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?

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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?

Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus” notes

Henri Nouwen is a baller! Straight up wisdom in every book I’ve read of his, but In the Name of Jesus is amazing. In a time of church history when many self-proclaimed prophets are all around, Nouwen proves to operate in true exhortation and comfort. Here are a few thoughts from it that I wanted to get down. Please get the book. It is an easy read. I’m going to keep it on my bedside table for re-reading through the remainder of the year.

Nouwen frames the entire book with Jesus’ temptation narrative of Matthew 4 and also with Peter’s re-instatement narrative of John 21. A Christian leader for the 21st century takes the shape of a humble servant.

Nouwen is honest about where 25 years of teaching, studying, and lecturing at Harvard took him. It made him honestly into a person who prayed poorly, living in isolation, and busy with ‘burning issues.’ “I was living in a dark place and the term ‘burnout’ was a convenient psychological translation for a spiritual death.” (20-21)

Nouwen moved from his teaching role at Harvard to a handicapped facility called L’Arche. It was a completely different place of ministry for him. I can imagine this amazing teacher relocating to a place that was completely different than he was used to being.

Nouwen confronts the temptation that is always there in ministry, relevance. Nouwen went from a lecture hall to a hospital setting… all of his training didn’t mean anything, anymore. He honestly felt ‘naked’, as if he was starting all over again. He thought this was the most important time for him, though. He was able to rediscover his identity, to find an ‘unadorned self’. (28) Nouwen charges that the leader of the 21st century is “called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.” (30)

Nouwen does something unique with Jesus’ temptation to turn stones to bread as a temptation to be relevant. Ministers are tempted to have the answer for those who are starving, having the ability to help the poor and downcast. Nouwen believes that many ministers suffer from low esteem, or having a hard time believing that they have any impact and that there is such, ‘little praise and much criticism in the church today.” (30-32)

The world is pushing ministers away, feeling that they can find their own way without the help of clergy. However, underneath all accomplishments and confidence there is despair in the lives of many, there is loneliness, uselessness, and depression. (33) It is here that Nouwen posits where ministry becomes ‘relevant’. Both the average person and the minister find themselves in a place where they can resonate with one another. Both experience anguish and the minister can ‘bring the light of Jesus there.’ (35) Even Jesus was ignored by the world, ‘crucified and put away’, yet Christian doctrine elevates Jesus’ crucifixion as a way of redemption, “with wounds in his gloried body to a few friends who had eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand.’ (37)

Jesus’ question for Peter, who is in a place of loneliness, despair, and depression is “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17) Jesus’ only vocational calling was to show the Father’s love. Jesus isn’t directly asking if Peter is sorry for what he is done; Jesus asks if Peter wants to know the love of God. Herein Nouwen believes is the important vocation of the minister. In a world of despair, the world doesn’t need something relevant, but to know the love of God. “Knowing the heart of Jesus,” Nouwen writes, “and loving him are the same thing. The knowledge of Jesus’ heart is a knowledge of the heart. And when we live in the world with that knowledge, we cannot do other than bring, healing, reconciliation, new life, and hope wherever we go.” (41)

Nouwen suggests the spiritual practice of contemplative prayer for the believer. “Contemplative prayer keeps us home, rooted, and safe, even when we are on the road, moving from place to place, and often surround by sounds of violence and war. Contemplative prayer deepens in us the knowledge that we are already free, that we have already found a place to dwell, that we already belong to God, even though everything and everyone around us keep suggesting the opposite.” (43) Nouwen continues, “When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.” (45-47)

Ministry in Jesus’ name helps us remove the temptation of being ‘spectacular’ and ‘popular’ and learn to do ministry alongside others. Jesus’ call to Peter is not an individual shepherd position, but to learn to ministry in a communal expression. Nouwen writes, ‘we are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.” (61-62)

Nouwen suggests the discipline of confession and forgiveness to help us become isolated and elevated in ministry. “Confession and forgiveness are the concrete forms in which we sinful people love one another.” (64) Nouwen goes on to warn us that, “when spirituality becomes spiritualization, life in the body becomes carnality. When ministers and priests live their ministry mostly in their heads and relate to the Gospel as a set of valuable ideas to be announced, the body quickly takes revenge by screaming loudly for affection and intimacy.” (67-68)

Nouwen then turns towards the temptation to be powerful. “The mystery of leadership,” Nouwen adds, “is to be led.” (75) The temptation over all of church history is for God’s people to reach for power, even though Jesus did not reach for such power, but emptied Himself, instead. (Matt 4:9; Phil 2) Nouwen believes that people are pouring out of churches because church leaders are perceived as straining for gaining power, instead of being led. (76) “Many christian-empire builders have been people unable to give and receive love.” (79)

Peter was confronted with this idea. Instead of ultimately being a leader with power, Jesus said that there would be a day when people would lead him where he didn’t want to go, he would have no power over his own life. (John 21:18) “The most important quality of Christian leadership in the future… (is a leadership) in which power is constantly abandoned in favor of love. It is true spiritual leadership… (this leadership) refer(s) to people who are so deeply in love with Jesus that they are ready to follow him wherever he guides them, always trusting that, with him, they will find life and find it abundantly.” (82-84)