Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Beyond Foundationalism I

We have entered into a strange new world of postmodernity. Putting new wine into old wineskin's is no longer viable. We need a new way forward both in our ecclesiology and our theology. Beyond Foundationalism provides that new way forward.

Over the next few weeks I'd like to try and blog my way through this immensely important book. The theological landscape has changed with the advent of postmodernity, and John Franke, and Stanley Grenz have written a masterful account of where theology has been, and where it must go.

Chapter one recounts the era of transition and ferment that exists in theological discourse due to the collapse of the categories and paradigms constructed in the era of the Enlightenment. With the collapse of Enlightenment epistemology, and the advent of the postmodern critique of modern certitude, theology is undergoing major transitions. We live in a world of fragmentation, where culture is shifting like sand in high swells. New categories, and theological pathways are being cleared by pioneers seeking to elucidate a theology that is both true to the norming norm of Scripture, and current with the changing culture.

In Beyond Foundationalism, Franke, and Grenz steer the ship towards a hope filled future in theology, one that is thoroughly postmodern, while holding on tightly to the truths of Scripture. Any conversation regarding the status of theology in our postmodern culture almost necessitates a defense against the slide into radical pluralism. There are those who view the theological task as a bounded set, and their job as patrolling the borders theology with guns drawn seeking to gun down any intruder. It is their perceived job to protect the interpretations of history as normative for all times and places. [History being almost exclusively a brief period of time in European history during the Reformation].

Franke and Grenz propose a new way forward that views theology not as a bounded set, but rather a centered set. They understand the formulations of past creedal confessions to be fallible much like all other human discourse, and provide the impetus for ongoing evaluation of such creeds. The work of God in the lives of believers takes the place of the doctrinal statements of history as the enduring essence of Christianity. To ask questions, and evaluate past systems of belief is not only Christian, it is a key to orthodoxy. Theology is a human response to the context, and history in which he is engaged. Man seeks to describe God and the work of God in a particular context, and it is for this reason that theology is fluid rather than stagnant.

Theology is a journey, a task to be taken by the faithful adherers of the Christian faith. It is an ongoing local, contextual, second-order task that serious Christians undertake to assist the Christian community of their time. We have neither arrived at the telos of theology, nor are we doomed to plunge into radical relativism. Rather we are on a journey with God in discovering his work in our world.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mere Discipleship

In Mere Discipleship grabs Christians by the scruff of the neck and gives them a good shaking. While American Christianity increasingly worships at the altar of convenience and ease, Camp effectively tears down the high places reserved for worship of easy believeism, and Christianity without discipleship.

Being a Christian involves more than a trip to heaven upon death, for real Christianity must move from a personal private spirituality into the realm of the real world where issues, and problems abound. Camp cuts through pop-Christianity, and drives us to a Biblical understanding of what it really means to be a Christian in todays world.

In Part One of his book Camp elucidates what real Christianity looks like. The "Constantinian Cataract" [page 21] that has impacted our view of the world is clearly delineated. Christianity is not a religion for private worship only, but rather realizes that the kingdom of God has broken in to all areas of life, political, social, and religious. As followers of Jesus Christians are pledging allegiance to a new kingdom, not following after the spoils of this world, with its promise that more power, wealth, and social standing equal success. Camp emphasizes that true Christianity is found in radical discipleship, the willingness to give up all and follow after Jesus in building the kingdom of God in our context.

In Part Two, Camp moves on to what disciples believe. With the plethora of Christian literature available today, one would think that orthodoxy would be easily accessible. Unfortunately, this is not the case today. The gospel has been reduced to a fire insurance policy, with no real relevance to life in the here and now. Camp defends the position that the gospel is the coming of the kingdom of God into this Aeon, a new period of history has been inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Jesus. For this reason, the gospel necessitates an orienting of our lives around the way of the cross, an orientation that focuses our attention on the kingdom of God. The power of Christianity is not found in the ways of the world, gaining more power and authority, and climbing the company ladder. Rather we seek to follow in the footsteps of our savior, the way of suffering and the way of love.

Camp is direct on his views of the violence that is often times espoused by "Christian" leaders. America seeks to continue it's domination through colonialism, exporting our religious convictions in a Constantinian paradigm. We have divided the world between the righteous who are with us, and the axis of evil that we must fight against. Camp is at his best when he brings the issue of worship into the conversation. As worshiping Christians we must understand that part of our acceptable form of worship is to choose to love the other in spite of their actions toward us. In this way Camp has captured the heart of Christianity, and what our posture towards the other should be.

In Part Three of his book, Camp concludes with how disciples should behave. As Christians we are to be known by our love. That love should extend to not only those we identify with, but also to those who persecute us. What good is it to love the lovable? Christianity is a radical perspective in regards to those we love. We are to worship our creator, and love both his creation and others. This involves a self sacrifice, and giving of both ourselves and our possessions to those in need.

This book will challenge your mind, and shake the foundations of what you believe real Christianity to be all about. It is an extremely helpful book in an age of easy Christianity without sacrifice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why Pray?

Why pray?

We pray because we long for something better. We recognize that evil is in our world, and we long for the day of restoration. Death, disease, hurt, discouragement, betrayal, hardship, we pray for strength to make it through the difficult times in life, and we long for a day when God will answer our prayers.

Prayers is our connection to God, it is our way of asking God to intercede in our lives. We long for the day of redemption when God will be all in all, when he will restore all things and we live forever with him. Prayer is our longing to God for that day. N.T. Wright said it well:

Christian prayer is simply in the sense that a small child can pray the prayer Jesus taught. But it is hard in the demands it makes as we go on with it. We are called to live at the overlap both of heaven and earth – the earth that has yet to be fully redeemed as one day it will be – and of God’s future and this world’s present. We are caught in a small island near the point where these tectonic plates, heaven and earth, future and present, are scrunching themselves together.

God’s whole creation is groaning in labor-pains, waiting for the new world to be born from its womb. The church, God’s people in the Messiah, find themselves caught up in this, as we, too, groan in longing for redemption. Christian prayer is at its most characteristic when we find ourselves caught in the overlap of the ages, part of the creation that aches for new birth
.” [Wright, 146]

Saturday, May 17, 2008

An Evangelical Manifesto

I read through the recently published Evangelical Manifesto this morning, and decided to post a few thoughts regarding the document.

1. I was glad to see the recognition of global Christianity. A clear understanding is made that we are not the holders of evangelicalism, or Christianity here in America. The document clearly states a recognition of a fresh infusion from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. It also makes me wonder if all these sects of Christianity can indeed be considered "evangelical". If evangelical is to mean a commitment to the teachings and message of Jesus, we can all jump on board, but when the definition constricts to specific theological assumptions and beliefs, we may have a problem on our hands.

2. I appreciated the statement of faith in the manifesto. Broad enough to avoid unnecessary distinctive, and narrow enough to be distinctives to the message of Jesus.

3. The statement is at it's best when recognizing the failures of evangelicals in history. We are not a pure spotless church without the staining of controversy, and behavior that denies the teaching of Jesus.

4. The idea that creeds and tradition are not ultimately decisive is Utopians, but simply untrue when fleshed out. Can evangelicals with any veracity claim that their belief system is not the product of creedal history?

5. Our fight for justice must remain [and in some cases begin] to be a clear demonstration of what being an evangelical is all about.

6. I agree that fundamentalism is deeply sub-Christian in many ways. It's forced interpretation of Scripture, and it's exodus from culture [rather than an engagement to transform it], and its use of labels and divisions are just a few examples of where fundamentalism misses the boat.

7. "Reformers we ourselves need to be reformed. Protestants, we are the ones against whom protest must be made." We need that today more than ever.

8. "All too often we have concentrated on great truths of the Bible, such as the cross of Jesus, but have failed to apply them to other biblical truths, such as creation. In the process we have impoverished ourselves, and supported a culture broadly careless about the stewardship of the earth and negligent of the arts and the creative centers of society." Brilliant.

9. Section 2, in it's recalling of where evangelicals have strayed is by far the most gripping portion of the entire document. An authentic recognition of our failures, and where we need to point our compass to get back on track.

10. The manifesto rightly echoes Greg Boyd by calling evangelicals not to be equated with any political party.

11. The criticism of Constantinian Christianity is wholly accurate, and needs correction. Too many Christians worldview is really the result of a Constantinian Cataract

The manifesto represents a call to a more holistic form of Christianity. It is refreshing to see the honest assessment of American evangelicalism, as well a manifesto for a way forward. A few closing thoughts:

I'm still not sure why some are so persistent to salvage the term evangelical. Would it not be better to drop the label all together, and simply live in the way of Jesus. In an increasingly postmodern society, I think labels will become obsolete.

I worry that the manifesto is a form of colonialism that plagued Christianity in the modern era. Exporting a belief system, or way of Christianity without recognizing the highly contextual nature of the faith can be damaging.

The manifesto only works if we begin to live like Christians, our words on paper will not amount to a hill of beans without the actions to follow them up.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Live by the sword, die by the sword

"Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle, when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and teh punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs"?


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Questions and Doubts

I sometimes wonder what questions are out of bounds...

You know, never talk politics and religion, because your only headed for a fight.

I wonder if there are questions we are not permitted to ask God. In my life, I've asked God some difficult questions, and at times doubted His answers.

I always hesitate when sharing my doubts with others, sometimes I worry that my position will cause others to doubt their own faith.

But at the same time, I wonder if expressing your doubts openly and honestly is a way to encourage faith. If faith is a relationship, and the Christian life a journey, then are we not all on that journey, experiencing ups and downs, good times and bad times, times of great faith, and times where our faith is dwarfed by that of a mustard seed.

If faith is a journey, doubts are a necessary junction in that journey. Being free from doubt and questions may mean that your faith is stagnant.

Pray Continually

“Pray Continually”
1 Thessalonians 5:17

As Paul comes to the end of his book to the Thessalonians he has included for us a few brief phrases that sum up the Christian life:

Be joyful always [vs. 16]
Pray continually [vs. 17]
Give thanks in all circumstances [vs. 18]
Don’t put out the Holy Spirit’s fire [vs. 19]
Don’t treat prophecies with contempt [vs. 20]
Test everything [vs. 21]
Avoid every kind of evil [vs. 22]

These can be seen a short memory tools to help the early Christians remember what they believed, and how they were to act. But what does it mean to pray continually?

A year ago I broke my cell phone. Ok, I really didn’t break it, [I wish I had a story about how I was scaling a massive rock formation, and my phone fell from my pocket as I reached the summit]; actually I accidentally dropped it in a cup of coffee [which apparently is not good for your phone]. I didn’t have a cell phone for about a month after that, and it was a great month.

I’m not a lover of cell phones; we have a love hate relationship. I love them when I really need them, when I’m stranded on the side of the road, or when I need to track someone down at my convenience. I hate them because they make me constantly available to anyone who has my number. Anyone at anytime can call on me with a request. It’s not that I don’t like hearing from people, but sometimes I wish I had a time of quiet without the distraction.

Praying continually means that we have a constant connection with God. We have his personal cell phone number.

The words pray without ceasing actually mean “constantly recurring”. We are not to wander through our day mumbling prayers at all times, but rather what Paul wants us to do is to be constantly in communication with God. We are to go through our day as part of a long conversation with God, who knows our desires and wants to answer our prayers. We are to live with faith believing that God is there and that God is listening to us. So if you in need today, you know whom to call.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Lord's Prayer

“This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” --Matthew 6:9-13

In the ancient world there were many deities to which people would pray. Long complicated prayers were often the norm in an attempt to pacify or persuade some god or goddess to be favorable to them. The problem was that no one knew which deity one might need to pacify on any given day, so the prayers were often repeated over and over again and contained “magic words” used to please the gods.

Prayer today can be seen in two categories. For some it is simply shouting off into the distance to a God who is far away, with the hope that he may arbitrarily act on behalf of the seeker. For others prayer is a powerful experience of the love of God. His presence is palpable and his love surrounds us. For most Christians, the experience is somewhere in the middle.

The Lord’s Prayer is not meant to be recited as some sort of magic prayer, but rather it provides the framework for all our prayers to God. A few things to notice:

First, the prayer is deeply meaningful. It addresses God as Father; it shows that God is involved in our world, and in our lives in a deep and meaningful way. We can speak to God in our normal human language and he listens to us.

Second, God is not some man made idol, or something unknown or inanimate. He is the living God who dwells in heaven. The prayer is not meant to focus on ourselves and our needs, but rather the work of God in this world that we are a part of: “Your kingdom come, you will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Third, we can pray for the things we need on a daily basis, but not only for ourselves, but also for that of the whole world. We pray for our daily bread, but we must also remember to pray for those who are without, those who are in greater need than we are.

Finally, we pray for forgiveness. Many religions assume that evil deeds done on this earth result in eternal consequences. We believe in a God who can and does forgive, and we are to ask for that forgiveness. As we ask for this forgiveness, we are to remember that we should be in the habit of forgiving others so that God can forgive us.

Friday, May 2, 2008


“O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.”
-- Psalm 22:2

Prayer. It’s one of the most mysterious, and difficult of the spiritual disciplines. Ask most Christians what spiritual discipline they struggle the most with, and prayer will be at the top of many of their lists. Distractions, time, lack of clear answers, all of these are stumbling blocks to our communication with God.

Prayer is a strange thing if you think about it. We bring to God some of the most significant events of our lives. Our burdens, our tragedies, our deepest desires; we cry out to God in private giving them over to Him. We ask and sometimes beg for an answer, and yet often times we hear no audible response.

For some prayer is simply an opiate to numb our pain. The weak turn to prayer as a way to deal with their problems, for intelligent people know that prayer really doesn’t change anything, how could it. With so many tragedies in the world, are we really so ignorant to think that God above would hear our insignificant problems, and be interested in our lives?

We pray to a God we cannot see, and we hope for an answer that we cannot hear. Prayer is a mysterious and mystical discipline. And yet, it is a powerful one.

Lives have been changed through prayer, desperate requests have been answered, and guidance has been received. Though we cannot hear an audible voice with an answer, many would testify to the hand of God guiding them through the labyrinth of problems in their lives.

Over the next few days I would like to interact with the idea of prayer from Scripture. We are told to make our requests known to God because he hears our prayers, and answers them according to his will.

Prayer is a mystical experience, an encounter with the divine. It is our direct connection to God.