Month: May 2008

quote about angst

George Maloney writes in Inward Stillness p. 131:

Man’s instinct does not tell him, as animal’s instinct does, what he must do. Because he has to cut himself off from the roots of his past by throwing away traditions, he is at a loss as to what he ought to do. Usually he finds himself in the position that he does not know what he wants exactly.

Reminds me of Alain De Botton talking about how our supposed ability to do anything and be anything causes us a lot of unhappiness. As much as I’ve always rebelled against tradition, there is much to be said for it giving a firm sense of identity.

Quote: pastors as shopkeepers

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with a shopkeeper’s concerns – how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from the competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

– Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles : p. 2.

Yoder on church growth, the Great Commission and mission

I knew that Anabaptist theologian John Howard Yoder’s “Baptism and the new humanity” chapter of Body Politics had key things to say about my previous post concerning the shape of the church and anabaptist versus emerging church ecclesiology – but I forgot how many related issues this chapter speaks to. I went back and read some of it this morning, actually as research for my new novel (The Fur 2! I was going to put some of these ideas in the mouth of Stephen the preacher), but I ended up not getting any writing done because he gave me so much to think about.
First, this quote:
For still others, the “mission of the church” should be understood much more realistically… as planting viable church communities in every culture, especially where there has been none before. What then if such planting and growth could be facilitated by accepting ethnic isolation and defensiveness because in certain homogenous cultures people will not forsake their own cultural style? That price in terms of ethical compromise would be worth paying for the sake of church growth. (37)
That sums up an anabaptist critique of church growth and emerging church very well. Yoder goes on to ask questions about the Great Commission.

The Book of Acts does not report that the apostles remembered the so-called “Great Commission” and conscientiously set about obeying it. Nor do we see them thinking about the lost status of individuals whom they had not reached. The event of ingathering came first. Only later did the Twelve think about it. Only still later did they “send” someone. The theology to explain the rightness of the ingathering was imposed by the events, which it explained after the fact. The Twelve did not set out to obey the Great Commission; they talked about the risen Lord and they broke bread together in their homes and thus they found themselves together first with Hellenized Jews and then even with Gentiles… The action of mission was prior to theory about it.

This observation might provide some guidance within the current lively debates about “church growth” and cultural homogeneity… If reconciliation between peoples and cultures is not happening, the Gospel’s truth is not being confirmed in that place.

– Body Politics p. 37-38

I’ve been worried about how the Great Commission is used, especially by church growth people. WA Baptists favourite John Kaiser starts with the Great Commission and then asks how we can most efficiently do it. The assumption is that we know what the Great Commission means. Yoder drops a couple of hints that it doesn’t mean what we think it means. He doesn’t seem to think it’s as important as church growth people make it either. I want to know more about his argument here, because as the last words of Jesus in Matthew at least, and as a command, it is of course important. But here’s Yoder’s footnote on it:

For two centuries the term ‘Great Commission’ has been the code label for Matthew 28:20 ‘Make disciples of all nations, as you go, baptizing them, teaching them…’ This was understood as the most specific statement of the missionary imperative the church was called to obey. In the beginning of the modern missionary movement, there were debates about whether this command was still binding, or whether perhaps the apostles had already done it. Often the first words “Go ye” were accentuated, although in the Greek that is said adverbially, as it is rendered above: “As you go…” (p. 85)

I think Yoder would say – and I say – it is still binding. As usual, he gives us a history of an idea as a first step, and expects us to do the work from there. In calling it the Great Commission, we bring a whole set of ideas to the command. Translated as he has done it here, it has a different sense – ‘as you go’.

It seems to be a feature of a lot of evangelicalism to accept a certain sense of the Great Commission, with distinctives coming out of the best way to do it. Here’s some rough stereotypes:

1. Sydney Anglicans – personal evangelism using doctrinally correct resources (2 ways to live)

2. Church Growth – seeker sensitive mega-churches using research about what people groups are looking for. (This has probably moved on a bit)

3. Emerging missional church – incarnational mission to particular people groups – ie small church expressions among subcultures.

To differing extents, all three of these streams would see the command as being filled in individual conversions. In their classical expressions, none of them would see the shape of the church, the breaking down of emnity between races and classes and genders, as a part of the good news. But in all of them, there’s people willing to listen to the idea!


Why the church must be attractional: an Anabaptist critique of the emerging missional church via Milbank

A few weeks ago, Hamo wrote an interesting post called ‘Why the missional incarnational church is screwed’. He quoted at length from the postliberal theologian John Milbank:

The church cannot be found amongst the merely like-minded, who associate in order to share a particular taste, hobby or perversion. It can only be found where many different peoples possessing many different gifts collaborate in order to produce a divine–human community in one specific location.

St Paul wrote to Galatia and Corinth, not to regiments or to weaving-clubs for widows. He insisted on a unity that emerges from the harmonious blending of differences. Hence the idea that the church should ‘plant’ itself in various sordid and airless interstices of our contemporary world, instead of calling people to ‘come to church’, is wrongheaded, because the refusal to come out of oneself and go to church is simply the refusal of church per se.

One can’t set up a church in a cafe amongst a gang of youths who like skateboarding because all this does is promote skateboarding and dysfunctional escapist maleness, along with that type of private but extra-ecclesial security that is offered by the notion of ‘being saved’.”

– From ‘Stale Expressions: the Management-Shaped Church’, Studies in Christian Ethics, April 2008 by John Milbank.

It would be wrong to focus on Milbank’s defence of the parish and how admittedly un-diverse many parishes are, rather than his critique of emerging-missional ecclesiology. I’m no great fan of the parish, but it’s these words and talking to Ian Packer while he was over that have helped consolidate my points of difference with EMC ecclesiology. As much as great things are happening with the EMC, I think it would be a mistake for me to lose the distinctive Anabaptist ecclesiology that I had clear in my head for a while and which Milbank has helped me begin to recover.

I need to re-articulate the fundamental point of disagreement between an anabaptist ecclesiology and the agenda laid out by Frost and Hirsch in The Shaping of Things to Come.

As much as EMC criticisms of church culture are valid, an anabaptist ecclesiology maintains that the church must be attractional. We mustn’t think the two choices are between ‘mega-church attractional beasts’ and ‘incarnational missional communities’. There is a third way…

The church is a counter-cultural community, a city on a hill embodying the gospel, a people called to be now what the world is called to be ultimately. It calls people into a new humanity living in the kingdom of God. It calls people to be baptised into this new humanity where their primary identity is no longer their subculture – whether that be skater, biker, twentysomething, mortgage belter, activist, gay, professional or artist (or Jew, Greek, slave, master, male, female) – but where their identity is in Christ.

The diversity of the church is part of the good news! It announces to the world that the old barriers have been broken down, the emnity between peoples has been overcome. Baptising subcultures as ‘churches’ misses this good news. It may even risk retaining an individualistic evangelical idea of what the good news is: ‘personal salvation’.

Where can this church be found?

It’s hard to find, and that’s why we need to articulate the hope, pray for it, and do what we can in the power of the Spirit to practice it.

For me, right now, it is found in Network Vineyard Church. Maybe part of my call is to help the church, right where I am, discover its call to diversity and to the body-life of the kingdom. I want people to know that when they break out of their comfort zone and reach across culture in church, they are partaking in the good news. It starts in small ways. It starts with who you talk to in the coffee break. It leads to you becoming family with people you wouldn’t otherwise associate with: different classes, different races, different outlooks.

Know your story, people!

Reading this history of the Vineyard movement made me remember how important history is. Evangelicals and Charismatics are mostly ignorant of their own history, and are poorer for it. Or I know I am. So many things we take for granted have historical reasons and interesting stories behind them. This book connected the dots of lots of snippets I’d heard about pentecostalism, charismatics and the vineyard since I was a kid – including the Toronto Blessing and John Wimber’s visits to Australia but also things like the impact the Jesus movement had on Christianity in the 1970s.

The radical middle of the title is what Jackson sees as the Vineyard’s capturing of the radical middle of both biblical doctrine and Spirit-led spontaniety. In the early chapters he puts the case for the
Vineyard as being a movement which has managed to harness the best of both the Word stream and the Spirit stream of Christianity. As someone from the Word stream, I saw less of the Word stream in the history which followed, but at the Vineyard’s best, I think he’s right.

As you would expect, John Wimber is central to this history of Vineyard. His story is fascinating, with so many strands and turning points (they’ve already gone out of my head). Spirit empowerment didn’t come instantly to him. He prayed and preached it for a long time until the healing started.

Wimber appears in the pages as a benevolent dictator. Jackson paints him as a flawed but talented man who God raised up to do something special with. He made some questionable calls and lost his passion at times, but comes across as a man who had a special mission and unusual power. The Holy Spirit broke out where he went.

There hasn’t been much room in my thinking for a movement that is centred on a particular individual, as good as he or she might be. Last year I read some things talking about APEPT ministry in the church, and the recovery of apostle-leadership. I guess Wimber had the role of an apostle within Vineyard, bearing at least some resemblance to the function of apostles within the early church (strategic leadership and vision?). I’m still suspicious of concentrating power or influence in one person’s hands, but I’ll grant that there was something special about Wimber and that God genuinely does use particular people.

It’s very disturbing to hear of how Sydney Anglican leaders allegedly treated Wimber in the early nineties; according to Jackson they didn’t even give him a hearing but just told him he was not wanted in Australia. I would like to know how they saw it, but I have encountered some Sydney Anglicans like this. (As well as some wonderful ones.)

I found the more pentecostal phases of Vineyard threatening to my comfort zone. I vacillate between thinking truth might reside here, and feeling that it’s crazy. In fact, even when I think it might have truth, I still think it’s crazy.

The story of the prophet Paul Cain is intriguing. I would like to write a novel inspired by his life. For a time he had the ear of Wimber and influenced the direction of the Vineyard, before a split with him and the Kansas City Prophets. (Alas, a google search reveals he has had a bad fall in the last couple of years and has been stood down from the Kansas church where he was ministering.) Here’s a long quote giving some of his story:
Paul Cain was born in 1929 to his mother Anna who was 45 years old. Anna was pregnant and had inoperable cancer that had eaten away one of her breasts; the doctors sent her home to die. In the throes of death she vowed to offer her child to God, as Hannah had done with Samuel, if the Lord would spare her life. a short time later the Lord spoke to her through an angel and promised her that she would live and bear a son. She was to name him Paul since he would preach the gospel as Paul of old. She was immediately healed, her breast grew back and she suckled her new baby as a medical miracle.

… By the time Paul was eighteen, he had a regular radio ministry and was conducting healing services in a small tent…

… Paul was on the verge of a stellar career in the early 1950s. He had, by this time, received a call to celibacy and became something of a recluse, desiring to be alone with God…

[Leaves the big tent revivals]

In the midst of this, Paul says God spoke to him and told him that if he kept himself from corruption and became content with living a humble life, given to Scripture reading and obedience, one day he would be allowed to stand before a new breed of men and women who were serious about holiness and the things of the Lord. This new breed would be a ‘faceless’ generation wanting nothing for itself and giving God all the glory. God added that this new generation would be used to usher in a great revival and he would see them before his mother died. At that time Anna was 73 years old.

Paul assumed that this would be fulfilled within a few short years but he spent the next 25 years living in a two-bedroom home in Phoenix, Arizona, where he took care of his mother with the help of family members. He spent most of those years reading Scripture and occasionally preaching. He refused to take offerings and trusted the Lord for his income. He briefly pastored two churches and was a help to many leaders during the Charismatic movement.

As the years of seclusion were coming to an end, Paul felt the Lord told him that he would soon see some of the new breed he had so often seen in the prophetic realm. His mother was 102 years old when he met Mike Bickle and others from Kansas City Fellowship in 1987. He said God spoke to him that these were some of the people….

Paul never even considered John Wimber as an option until he was in the room with John delivering a prophetic word to him on December 5, 1988. It was then that God whispered to him that John was the man he had been looking for.

-pp. 181-188

You probably get a sense of the style of this book from this extended quote. No sources are named for the rather big claims that Anna’s breast grew back and the like. (I wanted to know how old she was when she finally did die, but that’s just my obsession with longevity.) It’s a believer’s history and as much as it admits mistakes in the movement, it’s certainly not scholarly.

I found it a very readable book, with a narrative drive. Yet it’s unpolished prose and structurally has problems. If you care about those things.

An insight : proud to be intellectual

My faith is intellectual. I admit it. I’ve been apologising for that for a long time, but yesterday as I passed all these books in my library that I would like to have the time to read, I realised I wasn’t going to apologise for it any longer.

So many people are critical of those of us who find ourselves relating to God through books and ideas. But I had this sudden renewed insight that my way of relating to God might have come from Him.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in being practical. I believe that whatever I come to understand intellectually needs to be lived out or it means nothing. I don’t like endless debating or theological egos. I believe that prayer and all the other spiritual disciplines are essential.

But my faith is nourished by reading, thinking and writing, and just because that doesn’t work for so many people, doesn’t make it wrong for me.

I’ve made the mistake in the past of thinking everyone should be like me and find God in books too, but I mustn’t overcorrect and think that I must be like everyone else.

I also think I have a role in making what I discover accessible, and I intend to keep that up.