus, who didn't go around preaching and then doing a few miracles to prove what he said to be true...


went around ministering to the real physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of people, and then commented on those works. Thus, the church must lead not with it's style(s) of worship service and brilliant orators, but with serving real needs of people in the world, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thus churches must be counseling centers, relief agencies, schools, hostels, and clinics where people can be engaged in real ministry that makes a difference in people's lives. In this model, then, worship, bible study, and fellowship ministry rallies and holds accountable people in the ministry they happen to be engaged in. It's an intriguing model, and one that Chalke has been pursuing in the church network, www.church.co.uk, he now leads.

(NOTE: THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH SHOULD BE PARTICULARLY INTERESTING TO MY GRANDMOTHER, BROTHER, AND UNCLE FRED but the rest of you can read it too) Chalke also believes that the window for these kinds of churches are opening in the west for four particular reasons. First, he thinks that the demands of the social welfare state are beginning to crush western governments. Chalke's observation in the UK is that after more than fifty years after government took over this kind of work from non-profit agencies (mostly the church), the lack of any spiritual underpinning in these program has created social ills that are spiraling downward with ever growing force and speed, resulting in the demands of service now outweighing the ability of governmental response. Thus, he sees a growing trend in the UK where politicians are now looking to any non-profit entity that can help them more effectively begin to address these social issues, and are even willing to fund through grants, those agencies that become particularly effective in doing so. His assessment is that the force of demand for solutions to these issues is becoming so great (particularly by people who have something to lose in event of a social revolution spilling over in crumbling neighborhoods that aren't that far away), that grants will be made so easy to get that if the church doesn't begin filling this gap, some other non-profit or for-profit agency will.

Second, the new generations of adults Chalke sees emerging now don't seem to entertain the idea of the division of the sacred and secular in the same way previous generations did. For example, while in Britain I remember being intrigued by the number of billboards and advertisements for "carbon emission neutral" businesses, which are companies who make donations to environmental preservation groups/companies as a means of offsetting the air pollution they generate. Thus, if your agency engages in a work that, for example, is primarily engaged in re-forestation in parts of the world where plant growth happens not only very quickly but also is thought to be important in maintaining environmental equilibrium, you can receive money from BP Oil, or British Airways, or any number of companies in Britain, who I'm sure are making donations to this work not only because its the right thing to do, but because it's smart business for a generation worried about the ecological future of the planet. No doubt, these programs are spurred on by UK tax credits, which amounts essentially in government outsourcing environmental justice work to non-profit agencies. This is a solution to what many perceive to be a grave problem that makes sense to people who do not separate the secular nature of business from the spiritual idea that we should take care of God's creation. While it can be argued that the generations raising up now are the most materialistic in history, it is also the most aware of the corporate consequences of unchecked consumerism. Churches that tap into this ethos, will be well served in the future.

Third, as the world becomes more globalized and digitally connected, in an age where people are overloaded with messages, it is becoming clear that this has not led to them finding greater meaning. People want to be part of a solution, and even more fundamentally, to the very essence of God. Just as encountering God, and not just words about God, has become a central focus in corporate worship and personal discipleship, so too is the need for being connected to God in our work, family, and fraternization. This is an outgrowth to the idea that God is not contained in a Sunday worship service, while the other 167 hours of the week we are on our own. Particularly as people are exposed to the animistic religions in the sub-equatorial of the world and the mystic religions of near and far east, the desire for a more comprehensive expression and theology continues to grow.

Fourth, if the church doesn't begin to re-define it's purpose in terms of connecting people with God to bring healing and wholeness to the world, it's impact will be further marginalized as people associate it with empty promises, in-house bickering, hypocrisy, and violence. Particularly in a world where groups or nations identified with with a particular religion (and thus defined in that context) become increasingly willing to pick up arms to destroy their enemies, the ability of religion to do anything more but divide people in this world gains more and more credibility in the streets. McLaren, in particular, as a resident and pastor-emeritus a congregation in suburban-Washington D.C., admits that this, in particular, is controversial among Christians in the United States. But now, as our government toys with idea of not only escalating the war in Iraq, but potentially expanding it into Iran, McLaren claims that military leaders at the Pentagon are calling religious leaders to begin to speak out against the use of any further violence as they prepare for the possibility of limited use of nuclear weapons within the next 12 to 18 months.

Thus, McLaren's assertion that if Jesus says, 'Love your enemies', the Christian church had better start speaking out on that behalf, if for the lesser reason to create discord and discussion in a democratic society and the greater reason of expressing a belief that these words were not just "spiritually symbolic for the individual". A message that has no real power to shape the world, in this world, is a meaningless, useless message. Whether or not we're ready to stand upon it as a part of this "Kingdom of Heaven" theology that is emerging is a challenge he gave to us in this discussion.

Ok.... one more post, concerning the consequence of these ideas to pastors of existing churches. Here's part 4.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren - part 4: Consequences of Emergent Thinking For Existing Churches and Pastors

The other night, my friend Aaron, who had been running with Steve Chalke most of the mornings he was here last week, in response to Chalke's comment that in Wilmore you can't get a decent piece of fish, invited he and McLaren to a fish dinner in his home. Thus, Aaron ate dinner, not in terms of some corporate event, but in his home with two of the leading post-modern Christian thinkers in the world because his wife, Cindy, can whip up one tasty piece of tilapia. He even took a picture for proof that this actually happened (notice Cora, his youngest, trying to put rabbit ears behind sister Anna...)Well, the evening was a short one, in part, because Chalke and McLaren wanted time to talk and strategize as to how to start an organization that could support pastors who begin to preach this emergent version of the Gospel I've been writing about in pieces for the last seven days.

In other words, based on their experience and the news they are receiving, pastors who begin to emphasize Jesus call for us to "enter the Kingdom of Heaven" in real ways in this world, above and beyond the historic emphasis of calling people to make a decision for Christ so that they might avoid Hell and go to Heaven in the afterlife, will get the snot kicked out of them. Many of them are being harassed by their congregations, deemed heretics in the circles or their traditions, and are losing their jobs. McLaren, who talked about this the first day we heard him speak, estimates that these kinds of fates await the vast majority of those in my profession who decide to go in this direction for the foreseeable future. It won't be until thousands of churches start practicing this kind of theology with positive consequences that "Kingdom of Heaven" theology will begin to be embraced across the western world.

And I believe him.

I give thanks for being at Shawnee. There is an openness that doesn't exist in most churches today to asking questions about the ways we've always interpreted scripture or "done church". The people there are no longer shocked when they hear a sermon challenging literalist views of the Bible, dispensationalist (Left Behind) theological treatments of apocalyptic (Revelation, in particular) scripture, and connecting the idea of service to humanity with the fundamentals of Christian discipleship. I don't think they'd be too happy if I just started taking off in new theological directions (and, quite frankly, I'm too modernist in my own orientation to do so with any kind of speed or determination), but they are willing to hear the Gospel revealed in new ways which is a liberating kind of environment to be in. I have served in a church that contained a rather rabid group looking for "heresy" in sermons (that and the chance to stomp the heretic), and it's by no means an easy, or often pleasant, place to be engaged as a pastor.

As a matter of fact, if you asked people from this particular group at this particular church what they wanted in a pastor I'm sure their "Top Ten Demands List" would include:
1) Preaches "biblical" sermons (a definition that by many can only be defined after the pastor has preached "non-biblical" sermon, but goes right to idea that Jesus dying for our sins needs to be the core message.... this has dynamics you can't imagine)
2) Says "hi" and knows every name in the church
3) Visits members of the church, sick, shut-in, or active, on a regular basis, and makes it a top priority along with preparing a sermon
4) Is available 24/7 to meet the needs of the laity and their friends
5) Worships in a style that is comfortable for them
6) Attracts new members, particularly younger people (whose ranks in the church are dwindling)
7) Keeps the budget under control while not spending a lot of money and not asking for a lot of money, in general.
8) Is Caucasian (or looks Caucasian), married and male (although female associates are welcomed, as long as they don't preach much), preferably with young kids.
9) Seeks proscriptive solutions to shore up every existing group in the church so that the people in those groups can continue their life together.
10) Has a personal and spiritual life that is in order (i.e. the needs of his family or his own needs, don't interfere with the demands of the church)

In church that demands this kind of pastoral leader, what happens when the pastor begins to preach sermons that revolved around the idea of our participation in the Kingdom of Heaven now, in terms of serving others with real needs (needs that are often expensive and time consuming)?

What if they invite people who don't exactly have their life together sing in the choir or serve communion?

What if they invite the homeless to sleep in the church building, particularly when its bitter cold, or invite a local Hispanic population to use the building on a regular basis, and damage to the physical plant ensues?

What if the church grows so fast, or the pastor becomes so well-connected in the community, that the pastor can't possibly know everyone's name, or visit everyone on a regular basis?

What if the pastor led an initiative to engage the church in community development, meaning that the budget had to be re-structured and enlarged, meaning that an appeal for more money from parishioners was necessary?

What if a pastor preached a sermon decrying violence, or the war?

What if the pastor started preaching the Lord's Prayer as its written in The Message each week?

What if a pastor invited new kinds of music, artistic expression, and drama into a worship service to broaden its appeal, and most importantly, allow the incarnation of Christ to be manifested through these different culturally-relevant mediums?

What if a pastor said that from this point on, it was the responsibility of the laity to visit the sick, the shut-in, and one another, and he would train and pray them into this work?

What if a pastor called the local synagogue and mosque, and helped arrange a series of discussions where members of the three faith communities talked about such issues as faith, poverty, terrorism, family, the Bible, evangelism, and politics... and if not one time during the dialogue the pastor called members of the other religions to repent and accept Jesus or they were going to Hell?

Some of you are saying, "Yeah, yeah... that's the kind of pastor I'm looking for!" while others of you are nervously wondering "Um... at our church?". It'll be that kind of discord that will eat pastors alive, and make it impossible for them to discern when they have made a mistake they need to atone for or are just getting abused because they've clashed with ideologies and worldviews that may no longer be valid.

In other words.... I get the feeling that Chalke and McLaren's sense of what awaits pastors (even those who don't espouse emergent ideas, but just can't meet the demands of service levied by the "Top Ten Demands" listed above) is accurate. Here's hoping they develop the resources to assist pastors in moving this direction.

And here's what I hope the "Top Ten Demands" for a pastor becomes:

1) Helps connects people with God inside and outside the worship service, by taking serious the real challenges Christians face living out their faith in every facet in their life.
2) Takes scriptural study seriously, even to the point that this leads to sermons that challenge what has been held sacred in that particular church.
3) Emphasizes the need for people to be engaged in mutual, life-giving communities that love people into strong personal relationships with God, and work in this world.
4) Finds corporate and governmental partners to lead paid and staff and volunteers both in creatively addressing the real needs of a community.
5) Believes in serving and including people in the church's ministry who are marginalized.
6) Believes it's important that all people in the world live in a safe, secure environment where opportunity and hope abound them and their children, and facilitates all kinds of ministry that works to that end.
7) Takes seriously the OT prophecies, which find full voice in Christ that someday swords will be beaten into plows, and humanity will know war no more, while acknowledging how complicated things can be geo-politically to serve those ends, right now.
8) Doesn't demonize any particular race, ethnicity, culture, or socio-economic class as being at the root of all the world's problems, but rather seeks ways Christ's message can incarnate in every grouping of people to redeem them and this world.
9) Admits the Bible is a difficult book to understand, and wrestles with that difficulty through a Christocentric lens.
10) Believes that worship has other expressions than those conceived out of 17th and 18th century Europe, and 1970's Southern California.

And that's all I have to say (finally) about that. A truly intellectually stimulating week. Thank you Brian and Steve for your time and ideas.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Daniel's New House

One January morning in 1994 (or 95... I can't really remember anymore) I showed up to work on a Monday about an hour late. I no more sat down in my office when Joseph popped his head in and said he needed to talk to me. I popped into his office, finding that the other associate at the time (the incomparable Chris Heckaman) was already seated and waiting for us. Joseph closed the door, and took a seat behind his desk.

"Bryan, do you know Bob May? He's the step-father of one of the girls in your youth group. For years he's been traveling to Haiti to do mission work (laying block mainly), and last week he invited me to go with him on his next trip. I can't get away right now, so one of you two need to go in my place."

So, we kicked the subject around a little bit. In short, Chris wanted to go, and I didn't, but Chris and Lisa were expecting a child any day. This was back in the days before cell phones were common in the states, let alone Haiti, so there was a real chance that if Chris went we wouldn't be able to notify him if Lisa went into labor....

thus, all eyes turned toward me.

"Bryan, Bob left yesterday for Florida. I have a ticket waiting for you at Toledo Metro. You leave at 6pm tonight."

Holy Crap!

Have you ever called your wife to tell her that you were unexpectedly leaving for ten days in Haiti, today? Well, that gives you the idea of what kind of day it was. I had never been out of the country before. I didn't own a passport. You could get into Haiti in those days with a driver's licence and a certified copy of your birth certificate.... but I didn't have one of those either. I had to throw together a bunch of stuff so the youth ministry could function while I was gone, drive to Columbus to get the birth certificate, pack, leave for Toledo, and fly out to Florida.

Funny thing is that when I came to work that morning, I'm pretty sure the only thing the only thing on my mind was.... "I wonder if Joseph is going to take us out to lunch today?"

Have you ever been to a part of the world that largely missed the industrial revolution? Where guys pull hand carts loaded with engine parts and oxen pull carts piled high with sugar cane? Where sewage runs down the side of a hill in an open ditch and 17 people can ride in one Toyota pick-up truck? Have you ever smelled that smell, and felt the grit that covers your body in a place like Haiti?

The first time you do so, it's more than a little overwhelming. I guess the sad thing is that the more times you go back, the more used to it you become. Maybe the world has gotten a little too used to places like this existing the way they do, day after day after day after day.

But I'll never forget that first step off that plane, looking at an airport that looked like an old rusty King Burger. I'll never forget my first trip through CapHaitian... going past the market section and seeing people pick through a huge pile of shoes... little kids giving me the finger while smiling.... women carrying huge baskets filled with stuff on their heads....

and my first trip to the market!

The grocery catered pretty much exclusively to missionaries and members of the local bourgeois class who could afford the canned food and imported fresh produce. A security guard leaned on a shotgun so old and rusty that as a weapon it's only use was to be swung or thrown at someone trying to steal something. And there was this old woman, obviously having suffered polio as a child, at the front door, begging. I didn't have much cash on me. Heck, at the time I think I was making like $10k a year while both Aimee and I were working on degrees. We were, by far, the poorest family at our church, and possibly the poorest to live in Shawnee. But I slipped her a couple of bucks (American) as I walked to truck.

"She'll use that money to eat for the next week", the missionary asked.

That was the moment I discovered I wasn't poor. Spiritually poor, maybe, but not fiscally poor. No way.

I met Daniel that year on the worksite at Borde. Bob had somehow connected with a little church literally in the middle of nowhere, and the couple of weeks we were there, the plan was to build an outhouse (which meant lots of digging) and the construction of depot that could be locked. The idea was that by building the latrine and a locking depot, this little church which had a little school, could now qualify to receive food from an organization like World Vision or Feed the Children. This way kids could receive at least one hot meal every day they went to school, which would be good for the kids, and good for school attendance. Daniel was a local villager who had been attending this small church, and because we didn't have enough manpower to get this job done, he was one of the local people hired to help complete the project.

Daniel spoke no English, and I barely speak English, let alone Creole, but I think because he has the same name as my Dad, I took an interest in him, and he in me. Pretty soon we were talking and joking around. He made fun of my belly and the fact that I seemed to always be tired, ("Big Buke Fat-i-gue"). I made funny faces and sang songs I made up using random Creole words ("Big Cement Duck Girl Loud Bicycle" being a favorite) to make him laugh. At the end of the week, knowing how much I like grapefruit, he brought me a bag from a tree his family owned. I gave him my shoes, all my clothes, and all the money left in my wallet.

I mean, what else could I do. It meant getting off the plane in Detroit, in January, in a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, and a pair of flipflops. I also had to call Joseph to beg for some money so I could bail my suburban out of long-term parking. So, OK, maybe I wasn't thinking real clearly at the moment I handed over my Nike hightops and jeans to Daniel.

But then again... maybe I was thinking clear as a bell.

That year I sang "Lord of the Dance" at a worship service, which got everyone going. Bob May, until this day, asks me when I'm going to sing "Lord of the Dance" again. Ever heard the chorus to that song?

Dance, then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance said he
and I'll lead you all wherever you may be
and I'll lead you all in the dance said he

I don't know how, exactly, the dance he did on that Cross, that horrible dance where, bruised and bloodied, he had to lift himself up on the nails driven through his hands and feet in order to breathe, led to me dancing in Haiti while singing that verse.... but it did. And ever since that day I've been helping to support Daniel and his family. I don't do enough for him. I never have. But somehow his kids have been able to stay in school, and he's always had a roof over his head. It has never been much a roof. A roof made of thatch. over a dirt floor. But a roof, none the less. So he does all the struggling to survive... I just help ease the burden.

Well, last year, after the church built a home in Borde that now houses a single mother with two handicapped children, Flora DeVoe was so moved she decided to make a donation in her beloved husband Bud's name, to build another house in Haiti. You see, Bud lost a long battle with cancer a couple of years ago, and the wounds for Flora are still open (Note to Flora: I'm sorry to make to cry right now. I truly am.) She was looking for healing, and since Bud had made his living building houses with Flora's father, there was something about building a house in his honor for someone who really, really needed a decent house, that helped ease the pain. A balm, if you will, for the sore.

Well, they say there's a Balm in Gilead..... and the healing this brought to Flora, the excitement the idea brought to her, ended up spilling over in stories to her large Italian family. Who, of course, responded with more money to build more houses.

That and a large meal. Flora's family likes to eat together at large meals.

Well, the picture above includes three people. The fellow in the yellow shirt is Flora's son, Matt who was one of about a dozen people from the church who made the decision to go to Haiti with this year's building team. To the far left is Flora, who wanted to see the house built on the love she had for her husband.

And in the middle..... there's Daniel. He's the one who will be living in Bud's house.

(ah, stupid tears... must be kinda dusty in this old carrel)

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which although is the smallest seed of all, when planted grows into a huge plant that provides rest, shade and protection for all the birds of the air."

Yep. That's exactly right. That's what it is.

Note: If you'd like to contribute to Shawnee's mission to Haiti to maybe drill a well, build a home, or provide a scholarship for a child at the school at Borde, or if you are a pastor/lay-person looking for a hands-on mission opportunity for your church to get involved in, please email me at bryan_bucher@asburyseminary.edu and we'll hook you up.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I Think They'll Think I'm Thinking Too Big

Lots of people have been emailing me since no post has been put up since last Thursday. I guess I blog with such regularity now that when I disappear for awhile it concerns people.... which is nice. Well, there' no big story or tragedy that's delayed my post. I've been held up by a combination of having a lot to do (about 50 hours worth of lecture all of us sat through over the last eight days), some lousy Internet service (it's been spotty here on campus, meaning that twice now I typed out a new "Ten Things I Think I Think" and in the uploading the post was lost..... arrrrgggggghhhhh), and simply having a difficult time trying to say everything that's running through my mind this ten days.

Considering I've been hanging out with a great Old Testament scholar (Dr. Bill Arnold) who is stretching the way I approach OT study/preaching, one of the most provocative and influential writers and thinkers in the Christian world (Brian McClaren), and probably the most interesting pastor/spiritual entrepreneur (Steve Chalke) I've met, maybe, EVER, I've got a lot brewing up inside, and this forum is hard to get all of it out. I end up writing too much, or too densely, or both.

Couple that with hours of work disappearing into cyberspace due to technical glitches, and you don't get many posts. So, here's the plan.

Over the next couple of days I'll be doing some thinking out loud in response mainly to what I've heard McLaren and Chalke talking about. The posts will probably be long, and if you aren't interested in how post-modernity is effecting the Christian church, you'll probably just want to skip over them. I can't really afford the time I've put into the writing, but I want to preserve those thoughts, and I can't think of another way to do it.

This post, besides telling you where the heck I've been will just give you some short snippet updates.

- First, Aimee and the boys did go home last weekend to spend time with her Dad. Now that the rest of family has gone back to their homes, Bryant is largely alone. I think he appreciated Aimee and the boys making the trip, and really appreciated the fact that the weather was bad enough that they needed to stay an extra day. Aimee is still processing this experience, so this time is both cathartic and difficult. You might want to keep them (Bryant and her) in your prayers.

- The boys are all sick. Xavier was the first to go down with this mysterious fever, stomach cramp, head cold thing, with Eli and Max following closely thereafter. I don't think Aimee is feeling the greatest, and quite frankly, neither am I. But, like most other things in life, this too shall pass. It just stinks when we're all sick.

- Some members of the SPRC and the Associate Pastor, Charlotte Hefner, from Shawnee are all coming for a quick visit tomorrow night, and surprisingly enough, it's got me a little nervous. You see, up to now, my talking to anyone at the church about this pending leadership transition just hasn't happened. It's like we're in a phase right now where there is conversation about the transition taking place among clergy, lay leadership, and those in the congregation (to varying degrees), but largely I have not been a part of that conversation. I don't want to dissect why this has been the case, but really, for the first time since the announcement last December, I'll be with lay-leaders and a key staff person thinking about the future at Shawnee, which is both exciting, and a little terrifying. I mean, the congregation accepts my leadership within the greater scope of serving underneath Joseph Bishman.... but will it without him?

And here's what makes this really hard.... when I was younger (well, maybe not too much younger), I'd try to preface anything I'd do in the life of the church with a lot of self-depreciating remarks about how slow or unpolished or thick I was, partly to get a laugh, but mostly to get people to lower their expectations. Didn't matter if they thought I was scared, or lacked self-confidence, or really just thought I was stupid..... just as long as the bar got dropped. That way it made it easier to exceed expectations, and makes for better storytelling on the other side.

But I tried that schtick with my compadres at the beginning of the year, and much like Keven Garnett after he swats a shot into the fifth row of the Target Center, my colleagues said, "Not In My House!". They saw through that facade, and told me they deserved better from me. And you know what, they're right, and I've been trying to give them something better ever since. Better preperation, better preaching, better questions, better hospitality....... I do have self-esteem issues, and they'll never go away completely, but I can at least pretent that God created me for a greater purpose, and leave my own self-agonizing in a quiet corner you can't see.

And you want to know something else.... I've been waiting for my own church for so long - sixteen years now - that I don't' want to go into this thing cautiously, or carefully, or slowly, or with great timidity. I think I'd rather succeed or fail boldly. Falling on my sword in the service of helping others find new life. I don't know if anyone at home is ready for this, or not, but I guess we'd better start talking about it, cause the future isn't getting any further away.

I'm nervous cause I think they'll think I'm thinking too big.

- Here's another thing I'm learning in new and profound ways down here.... it's too easy to demonize people for your own purposes. To take your enemies and turn them into something akin to the embodiment of evil as a means of personal or public motivation.

That would be a great lesson that I'm learning from Brian McLaren. After a number of hours with the man, and some great one-on-one time time tonight, I'm astounded by the man's willingness to try to reach out to people who are literally painting him to be the AntiChrist.

I mean, literally.

For years now, I've harbored a disdain for a lobby organization within the UMC framework called "The Good News Movement". It just so happens that this bunch of folks are based out of Wilmore, where they publish a magazine called "Good News" which is sent to virtually every UM-church, and most of it's pastors at least in this part of the world. Ever since the mid to late eighties this group, which purportedly was calling for renewal within the United Methodist Church, has pretty much hung its hat on the issue of homosexuality. These folks have for over twenty years now have beat this same drum in an attempt to scare people into believing that a grand agenda is being pushed in an effort to ultimately bring down, the country, society, the Christian church and Christianity as a whole. While I think this is an issue that should not be taken lightly, to build an entire fundraising strategy largely on painting one group of people as being akin to the aliens in the movie "Independence Day" just seems, well...... crazy.

Don't' think I'm just overreacting as some big out-of-control liberal on this matter. The Dean of the Beeson Program, Randy Jessen, once served on the Good News board, and realizing after a time what this group was doing in regard to the homosexuality issue, which in his words was not open it up as a topic to talk about, but rather as an issue to speak about, he resigned from the board. And he's a card-carrying evangelical conservative (who does work with AIDS victims in Romania, but that is another story). I know this because in some conversation after listening to Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren speak again tonight, I kinda got on my high horse about Good News, Randy told me his story, offered to introduce me to the current editor of Good News (Steve Beard), and then McLaren in further discussion illuminated further the need to listen to all camps in the Christan circle... whether that be Trappist Monks, English Charismatics, Hip Hop Street Preachers, evangelical Old Testament professors, and pretty much anyone else who wants to open their mouth and hopefully is willing to listen back. You don't have to agree with everything they say... but you do need to listen, and do so without realizing that they really aren't the enemy. Pretty classy statement from a guy getting beaten all over the blogosphere, and words I'll soon not forget, and a reminder that when you create demons, you just extend evil.

So, Steve Beard, I hope we can get together over a cup of joe, do some talking, and maybe a little mutual listening. I mean if I can try to pray in tounges in the ritziest part of London, surely I can give this a go too.

- Which leads me to this.... to all you young pastors, or pastors-in-training reading this nutty little blog, remember something: it is easy to create enemies as a means to your ends. As a young zealous preacher, I beat up people materially blessed by God pretty effectively and often. It was the subject of every sermon there for awhile. But then, it occured to me..... how in the world did I make one group of people the focus and cause of all the world's problems. I mean, it's easier to have someone you can hit with a stick over and over again, but in the end you overlook a whole lot of culprits in the systemic sin that eats away at this world. And in the end, what do you really accomplish?

Did Jesus motivate people by telling them they were going to Hell if they didn't change, or that they could enter Heaven if they did? Think about that all you young punk preachers out there.

- Finally what do you think of when you see this picture? Did you say "snow day"? Well, believe it or not oh friends of mine who live in the great midwest, or even the great white north, school was called off today because of snow. And this is the picture my wife took at about 8:30am today. I remember trudging through three feet of snow, barefoot, uphill, both ways, to school as a kid each every day, and this is the snow day my kids get.

Soft, man..... this generation is soft.

And yes, I do believe I now sound like my grandfather.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Old and New Testaments

Just a quick note.... received a nice email from Chris Seay who made it clear he wasn't angry, just trying not to give his critics ammunition against his church, which I'm sure in some narrow-minded circles isn't even considered Christian. I told him I was big fan of his work (which is true) and offered to respond to his critics, profanely if needed. I appreciated him taking the time to dialogue, via the digital media.

Just another quick note.... one of my favorite authors, and I think probably one of the most important thinkers (who was actually a practitioner) about the post-modern church, Brian McLaren, is coming to Asbury this Friday. He and Steve Chalke will be guest lecturers as part of a "J-term" class (J-term here at ATS is an accelerated term, kind of like what is offered in the summer, only it occurs in early January) focused on looking at the future of the Christian church. Have read most, if not all, of McLaren's books, and consider his latest work, The Secret Message of Jesus, to be his finest offering yet.

McLaren, if you've never heard of him, is a post-modern, post-protestant, post-evangelical pastor (and I'm sure he'd say he was a number of other post-sorts of things), who once held near and dear the kinds of things that matter to evangelical pastors until one day, he woke up, and realized that maybe he just didn't believe some of that stuff any more. Issues like the Creation/Evolution question, what was at the time indifference to environment issues on the part of Evangelical community, issues of human sexuality, and probably most controversial, the issue of the afterlife - particularly Hell - had him asking lots of questions that gnawed at his soul. In recent years he's come to some very different conclusions about these above listed issues, and others, making him a hero and villain to many in the Christian community. But he believes, with all that he is, that the thinking he, and others like him, are engaging on these issues and how they end up shaping the Christian community will have a long-lasting, important, and ultimately positive effect on the church.

To be honest, I thought McLaren coming to Asbury's campus was, well, a curious choice. The current Provost (kind of a fancy term for the person who is the Dean of all the Deans of all the schools on a campus... if that makes any sense), Bill Arnold, who is teaching our Biblical Interpretation Class has never really heard of McLaren... and I'm pretty sure if he had, he'd have raised a few eyebrows about him coming here. I mean, if you don't sign a statement saying that you won't drink alcohol while enrolled at Asbury, you can't enroll. McLaren's main character in his groundbreaking "New Kind of Christian" series, Neo, drinks Pete's Wicked Ale throughout the series, and conducts a worship service on a boat on an open bar. JC McPheeters has to be rolling over in his grave.

And that's just a mild example of how far apart McLaren is from the dominant thinking among faculty on this campus on more substantial issues like the Doctrines of Atonement, Salvation, and the Infallibility of Scripture.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to hearing the guy speak Friday evening, all day Saturday, and then in a private session with the BP's next Wednesday (yeah.... nothing like being a pampered Beeson Pastor. How do you go back to the real world after you've been treated like a VIP for eleven months?). I've very much looked forward to hearing him think out loud. You can bet that the first question I'll ask, if I get a chance, will be "What does personal holiness look like for a Christian in a post-modern era?" That ought to get the party started, nicely.

Now on with the post...

Have you ever wondered why God seems to act one way in the Old Testament, and another way in the New? I mean, in the Old Testament he punishes King Saul for not slaughtering every man, woman, and child in a battle as He ordered before it started. God brings plagues of frogs, turns water into blood, and obliterates the sun from the sky for a number of days in a display of terrifying power. He also is convinced, many times by many different people, not to visit destruction on his people in times of anger. He appears in a pillar of fire, a burning bush, and a finger writing on a wall.

Compare that in the New Testament where the most destructive supernatural thing that happens is Jesus cursing a fig tree bearing no fruit to never bear any fruit. Barriers get broken down for women, gentiles, and children to be treated with respect. And even His own son gets abused, mistreated, and killed, and there is no retaliation whatsoever. The eye-for-an-eye God becomes the one that celebrates hated Samaritans and turning the other cheek.

So the question is this..... What do you think changes over the course of biblical history - the nature of God or humanity's perception of God?

This is the question that started our Biblical Interpretation class, which seeks to, among other things, help figure out the relationship between the Testaments, maybe in the process providing a framework with which a pastor can preach from Old Testament texts as confidently as they do New Testament ones.

The discussion around the above question was pretty fascinating to me, personally. Dr. Arnold takes the position that the Old Testament, while containing a number of different genres of literature within, contains within it history to be trusted (even as going as far as claiming that Israel, not Greece, is the father of modern history). He also took the stance that God probably did present himself differently, primarily in terms of how he communicated and related to humanity, in the Old Testament period than the New. That's an oversimplification of what he said... we was much more nuanced and sophisticated than I just made him sound. But his basic evangelical orientation, which puts great emphasis on a more literal interpretation of the text really shown through in his presentation.

And what did I think?

Well, years ago in a undergraduate religion course taught by an atheist at a state university, I tumbled down the rabbit hole that is the a skeptic's reading of the biblical text as more a mythological posit to explain how the world operates sans any true scientific, rational understanding of the creation. For a good many years, probably until midway through seminary, I was convinced that the further back you go in the Old Testament, the more mythology (and I mean mythology in a negative sense, not the sense of C.S. Lewis or JRR Tolkien who believed in the power of mythology to convey great truth about life in this world, and the God who created it) it contained. The Creation narratives, Tower of Babel, Noah and the Flood, and even the characters from Abraham up until (but not including) David, who can't be substantiated by any outside source from that period of history, were narrative, not historical, characters. After spending a couple of semesters with Albert Camus, Sigmund Freud, and some wicked smart atheists, talking snakes, people who lived to be over a thousand years old, and an ark carrying every animal on the planet, just seemed way to fanciful to be believed.

Then in seminary, I read a great book, The History of Israel, by John Bright. Bright has been one of the seminal scholars on the subject of not just ancient biblical history, but ancient world history as a whole. In his book, Bright came to the conclusion that while he had no way (at that time) of verifying the existence of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, or any of the Judges, that the power of that history on the Israelites long-term, the accuracy of oral history in cultures that pass down history orally until (and beyond the day when) they develop a way of writing that language down, the evidence of a Semitic community in Egypt, and the number of other times in Israel's later history outside sources could confirm the history in the OT as being accurate (the OT is one of one of the most valuable sources of ancient history we have today), led him to believe that most likely that at least from the time of Abram, we were probably studying actual history of actual people.

Bright went further in discussing pre-Abram biblical text, by asserting that the first twelve chapters of Genesis seemed to have parallels in other Mesopotamian cultures. Other nation states and cultures, for example, had creation and flood narratives, something I had learned at Miami from the atheists, but Bright pointed out that the purpose or point of the OT narrative was markedly different in these two particular narratives than their neighbors. Specifically, humanity was created on purpose by a God who wanted humans around, not as some by-product of gods interacting with one another producing humans as some sort of mistake. From the beginning of the OT, humanity and God interact with one another in a relational sort of way, which is different, very different, than the understanding of how gods and people interact in other cultures at that particular time... and really throughout history.

Oh... that and there's only one God, not more than one, which is more than a little unique.

Think, for a moment, what the nature of the relationship was between the gods on Mount Olympus and humans in the Greek mythology you studied in high school. Humanity is created as a by-product of a great war between the Titans and the gods. The gods pretty much use humans for their purposes, and more often and not those purposes are not all that good. Humans are in the way, and the treatment of the gods to humans is largely unpredictable. This is a pretty good glimpse into the dominant worldview for a very long period of history. Compare that with what you know about the God of the OT, and you get a sense of how different these ideas are. It's remarkable really!

This led Bright to conclude that even if these narratives were really nothing more than just a Hebraic re-interpretation of the mythological texts passed to them by their neighbors, they still contained a train of thought that was unique and distinctive in that world, forming the foundational ideas enabling this monotheistic religion to continue to form and develop.

For me, personally, this kind of righted my ship, and got me thinking beyond the literal truth of scripture, which I had always just accepted as a child, to the truth of scripture, which is a more powerful idea. That people recorded their experience with God, or what had been told to them about God, and over time developing this very unique kind of impression of why we were created, what we're supposed to do now that we're here, and now that should be accomplished. That this tradition has continued over thousands of years, largely without the benefit of some sort of strong temporal political champion (remember that Israel's history is thousands of years longer than the age of Christendom), is in and of itself, astounding.

And the impact it has had on the world, immeasurable.

So, in conclusion, I think that humanity's understanding of who God is and how God works does change over the course of biblical history, but I don't discount the idea that God incarnated in different cultural eras in ways that could be understood by those particular people.

Now, that's a typical answer from a theological moderate... isn't it.

More on this later.

Monday, January 15, 2007

An Eleventh Thing I Think: Chris Seay Speaks

11) It is a small world. A very small world, indeed.

You might remember that in today's "Ten Things..." I dropped line about a person at an emergent church in Houston (pastored by Chris Seay) using a profane word during the announcement time, which I must clarify I was not able to attend due to an untimely death in my family.

Well, guess what... Chris Seay himself sent me this email, and he sounds none-to-happy. Just so I can keep things straight, here's what he had to say:

someone emailed this [the statement about the profanity] to me today and I wanted to help you clarify - That is not true and anyone there knew he was clarifying the fact he had not [used that profane word].


To help you understand what's happened here... last Friday our little group gathered to debrief about the experience in Houston, and to catch me up on what I missed the Sunday after I left earlier to be with my wife's family.

To be honest, I was still in a fog from the funeral Wednesday, and simply heard part of the conversation regarding the experience at Pastor Seay's church Sunday night. Since I have been known to use a questionable word or term from time to time (resulting, once, in my having to apologize to a church for a statement I made in a Christmas Eve sermon..... but that's another story for another time), and worked with enough unchurched people who in church gatherings used profanity without any idea that it would offend anyone, the idea that a church would have someone use some sort of questionable language just didn't seem all that odd to me.

Well, apparently I have made what was a delicate situation worse, and that grieves my heart. So to make things perfectly clear, nobody used any profanity in any worship service.

My sincerest apologizes, Chris. Please too send my apologizes to the person who did announcements, and to anyone else offended by my comment.

God Bless,

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Went to a church this morning called Generations in Nicholasville (which is where the WalMart is). It's very unique in that the entire focus of the church is to equip parents to raise their children in a biblically-oriented sort of way. Thus, for example, at the worship we went to this morning, all the adults and kids stayed together in the worship space (a gym at a local elementary school) for a service that could best be described as a kind of a low-budget variety show. Lots of singing and dancing (all the songs have motions and are led by a group of what looked to be college, HS, and MS students), funny skits, an animated short, and a quick lesson. Most of the people in attendance (and I am not making this up) sat on a mat in front of the stage. Anyhow, Aimee and the kids loved it, and I thought it was interesting enough to give it another week. A very creative, if different, experience.

2) Everyone who ever rooted for the Cleveland Browns since the days of Bernie Kosar knows what it means when Marty Schottenheimer leads a team into a playoff game. How can you be at home, with LT in the backfield, sport the best record in the NFL, and lose? Once again, just like the days of "The Drive" and "The Fumble", Marty managed to snag defeat from the jaws of victory. At least the people in San Diego have decent weather.

3) Never really said much more about Houston because, well, I left in a hurry, and frankly other things have been on my mind (the same goes for the BCS Championship Game... I'll get to that later). All in all it was a great experience filled with just about every different type and kind of church you could imagine. Hip Hop churches, big mega-churches, recovery churches, house churches, churches that were revived from the dead, post-emergent churches.... all that more. I missed the last day, which involved trips to the largest church in the world, a "re-start" church, and one of the more well-known emergent churches in the world.

My colleagues said that Joel Osteen was a great guy and that they enjoyed the Lakewood Church service (which doesn't surprise me... I used to watch his dad, Roy, years ago, always seemed to enjoy him, and Joel is exactly like him). They really enjoyed St. Johns UMC (the church the Beyonce Knowles familiy attends) which kind of re-started in a dead United Methodist church in Houston's Fifth Ward (which is apparently not an easy place to live) and is in many way's Lakewood Church's polar opposite. Chris Seay's emergent church was deemed to be very creative and breaking new ground in new directions. And that's just the stuff I missed...

and all to say that this is finest DMin program in the world. If you are thinking of starting one, apply next summer for the 2008-09 year. You will not be sorry.

4) Have become the third oldest guy on MySpace. You can check out my page if you wish. I've been a member for a couple of years now, slowly making changes when the mood struck me. Received some emails from some old youth-groupites from Goshen who wondered why I didn't have a blog. Instead of trying to woo them from the MySpace world, which is where the kids are, I just cut and paste this thing so now it has two homes. Am surprised at the number of people (many of whom I haven't seen in years) have found me. It's about ten times harder working the proper code into MySpace than Blogger, but the numbers of folks reading the blog over there seem to be worth the trouble. Besides, how are you going to connect with the next generation if you're afraid of their world? And if you've ever surfed around over there, you'll know those pages are in need of a positive Christian presence. It's pretty grizzly.

5) Want to rent, or better yet, buy a good movie? Then grab a copy of "Invisible Children", which is an amazingly tragic story about kids in Northern Uganda who leave their rural village homes to travel into a major city at night so they won't be kidnapped and forced to fight in a rebel army (the Lord's Resistance Army) against their will. Here's the trailer...

The leaders of the LRA have convinced their followers that they have been chosen by God to overthrow the Ugandan government as a means of ushering in some new Apostolic age. They use torture, group think, and drugs to turn children as young as eight into soldiers ready to kill for a cause. It is the worst example of how religious power can be perverted in such a way as to commission pure evil.

6) The three young men who made this rough cut film actually went to Africa looking to shoot footage to document the terror of Darfur. But when they discovered a story that involved more than 800,000 displaced people in "re-location camps", the abduction of more than 2000 children to fight as child soldiers in an army led by someone hiding behind God, and sheer incredulous reality that the story had never been told in the US, they changed their plans. Since then, they have been encouraging all people, especially teens, to organized screening of the rough cut of their film, and then figure out ways to raise money that is used to alleviate the suffering of the children who must walk at night from their homes to safe places in cities protected by soldiers out fear of being abducted.

The biggest event, to date, that Invisible Children INC. has undertaken was last year's "Global Night Commute", where thousands of people all over the USA walked from their homes into the interior of their city, to sleep for a night in the open air on the steps of their local court or statehouse, as a means of raising funds and drawing attention to the issues in Uganda.

The face of great poverty and violence, disciples of Jesus have no other choice but to confront evil in this world, as means of bringing peace. Next time you hear somebody say that Americans, particular American churches, shouldn't send money to help other people outside of the country cause we need to take care of "our own" first, remind them who Jesus says our neighbor is, and remember this next clip:

Woo.... I'm getting dizzy up on this soapbox.

7) This week a number of people from Shawnee UMC are headed to Haiti to build a number of small houses for families living a very poor, rural area in the northern part of the country. Shawnee likes to go to North Haiti, around CapHaitian, because most mission groups never get past Port Au Prince since it's the easiest city to access, although the need in further away from the center of power and commerce is acute. One of these travelers is Flora DeVoe, a lovely woman from our church, whose family raised enough money to build (I think) ten homes in honor of Flora's departed husband, Bud. Bud worked with Flora's dad building houses all over the Shawnee area (chances are if you live in the older area of the Pro Drive subdivision, you probably live in a Cardone Home). It should be an amazing week.

8) Have spent the last hour with Eli trying to keep his asleep until mom got home. Aimee just returned, raving about the movie "Dreamgirls", which I suspect lauds the virtues of sisterhood. She had a good time. I, on the other hand, have been laying next to a child wanting only to be nursed. There are somethings as a parent, you just aren't trained to do.

9) Now for the Bucks.... well, what can I say? They looked horrible. Never has a team looked so dominant over the course of the season and looked so terrible in a bowl game. Was it the 51 day lay-off. Was it Ted Ginn's injury, suffered while celebrating his early touchdown? Was Jim Tressel (gulp) simply outcoached? Was it the Heisman curse?

Well, personally, I think what really happened was that the Bucks won the game in a blowout, but Jeb Bush convinced his brother that for security reasons, the entire nation had to be brainwashed into believing that Florida, led by a quarterback who can't through the ball accurately more than 15 yards down the field, actually won the game. I know you think I'm crazy.....

but that's what they want you to believe.

10) For those who have been checking in on us, expressing sympathy and kindness at the loss of Aimee's mother, we once again want to thank you for your concern and love. Aimee was out tonight with the girls watching a movie that confirms how important sisterhood is. As cards and emails have literally poured in from so many of you gracious people, I am impressed with the way the folks here at the Beeson Commune have been caring for us, and particularly Aimee. They have been wonderful.

Sometimes, there just isn't a good way of saying thanks that really captures the gratitude you want to show. This is one of those times. So thank you, all of you, for your acts of grace,

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Have gotten hooked on "Mute Math", a quasi-Christian band from New Orleans. Here's a sample:

Just goes to show that everything old becomes new again. There are a lot of new bands that sound like bands from the 80's, but none more than Mute Math. The lead singer even plays a "key-tar" which supposedly the uncoolest instrument in the world.

Not in this blogger's world it isn't!!! When you grow up listening to Tears for Fears, Thompson Twins, and Howard Jones, you dig the key-tar.

Anyhow this song, "Typical", is pretty cool. Here are the lyrics...

Come on can't I dream for one day
Theres nothing that can't be done
But how long should it take somebody
Before they can be someone

Cause I know there's got to be another level
Somewhere closer to the other side
And I'm feeling like its now or never
Can I break the spell
of the typical

I've lived through my share of misfortune
And I've worked in the blazing sun
But how long should it take somebody
Before they can be someone.

Cause I know there's got to be another level
Somewhere closer to the other side
And I'm feeling like its now or never.
Can I break the spell
of the typical.

The typical
I'm just the typical
Can I break the spell of the typical

Because its dragging me down
I'd like to know about when
When does it all turn around

Might as well just re-name the song "Song for the American Mainline Christian Church". I say this because I've just read an email from my friend, Pauly, who's pastoring an urban mainline (Disciples of Christ) church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is emerging from the "typical", into the light of something new. His church, First Christian (DOC) of Chattanooga, was your typical downtown church (slowly dying, as the people who traveled to the suburbs to attend it grew older and declined in number), in the middle of a non-typical setting (it's located in the middle of the UT-Chat campus). The church, starting about four years ago, realized that it was slowly moving toward closing its doors, and faced with a pastoral change, called a consultant to figure out what it might do to avoid what appeared to be the inevitable. After forming a plan, which included hiring a staff person to work on campus, opening a coffee house in an old fellowship hall, raising hundreds of thousand of dollars to make all of this possible, and finding a younger pastor with a passion for working in an urban community who wasn't afraid of the cost of change.... the church went out to find that pastor.

For years my friend Pauly (who took me in from being homeless three days a week, 30 weeks a year, for two years while I was in seminary) had been slogging in small churches in mostly rural (he once lived in a place called "Ducktown", which was located next to "Turtletown", and was about three miles away from "The Edge Of The Worldtown") communities. He traded a very contented, somewhat slow paced position in West Virginia, for the hustle and bustle of a downtown church struggling to avoid closing, and find new life on the other side of change. For a couple of years now, as major changes took place, the church has been slowly dying unto itself, which has meant changes that have ticked off long-time members who had always knew their place and understood their role. He and his family have paid a price in the process.

Recently though, things have started coming together. As he's started finding more balance between the neverending work and a robust family (four kids... two boys, two girls, and no dull moments), the church is starting to hit its stride. The coffeehouse, which is a creative partnership between the church and a local business, is doing well, attracting groups (including the NAACP chapter on campus) who are now meeting in the church's building on a regular basis. The church has been experimenting with more contemporary forms of worship, and is about to start doing its own thing with its own flavor as another alternative service on Sunday morning. The regular service has been growing, as new people, looking for a church that cares about more than filling pews and building bigger buildings, have started migrating to FCC.

Now, the church has adopted the Brown Academy, which is a public school dedicated to educating at-risk school children (many of whom are currently homeless). 32 people from the congregation will now be tutoring these kids, filling up backpacks with food on Friday so the kids will eat during the weekend, and generally providing a cloak of prayer on children and teachers who need it the most. It's looking to transform the typical Wednesday night "eat a meal and go to a class church night" into a time to minister to the homeless in the Chattanooga community. The church, which has been running "Living the Questions" groups (which is kind of the liberal answer to the "Alpha" program written by the folks at Holy Trinity-Brompton in London) is starting new small groups and bible studies for people coming into the doors. A new campus pastor, Travis, is finding creative ways to network with young adults not only on UT-Chat campus, but also a sub-culture of young adults that I can assure you no other church is even coming close to reaching in that community.

In other words.... this ain't your "Typical" church.

People caring for one another
Praying incessantly
Worshipping God
Finding themselves in scriptures
so they can find Jesus living in their hearts
and among those who are in great need
so that Heaven might be revealed

That's the real deal, babe. That's not playing church. You can't believe the number of communities of faith struggling with all they are toward this kind of vision. Given the slow irrelevance of the Christian faith in western culture, they are pushing forward not a moment too soon. Considering we'll be closing churches at alarming rates as United Methodists over the next decade, maybe we need start singing the chorus that churches like FCC of Chattanooga are singing.

Cause I know there's got to be another level
Somewhere closer to the other side
And I'm feeling like its now or never.
Can I break the spell of the typical?