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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: brian mclaren

Regress on Hunger

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Instead of making progress on hunger globally, indicators show that the hunger crisis around the world is increasing - one out of every 6 people.  Take a look at these statistics (for more information, read this article or this one:

  • World hunger is projected to reach a historic high in 2009 with 1,020 million people going hungry every day.
  • “A dangerous mix of the global economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.
  • The number of hungry people increased between 1995-97 and 2004-06 in all regions except Latin America and the Caribbean. But even in this region, gains in hunger reduction have been reversed as a result of high food prices and the current global economic downturn.
  • The urban poor will probably face the most severe problems in coping with the global recession, because lower export demand and reduced foreign direct investment are more likely to hit urban jobs harder. But rural areas will not be spared. Millions of urban migrants will have to return to the countryside, forcing the rural poor to share the burden in many cases.
  • While food prices in world markets declined over the past months, domestic prices in developing countries came down more slowly. They remained on average 24 percent higher in real terms by the end of 2008 compared to 2006. For poor consumers, who spend up to 60 percent of their incomes on staple foods, this means a strong reduction in their effective purchasing power. It should also be noted that while they declined, international food commodity prices are still 24 percent higher than in 2006 and 33 percent higher than in 2005.
  • The number of hungry has increased from 825 million people in 1995-97, to 857 million in 2000-02 and 873 million in 2004-06.

I'm saddened that in a world with such forward thinking, progress, innovation, resources, and abilities that hunger worldwide continues to be on the increase.  What's interesting to me (among a lot of things) is the interaction between poverty, globalism, trade, and their relationship to security.  Often we seem so concerned about security, and yet we miss the potential problem with such glaring numbers of people in poverty.  I don't want, though, to regress to merely caring for the poor and hungry because we're afraid they might revolt against global consumerism (and hence global consumerists), and I would hope that we could find it in our hearts to actually care for the poor and hungry who are our fellow human beings - our brothers and sisters.

A good and challenging Christian book that looks at issues of poverty, greed, globalism, and security  and asks some great questions (not so sure about the answers) is Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope.


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McLaren, continued

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St. Louis ArchOk, so I've been gone for awhile.  You may notice, I blip on and off like a bad TV that's been hit by lightening.  True.  When busyness hits, I go underground - at least on the blogosphere.  I wish it weren't so because it's wonderful to write for no other reason that to write, process, and share.  Anyway, this week in September is the busiest week of my year and September is generally the busiest month.  But this summer in general was just plain busy. There are a couple new books I'm reading, or almost done with.  The first is GloboChrist: the Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn by Carl Rashke.  If you'd like to read an excerpt, click hereTall Skinny Kiwi has been blogging about it, and I hope to engage it a bit in the coming weeks.  I'm pretty much done with it.  I'm also half way through Andy Crouch's new book Culture-Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.  Both are good books, and I've enjoyed them both.  Lots to say about Crouch's book.  Raschke's is provocative, interesting, sometimes overstated, and just OK.  I'm going to be starting Gordon MacDonald's book Who Stole My Church soon as well as Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church with one of my youth pastors.

On to McLaren.  I wanted to share a quick metaphor that McLaren used when he was talking about The Gospel and salvation and Kingdom.  To truncate it a bit, Brian was talking about what I've mentioned before about the message from many that the penal substitutionary theory of atonement or receiving Jesus as one's personal savior is the Gospel.  Someone in the audience had questioned him about where he stood on this theory, etc. as the Gospel.  McLaren used a metaphor in which he said something to this affect, "People want to talk a lot about going to Florida and what I think about Florida and how to get to Florida, when I thought we were going to California."  I didn't really like his metaphor, although I thought it raised some important issues.  When you talk to people (like me... and Brian) about the Gospel, our view is wider than the theory of substitutionary atonement or receiving Jesus as Savior.  However, when many people here that, they think we've forfeited the gospel.  I would argue that we are actually saying that the Gospel is more than that, not less.  And for sure, Christ's work on the cross as our substitute to atone for our sin and rebellion against God is key, and core to the Gospel.  However, it is not itself the gospel. 

So, I have an alternative metaphor.  Think for a moment about the St. Louis Archway.  It was originally built in the '60's to commemorate Thomas Jefferson and the Westward expansion of the Americas.  So, imagine with me that the Arch were the actual gateway to the the West, that you would have to pass through the archway to get to the western frontier.  And let's say that the Eastern United States was ruled by a different king and under different rules than the Western United States.  So, let's say you live in the east, and friends of yours have told you about the King and Kingdom of the West, how different it is, how much more humane, how much healthier, etc. it was.  So, you head West from your home in Washington DC and you come to the St. Louis Archway.  You take pictures; you go to the top of the Arch; you even take the helicopter ride.  Then, you settlt there on the banks of Illinois just to the East of the Mississippi river, or maybe you cross over and you set up your new home on the western banks in St. Louis, Missouri.  But, you never go West (young man).  You never see the sprawling Iowa and Nebraska plains, the deserts of Nevada, the mountains of Idaho, or the California coastline.  Even so, you think you've travelled West. 

That's the metaphor I think of when we truncate the Gospel to a theory of atonement, to a sinner's prayer (which much of the time is misunderstood while it's happening), or being born again (not in the biblical John 3 sense - which is more like the West , but in the contemporary sense like the banks of the Mississippi).  Those are all gateways, are all part of going West, but the Gospel is about the King and his Kingdom that are both coming and have come.  And as CS Lewis said, we must go "further up and further in" to experience the beauty and wonder of the place Aslan has prepared for us. 

I'm certainly interested in the St. Louis Arch and getting across the Mississippi, but I also really want to see the Rocky Mountains, the Snake River, the Tetons, the Black Hills, the Grand Canyon, the vineyards, and pacific coast beaches.

After McLaren's talk, my friend and I had the highlight of the evening when we stopped at one of my favorite places:  Traverse Bay Pie Company.  If you're ever near one, you have to stop and have at least a piece of pie, but don't go alone.  Make sure you have a good conversation partner along.


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McLaren at Baker

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Brian McLarenFindint Our Way AgainI went to see Brian McLaren tonight with a friend at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids.  He was on a book tour for his new book in Phyllis Tickle's series on Ancient Spiritual Practices called Finding our Way Again.  He didn't talk a whole lot about the book, but instead talked for a bit about his last three books (The Secret Message of Jesus, Everything Must Change, and this new one) and the kernels of thought and heart that have produced them.  You can tell that McLaren is passionate about change in the world in which we live more in line with the Kingdom of God.  It's always great to hear McLaren, not because he's super-inspiration or charasmatic, but because he opens up the Scriptures often in a new way and his questions are challenging.  I also am particularly fond of his almost fearless (now) prophetic words towards the secular culture and towards the church, particularly the evangelical church.  He answered the typical questions I figured he'd get like "What do I say to my conservative friends who don't like you or think your dangerous" and "what do you really think of hell and the afterlife."  The second one, he really danced around and I wasn't fully satisfied with, but he consistently went back to his reading of Scripture through the lens of the inbreaking Kingdom of God in peace, love, generosity, and goodness.  Here are a couple highlights for me (paraphrases):

"The evangelical church is not meant to be a chaplaincy to secular capitalistic consumerism."

"If you read the passages of the bible literally about some things, you have to read it literally about others."  His example here was the story of the Rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, in which he says, "If you read this passage literally, it seems like the way to get to hell is by being prosperous, and the way to get to heaven is to be a poor beggar with nothing."

McLaren also talked about what the Gospel is and how it relates to things like penal substitutionary atonement and he also responded to Driscoll's comments (although Driscoll was unnamed) attacking McLaren - the jist being that McLaren's Jesus is too soft and sissy, and Driscoll's Jesus who appears again in on a war-path of violence against his enemies.  McLaren was excellent on this point and gracious to his detractors as always.  I'm not going to sum it up except to say that McLaren is thinking about writing a book that responds to the misunderstandings of his critics.  On this note he talked about exclusivism, inclusivism, and universalism in terms of salvation - and I think I'll try to post on that next.

Overall it was an uneventful but stimulating discussion as always.  McLaren speaks today at Mars Hill, in case you're interested. 


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The Future of Evangelicalism 12: Who's Afraid?

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As I'm mentioning some things about evangelicalism again, let me talk about another.  I recently read and finished James KA Smith's book Who's Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.  If you read my blog, you can see why I'm interested in this book.  Actually, I read it in a very busy week, but got it done.  I really liked it in a lot of ways because Smith was able to put to words many of the things I've talked about in this blog and thought about but haven't been able to articulate in the way that he does.  Smith is kind of an alter ego for me.  He reminds me of what I might have been like had I chosen the philosophy route rather than the ministry route.  Smith is just a tad older than me, did some study at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, did his PHD under John Caputo, and understands a lot about the postmodern philosophy and Christianity.  He's confessionally reformed and teaches philosophy as an Associate Professor at Calvin College.  He's also the editor of The Church and Postmodern Culture series through Baker Academic, the same series that published John Caputos What Would Jesus Deconstruct.  He appears to have some sort of friendship with the likes of John Franke, Kevin VanHoozer, Brian McLaren, and of course, John Caputo.   (Smith's blog can be found here.) Quick overview and minor review:  This book basicly takes a look at the popular Christian (mis)understandings of the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault.  I'm interested because these three have had a significant effect upon my own thinking since my study of them in the early 1990's.  What Smith does mirrors my own journey of trying understand what these thinkers really are saying, and how it might actually be - not destructive - but constructive to our Christian faith, particularly in our culture shift away from modernity.  Many of Smith's conclusions are also my own, and that was very affirming because he's way smarter than I am.  Anyway, Smith basically does three things:  First he debunks the pop-understanding.  Second, he explicates a clear understanding of a core piece of their philosophy that could be helpful to Christian theology, faith, and practice.  Thirdly, he ends each section with prescriptive ideas for what a postmodern church would really look like if we took these thinkers seriously and often compares such ideas with the emerging or emergent church as well as the modern and or mega-church.  He elevates his own version which through him and others has been labeled "Radical Orthodoxy."  I loved parts one and two of each section, and found myself disappointed and sometimes disagreeing with the third.  In any case, since he's close by (in age, geography, and thought), I figured I probably need to invite him to lunch.  If it happens, I'll let you know.

Anyway, he obviously gets at what potentially the evangelical postmodern church could and should look like in the future.  Good stuff to think about.  But there was one little phrase that I found particularly interesting in light of some of the "evangelical center" which I've spoken about.  Two things:

  1. He was more critical of Stanley Grenz than I had anticipated.
  2. He raises the issue of what he calls the "correlationalist apologetic," which is the attempt to make Christianity no only intelligible, but also rational to the wider culture.  He criticizes this as a particularly modernistic approach.  (I once started a book on this idea, but haven't finished it.)  I agree with his perceptions here, but this is what he says in the footnote:  "The same correlational method lies... behind the Wesleyan quadrilateral... which has been widely recovered as of late." [p. 124]

I thought that I had mentioned the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in my previous post on the future of evangelicalism when I talked about Beggington's 4 points of basic evangelicalism, Stackhouse's 5 characteristics, and Kenneth Collins' 4 enduring emphases.  The Wesleyan Quadrilateral isn't as much a "center" of belief, but sources of theology or of knowledge.  They are:

  1. Scripture
  2. Tradition
  3. Reason
  4. Experience

John Franke interacts with these in his book The Character of Theology as well as in collaboration with Grenz in Beyond Foundationalism as they talk about how we come up with or even settle upon a "center" of belief.

In any case, this was a new insight to me... that the WQ would be a an example of an attempt to rationalize and justify evangelical beliefs to a modern world.  What do you think?  Do you think that's necessary?  Is it necessary, for instance, to prove to the world outside of Christianity, for instance, the historical reliability of the Scripture, or justification for the decisions of a group of men who decided the canon was closed?  Do we need to justify those to an outside world, or is that falling into correlationism and becoming merely defensive to modernity in a way that isn't necessary?  It's got me thinking...

 


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How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 3

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McLaren, in the interview I mentioned earlier, talks about how this deconstruction works.   I mentioned that the emerging church is a kind of "back to the Bible movement," even though many see it as unorthodox.  It may be, in some ways, but that might not be bad.  Reforming - including Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and many contemporaries - is about going back to the Bible, deconstructing how culture has influenced us, and "reforming" to the word of God - which is the norming norm (to use Grenz/ Franke language).  Here is one way that McLaren says it:

...mentioning different lists of names isn't that important, but what's really important is that this stuff has been simmering in the biblical text itself, and we've been very well trained not to see it.  We've been trained to look for certain things and not for others... "What you focus on determines what you miss."

Deconstructing your faith is not about losing your faith - or at least it doesn't have to be.  It's about discovering where the things we believe come from and how we ascertained them.  It's about discovering what "eyes" or through which "glasses" we see the world, the bible, and ourselves.  Then, it's about trying to figure out what God is really saying both contextually and extra-contextually.  That's just normal exegesis - discovering what is enculturated and what's not, and how God incarnates himself in our own culture, in these times.  When we admit and understand our cultural, theological, and personal biases, we can compare those to the biases of others, and we can try to understand what God speaks outside of those, as well as to them.  Then, we begin to reconstruct our faith - keeping some of our biases, and shedding others.

Although he doesn't get into the technical side of this (and I would nuance this much more), I like how Olson says it in "How to be Evangelical without being Conservative":

For me Scripture (including Jesus Christ as the interpretive center) trumps tradition, reason, and experience.  To be more precise about how I do theology, I recognize Scripture and tradition as the two sources and norms of theology (with Scripture primary adn the Great Tradition of Christian belief secondary) and reason and experience as interpretive tools to help us sort out and understand Scripture and tradition. [p. 145]


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How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2

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I was reading an interview with Brian McLaren on his book Everything Must Change from The Other Journal, and I read something in his narrative from the early 90's that is very similar to what I was going through during 1990-1999.  Here is what he says:

[Lost people's] questions re-opened for me something I had encountered a long time ago in graduate school, and that's postmodern philosophy, and this cultural shift from modern to a postmodern culture.  So in the early nineties I started grappling with that shift, and it was really tough... If you want to use a term that comes out of that postmodern world, the word would be deconstruction.  I was undergoing a deconstruction.  Not a deconstruction of my faith as a personal trust in God, but of my theological categories and of my theological methodology.  So that's not an easy thing to go through, but once you do a lot of deconstruction, then you have to start reconstructing or else you end up with nothing but a bunch of fragments.

The difference here for me from McLaren is that I actually discovered a more personal trust in God after the deconstruction of my theological categories and cultural history.  In about 1993, I began the reconstruction even as I continued the process of theological, cultural, and denominational deconstruction.  In fact, I think today I still go through a continual process of deconstructing.  I would prefer to call it reformata et semper reformanda - reformed and always reforming.  And here is the key to so many things right now for me (and for people like Roger Olson, John Franke, Stanley Grenz before he passed, Kevin VanHoozer, Nancey Murphey, LeRon Shults, John Stackhouse Jr., NT Wright, Rob Bell, Scot McKnight and many many more people).  I could probably write a book right now about how so many people in the evangelical world are misunderstanding some new theological and practical movements in the emerging church as heretical, when what these people are honestly trying to do is reform the church according to the Scriptures.  In fact, they're trying to re-read the Scriptures in a way that takes seriously the impact of cultural and theological history upon our reading in good ways and bad.  More on this in a couple follow-up posts to come.


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The Future of Evangelicalism 7

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So, here's the first picture.  I'm sure I'll create another one.  The idea here is that the middle represents a centered set of core evangelical beliefs, cradled in the larger bosom of Christianity as a whole - represented by the pentagon (oh, should've made that 7-sided!)  There are 5 representative streams of evangelicalism here that represent a different "bounded" set of denomination/ community/ historical beliefs.  These might be, for instance, Baptist, Reformed, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Anglican or something like that (there are many streams, of course).  What this picture misses is a couple of things:

  1. I don't like how the picture intimates that, for instance, the orange group of evangelicals, by being closer to the center, are somehow more orthodox.  I don't mean to imply that, but didn't know how else to draw it.  I would interpret this to mean that all 5 streams are equally valid as evangelical communities of faith, but who interpret Scripture somewhat differently and have some differing doctrinal, practical, or theological beliefs - but that these are secondary. 
  2. The pastor friend I mentioned drew a picture with people who were either approaching the center or moving away from it.  He pondered whether orthodoxy could be defined based upon which way they were pointed, not how close they were to the center.  This reminds me of the biblical meaning of "repent" as "turning" Godward and changing direction.  I like that idea, that the "lines"  of "in" and "out" don't matter as much as which direction you're heading, or your bearing. (I think some of this idea for him came from Brian McLaren if I remember correctly, from a book i never read.)
  3. It also missing a kind of blurry edge.  If you would take all of these 5 potentially faithful evangelical streams, the things all 5 agree on are numerous, even if 2 or three agree on some different things and disagree with others.

evangelical-centered-set.jpg


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Clarifications

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There are important clarifications to make when talking about emerg-anything because so much stuff is flying out there because no one knows who is talking about what.  In Lining Up I lamented that there are some who like to categorize everyone in order to decided whose heretical and whose orthodox.  Though I still don't think that's a great idea, it is helpful to have some definitions and categories in order to have a helpful conversation so that we're not talking past each other or attacking people for things that simply aren't true.  So, here are a couple of helpful things: Emerging Church is not the same thing as Emergent Church which is not the same as Emergence Theory.

The Emerging Church is something that general means the character of the church that is emerging in the new postmodern era/ culture as our culture and history makes a move from modernism through postmodernity to whatever will be next.  The idea here is that as the culture and humanities ways of viewing and experiencing the world change, so the church will also go through some changes.  (For instance, the church made changes through the Roman Period, through Medieval Times, through the Renaissance, through scientific modernism, etc.)  We are now in the stages of that emerging and we won't know until we are on the other side what that will mean or look like.

The Emergent Church refers to a particular strain of dialogue and a group of leaders that was originally birthed out of some connections of the Leadership Network in the mid to late 1990's (most known are Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Chris Seay, Doug Paggitt, Spencer Burke, Dan Kimball, and Andrew Jones).  You can often hear Mark Driscoll making it clear that he is no longer a part of this groupl, even though he was there in the beginning (more on Mark to come in later posts).

Emergence theory is a particular strain of theories that has a wide span and has been appropriated to the way the brain works, how ant colonies functions, how cities are designed, how people move in crowds, how software is designed, and much more.  Emergence theory is a kind of complex systems theory that, in the most crass way I can put it, posits that order emerges complexly from what looks like chaos - that complex systems are self-ordering in a kind of evolutionary manner from the "bottom up" rather than by design from the "top down."

Now, this isn't to say that the Emergent Church folks aren't applying Emergence Theory to understand the Emerging Church.  (That would actually be a true statement for some.  For instance, though I'm sure where Kester Brewin, author of "Signs of Emergence" fits, he is definitely applying Emergence Theory to how the church should function in the future.  I'll write about his book soon... one chapter to go, but for the record, I disagree with a lot of it.


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Lining Up

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One of the things that has always bothered me, and that continues to bother me is the ongoing segmentation of the church.  It seems that we evangelicals in particular have a penchant for either creating new litmus tests, new groups with whom we need to affiliate in order to be orthodox, or in order to be a part of the true, pure, right and holy group of Christians. It's been interesting because so many young people have lamented the fact that the church is so broken and disunified, and yet no, many of us are falling into the same trap.  Recently, I've seen this in the desire to protect the church from sermon pastors.  The emerging church is now splitting into multiple categories depending on who you agree with.  Are you a Bellist?  Or a Driscollite?  Do you ascribe to Piperian Baptist Reformed theology, or are you dabbling in McLarenism?  Are you falling prey to Seayanic visions of the missional church, or are you a Kellerite?  Does McManustic theology intrigue you or is Hirschology forming you? Is your church designed around Coletic discipleship, Seeker-sensitive Hybellianism, suburban Warrenics, urban Claibornest new monasticism, or McNealian simplicity?  DA Carson, Stanley Grenz, or NT Wright?  Clark Pinnock or Wayne Grudem?  Scott McKnight or Spencer Burke?  Mars Hill Graduate School or Trinity Evangelical?

Those are just a few of the things I hear in my own circles.  I find myself feeling like I always have to choose and line up or I'll be labelled a heretic at the next turn.  If I agree with something Rob Bell is doing or saying, am I heretical?  If I like Radical Reformission by Driscoll, but I disagree with where he draws the line for what's orthodox, am I out? If I like a lot of what McLaren says in Generous Orthodoxy and I think Bill Hybels is a great evangelical leader, whose camp am I in?  And how do we figure out who's with who?  Is Donald Miller with Rob Bell or Mark Driscoll?  Is Erwin McManus with DA Carson or Chris Seay?

I guess one of my frustrations is that we are continuing to throw out the word "orthodox" as if it's a word that has a pretty solid, hard and fast meaning.  So, where's the list?  If it's drawn from the Nicene Creed, then when we use it, we certainly expand the content.  Who decides what and who's orthodox?  What does orthodox really mean, anyway, because it seems to me lately to have a pretty wide semantic range.  And we seem to be quite afraid that the church is going to go to hell in a handbasket even though Jesus said quite clearly that the gates of Hell wouldn't prevail against it.  I'm not saying that theology, boundaries, truth, and orthodoxy don't matter.  In fact, I'm quite convinced they do.  But the way we are currently talking and treating one another by forcing each other to line up is getting a little tired.  It's particularly frustrating, for instance, when people get accused of being unorthodox because they are seeking to deeply enflesh the gospel in a culture of poverty while "solid" evangelical churches are deeply heretical in their praxis of encouraging personal success or other theologies. 

Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

How about we start talking about what it is the unifies us?  How about we start talking about how Jesus is being displayed in the world? 


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