Thursday, September 29, 2005

More info on transformation

OK, I just came from the Jill Hudson seminar that I mentioned in yesterday's post. She did give us a bit of an overview of the postmodern milieu in which we'll be doing ministry, but then she took us through the rest of the book -- 12 characteristics for evaluation of ministry in the postmodern context. The way this worked was that she would explain 4 of the characteristics, we would break into small groups and discuss, return for a few Q&A, and then start on the next set of characteristics.

At the end of the event, I invited all the ministers there to continue our conversation on my weblog (so, I'm hoping that by this time tomorrow, there'll be a feast of comments and insights as we process this together -- and I'm hoping that my colleagues will come back to this site over the coming week or so to continue the conversation)

So, for today, a quick recap of the 12 characteristics that Jill Hudson believes we should use in evaluating ministry:

The 12 characteristics for evaluation of ministry
1) the ability to maintain personal, professional and spiritual balance
2) the ability to guide a transformational faith experience
3) the ability to motivate and develop a congregation to be a ‘mission outpost’ (help churches reclaim their role in reaching new believers)
4) the ability to develop and communicate a vision
5) the ability to interpret and lead change
6) the ability to promote and lead spiritual formation for church members
7) the ability to provide leadership for high-quality relevant worship experiences
9) the ability to identify, develop, and support lay leaders
9) the ability to build, inspire, and lead a ‘team’ of both staff and volunteers
10) the ability to manage conflict
11) the ability to navigate successfully the world of technology
12) the ability to be a lifelong leanrer.

During one of the small group discussions, I asked Jill where the Holy Spirit played into this whole mix. I shared her book with one of our elders and we both thought that it was heavy on technique and light upon crying out "Abba, Father!" -- after all the Spirit is a wind that blows where It wills. The Spirit is a consuming fire. The Spirit cries out with groans too deep for words to express when we cannot find the words to pray. The Spirit leads us into all truth. I know that we presbyterians don't do Spirit talk all that well, but ought we not cry out for the Holy Spirit to make transformation happen. Without the Holy Spirit, is there truly any transformation -- re-engineering perhaps, but transformation?

Hudson agreed right away -- and she reminded me that the book was not a book about transformation but about evaluation. Then she reminded me that if the pastor is not being spiritually transformed -- if the Holy Spirit is not operating in the pastor's life, then transformation won't be happening in the church. This is a truth that stretches back all the way through pastoral literature -- the pastor has to have a vibrant living spiritual life. That's not to say the Spirit can't work without the pastor -- but rather to say that God loves to honor faithfulness in spiritual life.

Then, viewed from that lens -- all these habits cannot be done without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit -- indeed, we cant even build up the courage to try without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. That's the wonderful thing about Reformed theology -- it reminds us that our own incapacity ought to drive us to our knees in prayer.

OK -- colleagues and postmodern types -- your thoughts??? (the point is to generate conversation after all -- unbenknownst to me, Presbyweb picked up yesterday's post -- and only 2 people of the 60 visits I had seen made comments -- Part of why I do this is to hear your voice too -- it's part of the blogging genre -- so don't feel ashamed to disagree, agree, or tell a dumb joke -- comment away)

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Transformation, postmodernity, and Presbyterians

Tomorrow, I'll be attending an all day event for ministers of the Presbytery of Cincinnati -- it's a workshop featuring Jill Hudson, the author of When Better Isn't Enough (see the review at the bottom of the Amazon listing page). The main thrust of this event, as I understand it, will be to help pastors grasp and understand the new environment in which we do ministry.

It's interesting because the first two chapters of her book (and I suspect that the bulk of our conversation tomorrow) deal with the movement from the modern era to the postmodern. This is not new territory for me -- I've seen much more in-depth analyses of this shift and its ministry implications (Stan Grenz had a great overview in his Primer on Postmodernism. Mark Driscoll's The Radical Reformission is another fine work. Consider the whole catalog of works by Len Sweet for another spin. Pretty much all of Richard Pratt's Introduction to Theological Studies Class at RTS was focused on preparing us for this environment). Indeed, simply because of my generation, a lot of the concepts are old hat (such as the preference for story, new media, consumer mindset,individualistic, yet also very into peer relationships). She sums up her cursory introduction with this quote “Much more could be said about postmodernism, but these are the important points for a discussion about the church. The integration of rationality with imagination, intuition, and faith; the understanding that truth is socially constructed; and the ability to hold contradictory beliefs are the primary keys for our continued discussion about what makes for effective ministry.” (11)

Therein lies the rub -- the postmodern mindset is pretty hard to pin down -- it's almot like being invited to a chineese buffet with 80 items on the menu: no-one has all 80 items on their plate at any given time -- in the same way, no two "postmoderns" look alike. I love what the folks down at Portico Church in Charlotte have to say about this: "True 'post moderns' don't particularly like the term because it's of little or no value beyond marking the time in which we live". It is far to vague of a term connoting far too many things for it to really communicate anything other than we live in a new era of communication and thought process.

The real value that Hudson's book has is in being an introduction for the person who looks about and suddenly realizes the world, unbenknownst to them, has changed. She likens it to the experience that Dorothy has anymore when she lands in Oz -- away from the familiarity of families and friends and struggles with which she was familiar. Now she has to deal with things that make absolutely no sense to her: a talking scarecrow, a horse of a different color, and the lollipop guild (aka -- the Munchkin Mafia).

The majority of the people who read this blog are already steeped in postmodernity in some way (though there are a few who have never encountered it before). Why don't you join in the conversation here -- what does it mean to be the church in an era that we call postmodern? In what ways do you consider yourself postmodern? comment away.

I'll try to post a synopsis of tomorrow's seminar tomorrow night or Friday.

Soli Deo Gloria

PS -- if you haven't yet -- check out the Library Thing feature that I've added to the right column (the books I'm currently reading) -- you can go see my entire library (or at least the portion that I've cataloged thus far -- probably about a quarter of the way done). It's a very fun website. Enjoy!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Connecting with Culp

Last week, I received a welcome phone call from an old friend, John Culp. John grew up the street from my mother -- he and my uncle were best friends and got their Eagle Scout award together. My grandparents always took a special interest in John, and loved him as one of his own.

As a boy, John had a terrible speech impediment -- I'm told he could hardly be understood at all. I'm not talking out of school here -- John would tell you the same thing, because he attributes it a miracle of God's grace that he overcame that impediment and went on to become a Methodist Minister. Now he's serving Virginia Wingard UMC church in my hometown of Columbia, SC.

I got to know John through the Salkehatchie Summer Service program, which he had started years ago. I remember the first time attending this summer mission camp; when I met John and told him who my family was, he simply said "It's like things have come full circle." And that's an ongoing truth. My grandparents invested in John, John invests in me. Now I find myself investing in others, and maybe someday, the circle will turn again.

There are no self made people -- we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Thanks, John, for being a good friend, and an inspiration in ministry.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Off the Shelf: a new book on prayer.

Full disclosure statement -- as a (begin self-directed sarcasm)highly respected and influential member of the new media reformation (end self-directed sarcasm), I was offered an opportunity to review Mark Roberts' new book No Holds Barred. Of course, since I'm always on the lookout for fine new reading material for my readers (and, more importantly, I cannot resist a free book), I accepted the offer.

I'll be honest -- I didn't expect much. I'd never heard of this Roberts guy out in California. And after all, he's only the pastor of Irvine Presbyterian, an exciting and active congregation of 800. He's only a Harvard Phd in New Testament Origins. He's only a professor at two seminaries (San Francisco and Fuller). He's only written four other books and countless articles. I'd never heard of him, so I shouldn't expect much (ok, end sarcasm again).

So, I received my copy of No Holds Barred and began to read. It's Roberts' guide to experiencing deeper, more intimate and personal prayer. Roberts grounds his work in scripture, a refreshing contrast from so many other contemporary books on spirituality that prioritize the subjective and the emotional. Here we turn to the Pslams as our guide for enriching our prayer repertoire. This isn't to say that Roberts devalues the subjective and emotional -- rather he shows that scripture is our authoritative guide to understanding, interpreting, and engaging in the subjective, emotional experience of conversation with the Father.

After all, the psalms show us how the Father gives us permission to bring before Him our full range of emotion: passion, giddy joy, brokenhearted contrition, vindictive wrath, and agonied despair, among others. One key to experiencing deeper prayer is in getting away from formulaic prayer where we repeat certain catch phrases or formulae, and instead lettting the psalms guide us in properly bringing our hearts before the throne -- our whole undivided hearts.

I've seen this done before -- using the psalms as a guide for prayer is not new. This is ground that has been well covered by CS lewis, Richard Pratt, and Stanley Jaki, among others. Roberts, however, brings a fresh voice to his treatment. He writes not as the scholar who has studied deep prayer (though he is a scholar). He writes as a loving pastor, trying to create a biblically grounded impression of what prayer is supposed to be like. The language he uses is more the language of the pulpit than the language of the textbook. He tells stories and focuses on the heart, rather than the intricasies of the exegesis of the passage. Thus, while his work on the psalms is solid, it is focused more on applicaion than on analysis.

Of particular note is his courage in tackling the thorny issue of the imprecatory psalms (those places where the psalmist prays for the destruction of his enemies). He shows how these psalms help us face the very real emotions that we have that we really don't like -- and remind us that to God alone belongs judgment and vengance, not us. It' a very nice, balanced treatment of some difficult passages.

All said, this less a book for biblical technicians than it is for people longing to go deeper in prayer. Read, and enjoy, and may you profit from the reading.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Peace Unity and Purity -- Further reflections

No, I haven't forgotten that I promised further interaction -- Honestly, Hurricane Katrina knocked me off my momentum on this topic -- and I just haven't had the heart to pick it up.

For those of you needing background on this topic see Post #1 and Post #2 on it.

Also see the archive of links that I'm updating regularly

Here's why -- I know that eventually, I have to deal with the Task Force's recommendations. I've tried to bring out positive aspects of the report, but I have serious concerns about one of the recommendations. Those of you who know me know I hate conflict, especially with people I like. I've met these folks on the task force; I like them. To a person, they're all very nice, very personable, and highly committed to their ministries. They are all people of conviction who long to serve Christ as they understand Him and to love other people as they love themselves. So, I hate to offer a critique that might hurt their feelings.

However, I've been following the posts on the web, and I've seen much harsher critiques than I have to offer. And thus, I offer my thoughts in what I hope to be a spirit of humility. That said, here goes:

Recommendation 1 "The task force recommends that the General Assembly strongly encourage a. every member of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to witness to the church's visible oneness, to avoid division into separate denominations that obscure our community in Christ, and to live in harmony with other members of this denomination, so that we may with one voice together glorify God in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit; and b. all sessions, congregations, presbyteries, and synods to renew and strengthen their covenanted partnership with one another and the General Assembly."

Interesting phrasing here -- Have the GA strongly encourage no division. Note that this doesn't preclude division, it is but strong encouragement. Implicit is the recognition that division may yet happen. The wording is strong, but not a club -- very pastoral and wise. As it is, not an objectionable recommendation.

Recommendation 2 "The task force recommends that the General Assembly urge governing bodies, congregations, and other groups of Presbyterians to follow the example of the task force and other groups that, in the face of difficult issues, have engaged in the processes of intensive discernment through worship, community-building, study, and collaborative work."

Again, nothing objectionable here. Indeed this might be the best thing to come out of the task force -- their capacity to work together despite deep (even foundational) differences is commendable. They have shown that it is possible to disagree about serious issues and still be warm, generous, and loving to one another. While they have not given up on core convictions, they have been able to connect with one another personally. For this, I have nothing but commendation to the task force.

Recommendation 3 "The task force asks the General Assembly to commend for study the Theological Reflection that heads the task force report."

Again, a great recommendation -- as I said in my last post, it would be a terrible shame if we jumped straight to the recommendations without first grappline with this theological interpretation -- while there is a lot of "wiggle room" in the reflections, an honest reading of them gives great encouragement to me. My main concern there is not so much with the words, but with the language games that are used by some interpreters -- language games that at times invert the clear intent of the wording of a document. That said, I think evangelicals ought to use this document to engage the rest of the church.

Recommendation 4 "The task force recommends that the General Assembly direct the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and urge those who plan and moderate meetings of other governing bodies to explore the use of alternative forms of discernment and decision-making as a complement to parliamentary procedure, especially in dealing with potentially divisive issues."

Basically, this recommendation states "Roberts Rules is not authoritative scripture" Again, I feel pretty good about this. Roberts Rules are but tools to facilitate civil discussion and conversation, but they can also be cumbersome, bureacratic, and confusing. Especially for small groups (like a 10-12 member committee). Larger bodies benefit more from such structures, but smaller bodies benefit from greater flexibility. I can see some potential dangers in this in that we don't live in an environment of trust, so alternative forms of decision making could also be used as a club rather than a tool for civility. However, in principle, I think this is good food for thought.

Recommendation 5: The task force's "Authoritative Interpretation" of the G-6.0108 of the book of order. This is too long to effectively reproduce here. In effect, it says that the ordination standards are for the whole church and are not up to local option. However, local governing bodies are given leeway in granting exceptions to the ordination standards. They are subject to the review of higher bodies, however.

This is the recommendation that troubles me. It is the fruit of a lot of labor on the task force, and it is their best effort at placating conservatives by maintaining the national standard, while granting leeway to more liberal presbyteries to ordain who they clearly feel called to ministry. While De Jure, they have found a "middle way", De Facto, they have created local option.

Ironically, their own demonstrate the untenable nature of this main recommendation. In their section on resources for the church, they enumerate four tensions in presbyterian polity. Then, as they address application of these tensions they write "The opportunities and temptations of the culture that the church inhabits, discord over controversial issues, and other factors internal and external to the church can push the church to one side of the polity balance or the other. In certain situations they can even threaten to capsize the ship of faith by collapsing the necessary tension between its guiding principles. The church's calling in the face of such a challenge has been to seek an equilibrium rather than perfect and equal balance by weighting its polity for a time in favor of those principles neglected by certain trends in culture, controversy, theology or practice." Said in the words of my former seminary professor Richard Pratt: "the deck of life is always shifting -- balance is merely momentary synchronicity." -- to have the faith meet the contemporary challenge, we need to emphasize certain principles in some times and seasons, and other principles in others.

Keep that thought in your mind, and then read this quote from the section about the proposed authoritative interpretation: "These measures will not be effective, however, unless subsection (5) of the proposed authoritative interpretation is taken with the utmost seriousness. All parties must outdo one another in honoring the decisions of other bodies, presuming that other governing bodies have employed their best wisdom and sincerely sought the Spirit's guidance in all their deliberations. The proposed authoritative interpretation is not a license either to disregard standards or to override judgments of the fitness of persons elected to office."

Simply said, for this thing to work, we need to be in an atmosphere of trust. Sadly, this is not the atmosphere in which we live. The present circumstances under which our church is held together don't even come close to trust. By their own reasoning (see the first quote two paragraphs above) different times and seasons call for different responses. While the Task Force has worked hard to develop among themselves trust and mutual affection, such attitudes do not characterize the church at large.

I envision that should this recommendation prevail, we will enter a season of unfettered litigation -- for the church courts will become the sole means of wrestling with this issue. Rather than fostering the peace of the church, judicial warfare will ensue -- mainly because there is not the trust that the task force says is so critical and important.

Well, those are some of my thoughts -- for those of you in the PCUSA (and even those outside it), I would be interested in your thoughts as well.

Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Now Playing: Whale Rider

Tammy and I have seen Whale Rider twice now -- we find it to be a heartwarming tale with really teriffic acting. It's the story of a small Maori village that is in decline -- the old ways are being neglected, all the young men are lazy, drunk, or wastrels, the children are eager to leave and go anywhere but the village. The village chief is working hard to keep things together, but he is yearning and longing for a prophet.

He expects this prophet to be his grandson -- but this child dies in childbirth, taking his mother with him. He leaves behind a twin sister,Pikea, whom we discover is the prophet that the chief longs for. But the chief, stuck in the ancient traditions, will hear nothing of it, and stubbonrnly tries to have his own way.

But eventually, his granddaughter, through her mystical knowledge of nature supernatural insight, saves the village. She proves herself to be the hero.

Christians may object to the ancestor worship spirituality -- the "divine feminine" qualitiy that infuses much of today's literature. However, this is not an evangelistic piece -- it is a sublte story. And as such, it reveals themes that portray powerful gospel truths.

1) The longing for a redeemer. The culture is broken -- society is fallen apart -- and everyone longs for healing. Pikea's father explains the role of the prophet to her “Somebody whos got to lead our people out of darkness who’ll everything right again. The only problem is you cant decide who those people are just because you want them to be, eh?” This is a longing that is deep within the human heart because it is deep within our own condition. Even though the heroine fulfills the role for a time (and a really cool scene it is to see the Maori people living out their traditions), we know that it is only for a time. Decay will again set in -- there is a deeper need for healing -- healing on the heart level for each of us, and an eventual healing of the cosmos. That is the healing that comes from Christ's work alone.

2) The pulling together of the community. One of the reasons this is such a lovely postmodern work is that it emphasizes the role of togetherness. The strong leader model that the chief works under is bringing nothing but failure and frustration. Pikea, in a speech that she gives in a particularly heartbreaking scene, explains her philosophy of leadership: “But we could learn and if the knowledge is given to everyone then we could have lots of leaders. And soon everyone will be strong, not just the ones who have been chosen. Because sometimes even if you’re the leader and you need to be strong, you can get tired. Like our ancestor Pikea when he was lost at sea and he couldn’t find the land and he probably wanted to die but he knew that whales was there for him, so he called out to them to lift him up and give him strength. This is his chant .. I dedicate it to my grandfather.” This idea finds its parallel in I cor 12 -- the whole image of the body of Christ, each with different roles, but all bound together. There are lovely images of the tribe living this ideal out toward the end of the film

It's a flim well worth watching -- for a pretty comprehensive review of the Christian critic's responses, see Christianity Today's review page.

And if this really interests you, you might help me explore the Maori Theology Webpage -- a Dominican Missionary who was working to translate the concepts of Christianity into a Maori worldview. I'm afraid that it might be pretty syncretistic, but I haven't yet had the chance to go and evaluate it -- some of you theologians/missions experts go and evaluate and let me know what you think.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Off the Shelf: Whose Religion is Christianity?

I love finding hidden treasures at the library. A few weeks back, I was browsing the stacks at the downtown branch when I came across the book Whose Religion is Christianity by Lamin Sanneh.

Don't get the title wrong. Sanneh is a Gambian Christian, and he writes this book to explain African Christianity to Europeans and Americans. Reading his words, I can tell he has a particular audience in mind -- he's a professor at Yale Divinity school, so he's writing primarily to the liberal, skeptical, academic crowd of New England. He keeps defending African Christianity, with its emphasis on the Bible, spiritual experience, actual belief in the resurrection of Christ, and evangelism -- he defends it because he knows that the enlightened secularist thinks these things are very bad. “The sticking point in all this…is the allergy of a secular West to any suggestion of a return to Christianity….The West as a modern progressive society is committed to live as if God does not exist, etsi dues non daretur, or at any rate to live with no sense of the devil.” (83) Basically his audience are the same people who woke up last year and discovered that "Evangelical Christians" are a massive segement of society in America.

While the reviews on Amazon are shallowly critical, I suggest that it is worth a read -- not for keeping in your personal library, but certainly worth a borrow from your public library. Here's why:

Sanneh talks about indigenous African Christianity -- not the neo-European style Christianity that was planted by colonialism, but Christianity that sprang up in the wake of Bible translations being available in native tongues. “…African Christianity is the consequence of haphazard, unorchestrated, popular mobilization, much of it outside, or even against, mainstream bodies. African Christianity, then, is the irony of mass religious enthusiasm pitted against mass disenfranchisement with the political structures.” (28). It is a spontaneous Christianity that seems to be sweeping the continent. Sanneh cites statistics that say that Africa currently has 350 millon Christians, but in 25 years, that is expected to swell to 600 million, making Africa the most Christianized continent on the planet.

A significant part of this model of Christianity is its focus on relationships and story (much like the postmodern movement here in the states -- but the main difference being that the African churches tend to be clear on the truth of the stories). As an example, Sanneh tells the story of how the Maasai Christians responded to 9/11:

The Maasai, who are herders in East Africa, didn’t hear about 9/11 until a Maasai student studying abroad returned home to tell the story. He told it not as a dispassionate news piece, but in their own cultural fashon so that they felt the anguish of the American people. The Maasai were so moved, they held a sacred ceremony and blessed 16 cows in sympathy and solidarity with the US – and the warriors vowed to do their part in hunting down those responsible. A bemused US Embassy official from Nairobi made the trek to receive the cows. Several months later, NPR broadcast a public acknowledgement of the gift and thanksgiving for the thoughtfulness of the Maasai. (64-65) In this story, we see both the power of story and the power of relationship -- their action was based off a single relationship of hospitality that was shown to the student, but the relationship was so important that they had to act.

For further reading on this book, see the review from the Presbyterian Outlook or the Christianity Today review. Or check out this provocative interview with Sanneh from 2003 (he tells the story of his conversion from Islam to Christianity -- and it saddens me the response he received from Christians). Here are some excerpts:

"How would your early childhood and adolescence have differed from that of the "typical" North American?

It's like living on another planet. I was raised in a culture where the stress is not on the individual but on the community, on tradition, on fidelity to past models, on respect for parents and elders, on rote memorization of knowledge, on scarce material resources offset by a wealth of social capital. We had limited access to the modern world, but lavish access to family and clan achievement and honor. We had close proximity to the natural world without the demand to subdue and exploit it. One could go on."

"How would you compare Christianity as it is understood and practiced in Africa and in North America?

The main difference I see is the difference between a post-Christian American society and a post-Western Christianity rising in Africa and elsewhere. The one is in decline, at least intellectually, and the other is in spate. The taming of Christianity in North America requires very different tools from those required by the conditions favoring expansion in Africa. Christians are not afraid to go to church for prayer and healing when they are ill, for instance, whereas in North America prayers may be said for people who are ill but only in absentia.

Africans trust God for their spiritual, physical, social, and medical needs; Americans don't."

That last sentence struck me hard. Tolle Lege and see what the Holy Spirit does in you.

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Theological Depth of "Jesus Loves Me"

It is perhaps a part of the mythos of modern theology, but it is said that a student once asked the great 20th Century theologian Karl Barth (see also the wikipedia article on Barth what the most profound theological truth was, and Barth quickly replied "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

Now skeptics may dismiss this story as a myth (and it probably is), or perhaps conjecture that Barth was indulging it a bit of wicked humor -- but I still think it a great story. It is easy to make complex truths sound complex -- it is very difficult to make them simple enough for a child to sing.

After Sarah Grace was born, while we were still in Orlando, I was reflecting on this story, and I tried to come up with other verses to Jesus Loves Me that would convey the truths of the faith in ways that children could sing. I came up with verses on the trinity, grace, and the living the christian life. For the past four years, I've been using them to sing Sarah Grace to sleep (along with a lot of other songs). And as I sang her to sleep tonight, I thought it might be nice to share them with all of you -- not because they're great literature -- far from it. I'm just letting you in on another part of how I see the true, the good, the beautiful even in a children's song:

Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so.

God in heaven made all things
Jesus Christ salvation brings
The Holy Spirit lives in me
The three in one, the Trinity
Yes Jesus loves me....

Jesus loves me this is true
Not for anything I do
By his grace He set me free
The gift of faith He gave to me
Yes Jesus loves me...

Jesus said tell everyone
About the things that He has done
He said Love God above all else
And your neighbor as yourself
Yes Jesus loves me....

Soli Deo Gloria

Thomas Watson on Wikipedia

As promised about a month ago, I've finally created a Thomas Watson page on Wikipedia -- check it out (and while you're there, take note of the great opportunity to put good solid Christian information in a widely used public encyclopedia -- we don't have to slant the truth, just present it).

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Peace Unity and Purity -- comments from across the spectrum

In the interest of furthering reflection on the Peace Unity and Purity Task Force Report, I've linked to every commenary I could find. Stay tuned, for I have at least one more post of reflections to come out of this, but first I wanted to commend to you everything I've been able to find. If this list is missing a link to some existing commentary elsewhere on the web, leave a comment on this page (If you wish to leave a comment responding to the report, go to one of these pages: My First Post, My Second Post), My Third Post.

* Michael Walker of Presbyterians for Renewal
* Robert Gagnon: A Local Option Trojan Horse
* That All May Freely Serve: On Not Being Weary In Well Doing
* Comments from More Light Presbyterians readership
* Rich Zimmerman: Tough Calls
* Leslie Scanlon of the Presbyterian Outlook: Looking Ahead
* John Filiatreau of Presbyterian News Service: Becoming Church
* The Covenant Network
* Parker Williamson of the Presbyterian Layman
* Ken Smith of the Witherspoon Society
* Politickal Animal: My Church, Right or Wrong?
* Denis Hancock
* Gene TeSelle of the Witherspoon Society
* Doug King of the Witherspoon Society
* More Light Presbyterians
* Michael Adlee of More Light Presbyterians
* The Presbyterian Coalition
* Jim Berkley of Presbyterians for Renewal
* Jin Kim
* Mark Labberton
* Joanna Adams
* Jerry Andrews
* Kim Clayton Richter
* Benjamin Sparks
* Parker Williamson
* Witherspoon Society Board
* The Presbyterian Forum
* Clifton Kirkpatrick

Comments from Presbyweb Readers:
* William Thurman
* Al Sandalow
* Tom Hobson #1
* Tom Hobson#2
* Whitman Brisky
* John McNeese
* Dean Waldt
* Noel Anderson
* Daniel Vraa
* Paul Masters
* Bob Van Oyen
* Ted Coppock
* James Tony
* Karen C. Sapio, Josephine (Jody) Hall Harrington, Becky Ardell Downs
* John McNeese
* Lawrence Wood

A New Kind of Conversation: for the bemused, the blazing and the grinding

Mention "the emergent church" and you will be met with reactions that range from puzzled bemusement, blazing enthusiasm, or tooth grinding consternation. This topic has kindled debate and fueld discussion on the blogosphere, in print, and in conversation. For those who fall into the bemused category, you might want to read the wikipedia overview (while the lingo might be a bit technical, the links at the end of the article are a portal to other helpful articles) or the emergent webite called The Ooze.

Then we're caught between the blazing enthusiasts and the tooth grinders. The challenge to discussing the emerging church is that it is continually emerging -- no-one truly speaks for the movement, though there are a number of prominent voices in the conversation. As such, there are trends within the movement that are of concern to those of us in the "Emergent Paleo-orthodox Conversation" (these are the people who tend to grind their teeth). However there are also some elements of the conversation that are refreshing and much needed (these are the people who tend to blaze with enthusiasm).

For instance, I'm quite concerned by the ambiguity about the knowability of truth -- much of the emergent conversation seems to flirt with a dangerous subjectivism. On the other hand, I find the missional focus to be quite refreshing -- that the church is not a club to which we belong, but a mission station in the community in which it is placed, and we're called to minister to that very community. Like I said, some points of concern, but also points of praise.

Some of the main voices in the emergent conversation are inviting an online discussion of the emergent movement. They're calling it A New Kind of Conversation. If this topic has any interest to you, whether you're bemused, blazing, or grinding, please sign up to be a part of the conversation. This is an opportunity to both sing Amen and to voice concern.

Soli Deo Gloria

PS -- Also, take note that I've redesigned the links section at the bottom of the right hand column. It's organized now by eras of my life (because, of course, it's all about me). I've added more links to interesting people. But you can help by pointing me to more folks who ought to be on the list (I'd love more links to old friends from High School, College, and Seminary -- please help me reconnect). The blogosphere, after all, is about expanding the conversation.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Now Playing: Drumline

Off the recommendation of a friend, Tammy and I watched Drumline this weekend.

It's the story of Devon Miles, a extraordinarily talented drummer with a chip on his shoulder. He earns a band scholarship to the Atlanta A&T; there his attitude puts him in conflict with both the drumline major and the highly talented band Director, Dr. Lee. All three men have a love of music and lots of attitude. They all, in their own way, have to learn to live the band's motto "One Band. One Sound." Thus, it is a wonderful little parable about teamwork (indeed, about our called life together as the church).

The film is also a peek inside the culture of African American University Marching Bands -- it portrays the culture with dignity and respect. We found the band performances to be a lot of fun. This is not a movie about race, though -- it is a movie about people. Without all the cliches about "life in the hood" or racial angst, we find a fine coming of age film. It is also devoid of the steroetypes of college comedies: sex, drugs, pulling pranks on clueless adults. The worst you get is some innuendo and cussing. It is a surprisingly clean film (though still rated PG 13). An IMDB user's comment is particularly apropos "A must see for anyone into marching bands and a should see for young people who dine on a steady diet of MTV and other entertainment junk food."

A couple of scenes stand out: Dr Lee is confronting his drum major -- asking him to remember his freshman year when he loved the music more than hearing himself play -- somewhere he lost that love. And he needs to find it again. That strikes me as a fine image for Christian life. Often times Christians begin to love seeing themselves be good disciples (and when they do, they become angry and abrasive with those who disagree with those who have differing views). Just as the drum major needed to rediscover the music, we need to rediscover Jesus, rather than simply listening to ourselves play.

Another theme that runs through is Dr. Lee's insistance that his students actually learn the craft of musicianship. Even though he is under pressure from the university president to put on a good show, Dr. Lee has standards. The great lesson he has to learn is being gracious with those standards.

All told, a good, entertaining film with some terrific themes. Enjoy

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Credit Where Credit is Due

I try to listen to and read across the spectrum of opinion. At times, in fiction and in reporting, I've heard Christianity bashed by certain segments of the left (certainly not all the left -- there are many Christians on the left, and many very respectful non-christians -- but just as there are angry right wingers, there are angry left wingers). Most often, it is the fundamentalist Christians who are equated to the taliban and the warmongering fundamentalists in Islam. And we hear the crusades trotted out, and abortion clinic bombers, and we hear about Pat Robertson's personal jihad against Hugo Chavez -- and we're left the impression that these represent the vast majority of evangelical/fundamentalist Christians.

And so it was quite refreshing to read Lamin Sanneh's book Whose Religion is Christianity? Sanneh is a Gambian native who teaches world mission at Yale divinity school -- he defends the rise of a distinctively African version of Christianity in the face of what he sees as Western Secularism (remember, he is in New England -- he likely sees Secularism as the dominant mode of thought in America). The book is mainly a response to Secularist critics who see a rise in Christianity as a bad thing. He addresses them point by point, showing how Christianity has had an ennobling effect on Africa (though he does have an unfortunate tendency to use the term "pluralism"; his use, however, is that of Christian pluralism -- many denominations, many tongues, many expressions of one faith -- he's not using the term explicitly in connection with interfaith pluralism). He even addresses the oh-so-often-used crusades dismissal of Christianity by showing that era as a season when the church lost sight of the teaching of Christ. He reminds us that for centuries the church has had a guilt complex over it -- only Christianity could produce such ongoing remorse for actions 900 years ago. Where are the Islamic scholars repenting for that faith's centuries of expansion by the sword? You get the idea -- read the book for more.

Then I saw last week's World magazine which contained two editorials, one about abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, the other about Pat Robertson's unfortunate comments about assassinating Hugo Chavez. Here we have the "fundamentalist" christians at World Magazine giving unequivocal condemnation of such deeds. Christianity is a relgion of peace and kindness -- Indeed, Christianity, as opposed to secularism, has the moral grounding to say that the deeds of Rudolph and the speech of Roberson is wrong. Period. Secularism, if it is honest, has no bedrock firm moral foundation upon which to condemn such extremism.

All that to say -- Evangelicals/Fundamentalists are not the fire breathing trogdolytes that they are portrayed as in popular media. We love our children, we enjoy a good joke, we raise a glass every now and again in good spirits, and we're willing to correct our own.

So here's to World Magazine and Professor Sanneh - you receive credit where credit is due.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

In the wake of this hurricane, I've not really been motivated to write about the Peace Unity and Purity of the church -- I'll come back to that later.

In the meantime -- for our church members, we will be forwarding to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance all donations designated for hurricane relief. PDA will put 100% of donations toward relief (administrative costs are covered already in the denominational budget).

Additionally, the Presbytery Mission Committee has asked for people interested in going as part of a team with PDA to contact them -- I'm collecting names from the congregation -- If you're interested, please let me know.

Finally, one of our members, Alicia Zabala, was in New Orleans over the weekend for her sister's wedding. She and her family are all safe, but they are obviously in great distress -- please keep them in prayer.

Soli Deo Gloria