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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: kingdom

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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The Place of Christians in the World 2

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Henry, thanks for your response.  I agree that I think we do have something substantive to say.  The question is who "we" are.  The counter-cultural nature of the gospel and the world-tranforming power of the resurrection, the power of the right-side-up thinking of the sermon on the mount, the unbelievable value Jesus placed upon people and not on power, and on and on.  There is something distinctive, substantive, and powerful to say.  My frustration here is that as a collective, "the church" speaks in a totally different kind of way or not at all in a way that proclaims the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.  In this way, the church has become so much a part of the contemporary culture that on a descriptive level, it has nothing counter-cultural or world-transforming to say.  The church has lost her voice because she does not know her own identity. Yes, I think we can learn some things from the Catholics here.  I was pleased to see some of John Paul's personal humility and love for the poor and downtrodden has rubbed off on Pope Benedict.  That is good for the Catholic church.  The humility and concern for the least of these is so powerful in a movement as potentially powerful as Catholicism.  Here is where, particularly, some evangelicals have gotten it right, but the "public face" of so many evangelicals have gotten it wrong.  Our history is littered with people who have been involved in justice, freedom, poverty, etc.  However, the rise of the desire for political power - particularly wedded to the Religious Right - has, in my own estimation, drawn the evangelical soul into a dangerous place.  It reminds me of the request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee in Matthew 20 - "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."  Jesus cuts back with a question about whether they can drink from the cup that he will drink - meaning his own death.  It is precisely the Kingdom that runs counter to the ways of the world that gives us our voice, and yet the world does not hear this voice of Jesus.  They hear the voice of the sons of Zebedee among us.

I love what Roger Olson says in a recent book called "How to be evangelical without being conservative":

...what should evangelical Christians do to transform their culture now?  First, they should be the church.  Before trying to change society, evangelicals must reform themselves and their congregations and institutions away from individualism, consumerism, and therapeutic Christianity... to radical Christian communities that serve as beacons of faith, hope, and love to the dying world around them.  Unfortunately, too many evangelical churches and organizations have taken on the values and behaviors of the secular world while casting aspersions on it. [p. 126, emphasis mine]

That's part of the issue, maybe the heart of it.  The church has in so many ways lost its voice, its credibility, its heart, its soul because we too often speak against a world to which we ourselves have given allegiance.  We are not truly vassals of another Kingdom.  If we were, then our voice would be much more distinctive, much closer to the visions and words of Jesus, and much more instigative.  More successful?  I'm not sure.  That depends.  Possibly less successful.  It depends on how the world responds to the true call of Jesus to live for Him, his Kingdom, and his values.  But churches have to first respond to that call before calling others to respond.  Then, we might hear our voice again.


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The Place of Christians in the World

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Those of you who know me personally know that I care deeply about the place of Christians in the world.  Though I've never really done so, I would love to sometime teach a class on Engaging Culture.  As I think about being reformed, that's really how I'm reformed.  I'm not really reformed as much in the 5-points way (although I'm not against 5-pointers... in fact lots of my friends are 5-pointers).  I'm reformed in the sense that I believe that God is remaking the world, reforming the world from sin and evil, turning us back toward himself and that he calls us to leave allegiance to the kingdoms of this world and join in His Kingdom that is coming and has already begun to come in Jesus.  It strikes me often that subsersives in the Kingdom of God should look different than the rest of the world, and how little we do. On my darker days I get frustrated with myself for looking and being so normal, for mirroring the image of the world, for not being a counter-cultural like the early Christians, for being too "of the world."  I've got lots to say about that, and too much to blog about.  I might hit on it later.  But... since we hear so much about politics lately with Obama, Clinton, and McCain (boy this is getting old), this quote from Stanley Hauerwas has come to mind a few times [from A Better Hope - resources for the church confronting capitalism, democracy, and postmodernity]:

The problematic nature of this project [Christian full participation in American life] is not due to the increasing loss of membership, social status, and political power of mainstream Christianity… … more important has been the increasing recognition that even if such churches remained socially and politically powerful, they would have nothing distinctive to say as Christians about the challenges facing this society.  That such churches have nothing distinctive to contribute is not surprising, since their social and political power originally derived from the presumption that there was no or little essential difference between the church and the principles of the American experiment.    That presumption may, of course, also help explain the decline of such churches because it is by no means clear why you need to go to church when such churches only reinforce what you already know from participation in a democratic society.  [pp. 25-26]

What I find so interesting about this quote, and what Hauerwas is talking about in this book, is that Christianity hasn't just lost its voice, we don't have much to say.  That pains my heart.  Why?  Because the church is God's plan to reach the world with the transforming power of the Kingdom come in Jesus, who is Lord.  And we don't have anything distinctive to say?  Isn't it the people of God who should be on the forefront of all major issues facing our world including race relations, global trade, poverty, health care, education, stewardship of creation, power, liberty, justice, ethics, and on and on.  Is the new Kingdom reality come in and through the resurrection power of Jesus the hope for a lost and dying world?  Or not?

We not only need a voice; we need something significant to say.


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The Future of Evangelicalism 8

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Henry Blackaby says this in his book Spiritual Leadership [p. 115-116]:

It has been the thinkers who have exerted the longest-lasting influence on world history.  In fact, the timeline of history can be divided according to the emergence of leaders who envisioned reality differently than people had previously understood it.

Personally, for a long time I've been very encouraged by some changes that have been afoot in the church.  I've been touching on some of these, but there's way too much to write about, so I'll just smatter as best I can as we go.  I'm encouraged, though, by things like new leaders taking postmodernity seriously (both philosophical and cultural), thinking of new ways of being church in the world (including new forms, and expressions), the rediscovery of artistic expression not just for utilitarian or consumeristic reasons but for the sake of beauty, personal, and communal expression, the move away from individual faith and into a more holistic community oriented faith, from propositional truth to a relational understanding embedded in Trinitarian theology, and much, much more.

I'm trying to begin to get some things out in this blog that are just so full and wonderful and exciting within my own head and heart as I make connections across denominations, across cultures, across history, and across political divides.  The verse that was so important in my own conversion and helped me to make sense of the center in a dececentralized reality was Colossians 1:17 - He is before all things and in him all things hold together."  All things.  All things.  Everything.  So the connections for me in leadership, art, culture, the emerging church, history, philosophy, the gospel, missiology, and culture are overwhelming. 

And here is what is exciting to me in terms of the Blackaby quote above: There are many thinkers - from theologians to church planters to middle school kids to new 3rd world Christians right now who are envisioning a bold new reality.  These are people who are taking seriously the Scriptures and the Kingdom of God and are emboldened to embark upon lives that go after that new reality with powerful abandon.  That gets me excited.


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