Apologetics in post-modernity

1 01 2009

One of the statements made by Andy Stanley at the Catalyst Conference this fall keeps ringing in my head: “If you are over 45 years old, you aren’t going to have any good ideas. It’s your job to recognize the good ideas.” I take a statement like this as a challenge not another nail in the coffin for those of us in this age group. The challenge is to not submit to the comfort of just “doing church” but to press forward – learn new things and engage in new ways.

Well, Andy Stanley’s statement rang again today when I read a series of questions that John H. Armstrong used in a graudate class in apologetics he taught last month at Wheaton College. I think these are the type of questions that can really help us move toward engagement – they provide a good map about what we need to be learning and applying. John Armstrong credits these questions to Newbigin’s book Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship:

1. What are the questions that the postmodern person asks that were not asked 25 years ago?

2. What specific influence does Hinduism have upon the “new-age” movement in the West?

3. How can we speak about apologetics in a way that makes it accessible to ordinary people?

4. How do we approach the issue of evil with unbelievers?

5. Does conservative and fundamentalist Christianity actually pose a major problem for serious apologetics in today’s world and if so how do we deal with this problem?

6. Do Marxism and radical Islam have anything in common and if so how do we address these problems?

7. How do we respond to the “So What?” responses of many postmodern hearers?

8. Does our commitment to seeking justice and mercy in society act as a form of apologetics and if so how can we do this better?

9. How do we change every sphere of society?

10. In what ways is the Christian faith “public truth” as Newbigin cogently argues?

11. Is the community of Christ our greatest apologetic and if so what does unity and John 17 have to do with this in actual practice?





Thomas Merton

13 12 2008

Please avoid reading anything written by Thomas Merton – you will probably not sleep well. Thomas Merton exposes more than most of us want to see – he looks at life very seriously in stark contrast to most of us busily being busy. I’ve started reading Merton and not I’m sure what would be safe to post … well – here’s something short that may not cause much harm:

If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person. 

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the end of Thomas Merton’s life (1915-1968 ) which is being commemorated, in part, by a documentary produced by Morgan Atkinson that will air on PBS beginning tomorrow. Locally WFSU-TV didn’t place it very well on their schedule so set your DVR to record at either 2 or 4 am Monday.





Small groups need a mission

23 10 2008

Scott Boren knows what works and what doesn’t when it comes to small groups.  Both of his books are excellent resources for anyone engaged in forming or leading small groups.

I recently read his latest book, How Do We Get There From Here?: Navigating the Transformation to Holistic Small Groups – here are a few of the points that really stuck with me:

♦ Small groups only work when they exist to change the world.

♦ The only way to train leaders is to mentor.

♦ The focus of small groups must be to expand the group ultimately to start new churches, train new pastors and impact the world.

♦ Small groups will not work if they are just about deep knowledge without reference to practical ways the group can live out what they discuss.

♦ Small groups have three core requirements:
    1) Members must be discipled
    2) Leaders must be coached and invested in
    3) The church must value small groups above all other church activities/functions

♦ Effective small groups need to:
    1) Be holistic in nature
    2) Meet for a task
    3) Have a stated purpose of reaching nonbelievers
    4) Be intentional at raising up new leaders and multiplying groups

You can read the Introduction here and a second sort of introduction titled Navigational Hazards here (where Scott discusses eight typcal hazards encountered by churches intentionally moving toward small groups).





What if church was a way of life?

8 09 2008

 

 

 

 

Liquid church?  Networked church?  What are you talking about!?  Typically this is the reaction many of us have – especially those of us who have been part of the church in North American for more than a few years.  The thought of church possibly being something quite different just isn’t plausible – especially if what we have been doing “works.”  May I suggest these concepts are foreign because we have no alternate experience and/or we are so busy with what we know we don’t take the time to imagine or even investigate alternatives that may “work” so much better.

So what does a networked or liquid church look like?  The good news is that there are many examples of liquid/networked chruches.  The bad news (for us moderns that want to systematize everything) is that they are not models but ways of life.  Adullam in Denver, Colorado, is one such way of life.  Here is their story of beginning followed by a description of who they are – they use the term “village”:

Adullam’s story:

“Adullam began without a name and without plans to start a church. Hugh & Cheryl Halter and Matt and Maren Smay moved to Denver in 2003, after leaving their respective church plants to centralize their ministry of missional church plant training. They work with a missions agency called Church Resource Ministries and have spent the last four years training leaders in how to be “missionaries” in North America. While traveling and training around the country under the name “missio” they simply lived what they taught. The focus of our training is that you don’t begin with a structure or a church strategy; you begin with people. The missional flow is to engage culture, form community, and then structure congregation as people naturally draw together for God’s purposes in their city.

“The first year we simply lived out the gospel in our neighborhoods and it began to draw a group of people from our local Starbucks and began discussing what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. As time passed this group began to grow and eventually we had to acknowledge that we were “church.” Hugh & Matt still lead Missio and spend most of their time training leaders. You can find out about Missio at www.missio.us. Adullam is not where we go to church. Adullam is our life, our friends, and the people we are on mission with. We can honestly say, that we’ve become church by trying not to do church.” Read the rest of this entry »





“The PCA: A Missional Church?”

2 09 2008

Church denominations have meetings periodically and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is no exception.  The PCA has an annual “General Assembly” which is a great place to catch up with friends but where there seems to be little forward progress made on reaching our culture with the Gospel.  I must confess that I have very limited experience with such meetings (I have attended only one – I think it was in 2003) but I have reviewed the summaries of some of these meetings and they don’t appear to vary much (here are the “highlights” from 2008).  Two years ago, however, there was a message that needs to not get lost in the annals of the denomination by Randy Pope who addressed what it means to “become all things to all men in order to win some to Christ.” Here’s what he had to say about how to do that in the context of present day western culture:

download mp3





Making the shift to small groups

15 08 2008

As we grow in our understanding and practice of relational spiritual formation (which is the intent of small group communities) we open up environments that provide the opportunity to experience something markedly different from what we experience in a programmed or teaching based methodology. David Augsburger in his book Dissident Discipleship provides some key questions for small group environments. For me these questions are certainly challenging but they also create a sense of hope. There are places God wants to take us that we have not been before – places where we are more connected with each other and the reality of what He is doing all around us:

How can I learn a spirituality that nurtures human wholeness unless I commit myself to do all I can and contribute all I can to building a community where we together are seeking ways to practice the imitation of Christ? Or will I have to be content with a spirituality of desirable but finally optional ventures?

How can I find spiritual co-travelers who are willing to invest time, give attention, risk self-disclosing, and jointly covenant for a life of shared responsible discipleship? Or will I have to go it alone and learn that part of spirituality that is possible for a self that is seeking to transcend itself by itself?

How can I learn a spirituality of accountability to God unless I have the opportunity to be accountable to significant others? How can I live a spirituality of accountability unless I participate in a community where my acts and their consequences are visible to all who are affected by them? Or will I have to settle for a spirituality that is answerable ultimately only to itself?

How can I learn a spirituality of humility and equality before God unless I live a community where hierarchy is unnatural, where dominance is not rewarded, and where superiority is neither desirable nor inevitable? Or will I have to claim my place in a spirituality of entitlement if I am privileged, or of disentitlement if I am not?

How can I learn a spirituality of immediate and reflexive concern for the needs of others that seeks to do something about the unjust distribution of resources unless I contribute to a community where sharing is meaningful because we agree to consume less, waste less, do more with less? Or will I have to follow a spirituality that costs me very little?

How can I learn a spirituality of dissident discipleship that takes risks in the imitation of Christ unless I join a community that offers support for maintaining a consistent and sensitive conscience? Or will I have to find a rationale for a spirituality that smoothes the contradictions and offers comfort for my unease before the call of Christ?

How can I learn a spirituality of deep reverence for the preciousness of persons unless I practice such honor of others in a community where we are persons, not roles, to each other? Or is the cost of all of this too high to consider in a world that allows self-realization as its highest good?





Relationships and church

18 07 2008

If you have ever been on the home page of wordpress.com you have noticed how many blogs they host – the number today is 3,592,233. That is a heck of a lot of communication – perhaps overwhelming but if your antenna is tuned well there is much that can be fairly easily gleaned – and it is very helpful if we desire to navigate rather than drift through this liminal time. Aside form getting information, blogs are good at connecting us not just personally but conceptually – you can explore your imaginations/concepts/ideas and see if they resonate with anyone else. I think finding those resonates provides a much need sense of direction and quite possibly a clue in confirming what God is up to.

I recently experienced one of those resonates in reading David Hayward’s blog. From his “about” he is a pastor, musician and artist who lives in New Brunswick, Canada. Here’s what he had to say in two recent posts:

Communal Risks: Friendship

Although there are many communal dangers, I want to talk about the difficulty community brings to friendship. I told Lisa this morning that I feel like there’s a stone of sorrow anchored deep within me. On one level I trust all will be well. This is where any hope I have resides. At another level I see through a very dark glass and live in a world without any glimmer of hope at all. Being in the church has its good parts. When it’s good it’s awesome. But it is also a very difficult way to live. Like one friend said to me recently: she’s found the church to be a place of incredible pain when it comes to relationships. She’s surprised she’s still committed. But she’s right. Where there’s any spirit, the flesh wars against it. Which is why mixing friendship with religion and community is incredibly delicate, risky and often painful. When there’s agreement, things sail. When there’s not, there’s severance, divorce, destruction and indescribable grief. That’s been my experience. I could choose to have a few friends, kindred spirits, and keep it at that. Then go to a church where I can remain anonymous, get my liturgical fix and go home to my buddies afterwards. But no. That’s not me.

Or I could just keep faith out of my relationships altogether. Don’t even bring it up. But unfortunately faith isn’t just a hobby with me, an intellectual pursuit, a passing interest, an anthropological obsession. Somehow, faith, spirit, religion, relationship with I AM, has gripped my life to such an extent that it’s become essential to who I am. It is integral. To neglect it or deny it or suppress it in my relationships would be at least inauthentic and at worst suicidal. I can’t stand relating on a superficial level, pretending to be something I’m not pretending you’re someone you’re not. I have to be all out there or not at all. I resist becoming a rubber stamp endorsing what others do just to avoid conflict and make the mood in the room comfortable. I wish not to dial down just to stay in relationship with someone. And this has brought me the loss of many, many friends. It continues to happen to this day. And it tears my heart out every single time.

Let’s see: keep friends but deny who I am and live on a superficial level; or live freely as who I am and risk the loss of relationship? Believe me, the choice is a difficult one.

Fatigue

Fatigue = “a lessening of one’s response to or enthusiasm for something, typically as a result of overexposure to it.”

Some of you might say that I need to get out more. Take breaks! Go fishing! Take a ride on your motorcycle! I do that, but that only helps momentarily. There is something deeper that is wrong. It is more serious than just overexposure. I believe that it is somehow related to the fact that much of what we do isn’t related to real life. Somehow, we find ourselves sucked into doing something that isn’t essential to who we are. We carry this gnawing suspicion that we are serving a system we don’t believe in. Most of our energy is consumed slaving under meaningless duties. Years ago I took a time management course because I felt I was wasting too much time on useless stuff. The seminar was expensive. I left that course very passionate about organizing and managing my life. After a few months, however, I realized that all I was doing was organizing and managing the same old useless stuff. I had a revelation that managing my life was meaningless unless my life itself was changed.

Years ago I read a book by Easum and Bandy called Growing Spiritual Redwoods. I don’t recall anything else about the book except one declaration that the future church would not support codependent relationships. I remember how radical and dangerous an idea that was because that would pretty much empty most churches. Imagine if you stopped supporting codependence in all your relationships. Do you wonder how lonely you’d become? Most of what we do is fulfill other’s expectations of us. We grant other’s their desires.

Something else I’ve noticed: one week I decided to analyze the phone-calls and visits I was getting at the church building. The greatest majority of them were business related… that is, almost all of them had to do with somebody wanting something or trying to get me to want something. It’s like when you’re having supper with your family… that’s when the tele-marketers call.

It’s one thing to be actually engaged in life and relationships in a healthy way. It’s another to be entangled and trapped in an artificial pseudo-life and in unhealthy codependent relationships. I don’t think I suffer from overexposure to church and ministry. I compare it to fishing when you are being inundated with black-flies and mosquitoes. The fishing itself is a pleasure, but after a while the perpetual menace of insects exhausts you. It’s the distractions that kill us. Like someone once told me: “It’s hard to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators!”