Missional Communities by Reggie McNeal: Day 2

Still reading through Missional Communities by McNeal, further thoughts:

There is a bewilderment about how the church invests. The N. American church spends $100 billion annually with low returns on investment. A missiologist once shared with me that the N. American church spends $1.2 million per baptism.

McNeal defends the reality that a congregational church reaches people and makes them church people instead of making them disciples/missionaries.

McNeal has a good rendering of the gospel, which he also calls “Redemptive Mission” and says, “Everything that sin broke is being addressed and restored through God’s mission. This includes not just the ruptured relationship between God and humanity, but also the broken relationship of humans with themselves, among one another, and with the rest of the creation.” (20) My dissertation material deals with the gospel we rehearse makes us the people we become/dream to be. I am excited about McNeal’s rendering and believe the Missional Church ecclesiology has the potential to challenge the soterian gospel.

Missional church, then, engages the world, because God is already in the world, redeeming it, bit by bit. Engaging the world requires us to be a people who are missional (engage the other, the other who is already is being engaged by God) and about formation (we better offer the hope of transformation in the human heart if we are going to announce that God in Christ is transforming the world). No more division between an “outreach” church and a “discipleship” church. Both are required; both are energized by the King Jesus gospel.

Missional Communities by Reggie McNeal: Day 1

Reading McNeal’s Missional Communities for dissertation research and ministry development. Here are some of my take-aways from the book:

Problem/Opportunity- The North American world craves a church experience that transcends the typical congregation model. McNeal provides a short history of how he thinks the church went from an organic movement to an institution, “Rather than a lifestyle of counter-cultural sacrificial love of neighbor, adherence to ‘the faith’ became centered on assenting to a set of doctrinal beliefs. Christianity became defined as a set of theological propositions rather than a way of life.” (3)

The radical decline of church attendance and the continual craving of spirituality has provided space for re-imagining how one is associated with a church. There is rich discussion, here, about how we begin to quantify a member of a local church. My current church is beginning this discussion. On the one hand, there are people in our local churches who are totally committed, but who are not officially members. On the other hand, many mainline churches have members on their roster who have not been present in years, although they demand to remain on the register.

McNeal engages in what we would call practices of members in churches. The typical practices of a congregation are attendance, giving, and engaging in ministries initiated by the church. McNeal imagines a need to expand congregational practices if we want to engage a 21st century context that is busy enough to attend regularly, yet assertive enough to engage their world without the church’s initiative.

 

Len Sweet’s Titanium Rule

Researching today and want to condense some of Sweet’s Titanium Rule before moving on. No elaboration, just recording:

Iron Rule: Do unto others before they do it to you.

Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (The rule puts “you” as primary)

Platinum Rule: Do unto others as others would have you do unto them. (regardless if it is healthy or beneficial, what is already decided by the other)

Titanium Rule: Do unto others as Jesus has done unto us… “What are you willing to ‘lay down’ for others that they might pick up life and health and truth?”

 

Metaphors for Christian Formation

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice.” I’m discovering this idea to be helpful as I investigate my own journey of Christian formation.

Much of the discussion of orchestrating Christian formation in the local church in N. American seems to be adapted from cultural expectations. Some speak of a discipleship path, a four-phase process that any member can follow to ensure Christian maturity. The authors of Willowcreek’s Move, the solution to REVEAL’s problems, compare Christian growth to graduating from high school, passing through four phases (like four grades) to arrive at the destination. I don’t know about you, I’ve found a lot of high school graduates that don’t act like they’ve emerged into adulthood, but have found a way to pass through the different requirements, by the skin of their teeth.

Another rendering of Christian formation has more of a pessimistic tone. I read a blog post recently that said, in hyperbolic theorizing, “If I take my eyes of the gospel for one minute, I know that I am doomed.” A popular Acts 29 pastor’s version of Gospel-centered discipleship promotes “fight clubs” or small groups that help his congregation/friends be real about their struggles. In my opinion, “fight clubs” promote an acute martyrdom, “we are taking sin seriously, unlike these folks over here… we go to a fight club.” This author shared a case study from a “fight club” in which he confessed that he appeared to be converted by the gospel for the 1000th time. (Really: it didn’t stick before… maybe it is the gospel you are rehearsing) It is interesting how sometimes our talk of transformation appears to say, “It’s all up to God… and it is all up to me.” Which is it? As I mentioned earlier, the undertone of pessimism of whether growth can really happen at all without a ferocious focus on the gospel every minute or fight clubs is disturbing and impossible to maintain. It usually leads to guilt or cranky legalism.

Dallas Willard provides a different approach. He says that Christian formation is “relaxed obedience.” This does not imply one does not apply practices in character formation. Willard is famous for the axiom, “effort (towards Christlikeness) is not earning (as if someone is trying to earn favor from God).” Willard employs numerous practices and rhythms to stimulate Christian formation. Willard notes that growth is rarely recognized in the moment, which is God’s design. If we could measure growth in the moment, we’d be tempted to say it was something we did, like keeping our eyes on the gospel every minute, attending a fight club, or graduating through the discipleship path.

John Ortberg is helpful, here, as well. Ortberg argues that there is a flow that helps create the qualities of a follower of Jesus. This flow is something that one can step in and out of, regardless of their maturity “level.” This flow is the work of the Spirit, whose main objective is to make us fit for God’s new heavens and new earth. The Spirit provides us justification in the present (the hope that we are in Christ and therefore, in the right before God). Because we have justification presently, we should already begin to act like we are in the new kingdom in the present, as well. Christians find themselves in a time-warp, enjoying the bliss of a future kingdom, currently, all the while engaging in training to enjoy it fully in the age to come. Therefore, the flow is a good image to consider while engaging this time-warp.

The flow appears to answer the awkwardness of the graduation option, and is more optimistic about the work of Christ is our lives than the ferocious “not so sure where I stand with God unless I lose my voice during prayer or allow my accountability partner to lose his temper while confronting me about my sin” idea.

Believing, Behaving, Belonging

For my dissertation, I’m working through Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity After Religion. She is investigating the idea of the North American culture seeking to be “spiritual” without being “religious.”

One of the things she brings to the table that I’ve thought about since reading is the idea of “believing, behaving, and belonging.” These are the three signifiers, traditionally, of religion. (Or of any “thing” people devote time/heart to)

Bass says that Western Christianity has ranked these themes in this order: believing, behaving, belonging. This is the way we frame the hope of personal transformation. Bass contends that the reverse order, belonging, behaving, believing, may be the pattern of Jesus and his disciples.

For instance, Jesus asked his disciples to “follow him” before he ever said, “believe in me.”

Jesus shows them the kingdom life, in many ways, before we hear of a literal confession of faith.

Peter does mutter an orthodox statement of belief, (Matthew 16), but we’d have to agree that a lot of water has passed under the bridge before this moment, and we’d have to admit that Peter doesn’t have it all together at that moment in the story. Peter, like all of us, needed some time to straighten out the believing and the behaving.

But, perhaps the reason Peter hung in there was because he knew that he belonged. He didn’t mind the long pilgrimage of transformation.

Do we create the idea of belonging in our local communities of faith? Wouldn’t be interesting if, under the “About Us” tab on the church’s website, along with the “We Believe” tab there was a convincing argument that people could really belong, even if their behavior and belief wasn’t quite square, yet?

Peter Rollins Quotation of love

“In a very precise sense, then, love’s presence cannot be described as existing, but rather is that which calls others into existence; for to exist literally means to stand forth from the background, to be brought forth. As we have mentioned, love does not stand forth and vie for our attention but rather brings others forth.”

Peter Rollins, Insurrection, pg 121

Appear with Him in Glory

On my plane rides to Cannon Beach, OR, I picked up John Ortberg’s The Me I Want to Be. It is a great book, so much to take in as assistance to transformation and discipleship.

Ortberg is a master of rich thoughts and illustrations. Many of his books have been meaningful to so many. In one section of the book, he mentions a passage from Colossians 3:4, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

Ortberg comments, “What does it mean that you will appear with him ‘in glory?’ It means the day is coming when it will be a glorious thing to be you.” (68)

Think about that. There is a lot of truth there. The natural rhythm of our lives is to somehow cover up, minimize, or even deny who we really are. We are not comfortable with ourselves. Some theologies would say that we need to completely lose ourselves.

What if God wants to transform us to that it is the best thing to be ourselves?

That is a liberating thought. Perhaps that is the reason that perfect love casts out all fear… even the fear to be myself.

 

Sacrament

In 2002 Robert Webber wrote a book called The Younger Evangelicals, giving a collection of observations for what the Evangelical movement was evolving towards. Webber was a great source and a careful writer.

Many important things in the book; I hope to share some on the blog at some point. I 20-post series could be appropriate for the book.

In the Spiritual Formation section of the book, Webber shares a bit about the migration back towards the Sacramental expression of the faith. Webber shared a bit of what the word “Sacrament” means; I wanted to make sure I was able to put it down somewhere for future use. (from pages 180-81)

“The Latin word sacramentum was used to translate the Greek word mystery (mysterium). One could speak of “the mystery of baptism,” the mystery of the Eucharist,” or “the mystery of marriage.” The word sacrament comes from two Latin terms: sacra, which means ‘holy,’ and the suffix mentum, which means ‘to make holy.’ It also means ‘to set aside.’ In Roman secular language the word was often used to ‘make an oath.’ When a person was sowrn into the Roman army, for example, an oath occurred between two parties, a covenant that ‘bound them together in a new relationship.’ The two sides of sacrament are reflected in this secular use: The Roman government puts its imprint upon the soldier. The soldier receives the imprint and promises to wear it well. Likewise, in Christian thought, ‘sacrament’ refers to an action of God that is received, affirmed, treasured, and kept (see Eph 3:3-6). ‘Sacrament’ expresses the mystery of the union between God and man- effected by God, kept by man.

“Early church writings taught that there is only one sacrament, only one way to be holy, and that is through Jesus Christ. He alone presents to the Father and represents us as holy before the throne of God. Today we make a distinction between the one sacrament (only Jesus makes us holy) and two dominical sacraments (Jesus instituted baptism and the Eucharist as sacred actions of his work on our behalf). We are to observe them as a reception of his work for us and our faith response to him.”

Consumer Liturgies

I recently read a book called Church in the Present Tense. It is a book with 4 different contributors, all giving an academic response to Emerging Church. Every chapter was fantastic; I’d love to follow those guys around to hear them lecture.

Jason Clark had to say some beneficial things concerning Consumerism and how ministry is often shaped by consumerism, as well. Here are some thoughts he shared:

Beginning with the right question- instead of asking “how do we do church better so that people do not leave (or what can we do to make people come),” begin to ask, “how do we recover church for our context?” What does it look like to be the church where we are? What type of Messianic tribe is God gathering in our neck of the woods?

Clark sums up his deep ache with pastoring in a consumer society, “We have so many people experiencing love, care, support, (financially, materially, relationally), and, within our charismatic identity, answers to prayer and experiences of Jesus intervening. Yet, after all this, there is all to often an almost existential shrug, as if to say, ‘That was nice,’ and then a turn to the real business of life, well away from any ongoing experience of Christianity, with us or with others.”

Clark discovered that even thought he was ministering in a secular and consumer society where it was assumed that people were nonreligious, they were in fact deeply religious. The flow of consumption was their worship.

Clark uses a definition from Vincent Miller on consumerism and belief that I found to be profound. It used to be that beliefs held us, but now in consumerism liturgies, “believers hold beliefs.” Isn’t that interesting?

Clark defines consumerism as “embodied imagination,” consisting of a story of human nature (anthropology) and human destiny (telos, end). The question is posed, “What is a good life? Its answer: living somewhere nice, living a ripe old age, having certain life experiences before we die. And it offers to save us from the worst of all human fates: boredom.”

Clark notes how we can practice consumerism, it is a “perverted liturgy.” Notice the things we do and the molds that consumer society squeezes us into including our body shape, our technology, our time, our leisure, etc… In the midst of it all, Christianity becomes a “mere supplement, a cultural accessory?”

Clark continues on to other parts of consumerism and faith, offering ways to have “deep church” in the midst of consumer liturgies.

The discussion reminds me of the book Freakonomics, where Economics is described as the study of incentives. Human beings move because of incentives. A person will do things way outside of their normal rhythm, conviction, and character. For instance, I once decided to be a Nebraska Cornhusker fan because I had a crush on a girl who was from Lincoln. I had an incentive to do so and after a few years of following the Big Red, I decided that the incentive was no longer there, so, my allegiance was no longer supported.

Back to Vincent Miller’s idea of how consumerism transferred the idea of beliefs holding us to us holding beliefs. This is a devastating turn of events. If we are not being held by beliefs, we will find ourselves struggling to know the real Christ. If we do not know the real Christ, the richness of life in Him will never make sense or be sincere. We will never be satisfied; we will require churches to spend energy on things that allure our attention, but will never be able to win our allegiance to the Gospel calling.

On a side note, Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel examines the way we should hear the Gospel story, and, if Scot is leading us to a proper place (which I believe he does), the Gospel message will have the power to “gospel” us into a place where we are held by or beliefs; it won’t be about us, it will be about the Story that has been unfolding for centuries, the story of God that has been rescuing and redeeming, building and restoring- a story that sweeps us away and leaves us undone.

I guess a place to start is to ask ourselves, in regards to our current church set up, “Why am I here?”

Wait, ask again and be honest, “Why am I here?”

2 Perspectives of Church, backwards and forwards

I am working on some content from Stanley Grenz from his Revisioning Evangelical Theology. I find the content to be a challenge and a good discussion. He wrote this text in 1993, but the discussion is completely appropriate for  today. The shape of what exactly is “Evangelicalism” is being discussed today. Many years from now, there may still be a debate about what Evangelicalism is. It does seem that the Neo-Calvinist camp is making the deepest impression in the discussion currently- big churches and big personalities associated therein. There are a couple of books coming out this Fall that will be great to read and include into the discussion.

Michael Horton and Roger Olson are both releasing a book the same day, October 18. Michael Horton will release For Calvinsim (with a full bloomed Tulip on the cover) while Roger Olson will release Against Calvinism (with a Tulip completely dead on the cover). Got to love the humor with those covers.

Another book being released on September 26th entitled Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism. The reading and following discussion of this book will be interesting, indeed.

Back to Grenz
At the end of the Revisioning book, Grenz feels that a reshaping of “church” will be helpful in a post-foundationalist theology. How we view the church is connected with our belief of the work of God in Christ and how we conceptualize our blessed hope. Grenz states that some view the church from a past reality, a rear-view mirror approach. Grenz states that this view is neo-Platonistic, a view of the church as “constituted by the heavenly archetype preexisting in God’s mind.” The goal of the church, then, is to emulate its heavely archetype. This idea, in Grenz’s mind, is similar to a Calvinistic ecclesiology. God has already elected before the foundation of the world. (Eph 1:4-5) According to Grenz, “the mission of the church in history is to make visible the invisible company of the elect. Its mission, therefore, is to bring within its boundaries all the elect- all who were chosen by God in eternity past.” (181) All kingdom acts, therefore, are attributed to God’s sovereignty, God’s glory.

Grenz notes that there are other eccesiologies that have a more firm kingdom-centric dimension. Instead of uncovering that which is already realized, the church operates, in real time, as a present reality of a future hope. God’s kingdom has dynamically come in the work of Christ, and is creating a new world with Christ as Lord even within the evil world that is passing away. This view of church looks forwards, not backwards. The church’s message serves as a prophetic voice to the watching world about what it means to live in the kingdom, a kingdom of “love, peace, justice and righteousness.” (183-184)

The church, then, serves as a ‘sign and sacrament’ of the age to come. Petros Vassiliadis from the Orthodox church writes that the church, “does not draw her identity from what she is, or from what was given to her as an institution, but from what she will be, i.e., from the eschata (the return of Christ at the end).” The church is an eikon (icon) of what God will complete in the end.

From here, Grenz recommends a trinitarian ecclesiology, a longer discourse that includes God’s joining with His people in that amazing image from Revelation 21:3, God’s dwelling place with His people, a recapturing of what was lost in Eden.

I thought that this discourse was stunning. There is a prevalent view of the church that looks backwards, another that looks to the present and to the future. Is one more appropriate over the other? Can both be reconciled? This is stretching, but is the Gospel communicated differently because of two different focal points of the churches origin?