Done with Deep Church

Week after week, they heard the gospel preached from the Old Testament to the New Testament.  As Doug said, “It began to change the way we thought about all areas of life.  We realized the gospel impacted every aspect of our lives.  Our lives took new meaning.  It was and is exciting.”

Great ending to the book.  While not necessarily encountering much that I haven’t already been exposed to or thought through, I do so appreciate Belcher’s efforts to bring unity to what is increasing becoming a factionalized evangelical church.  Some of my criticisms still stand.  I still think this is largely a young-ish American white middle to upper-middle class conversation.  I’m just not sure how much people who fall outside this demographic really care about the sorts of things being discussed here.  That said, he is communicating my own feelings about what the ideal church looks like.  In short, I think Jim and I could hang together.

However, I’d like to take this opportunity to focus in on the last eight words of the first sentence of the quote above:  “from the Old Testament to the New Testament.” It is no secret that the Old Testament is massively neglected in most churches, and for that reason, most church attender’s lives.  And yet, I love what is being affirmed here:  The gospel shines through the whole of Scriptures, and not just the relatively small portion towards the end.

Starting January 1, I’m embarking on a new reading project…  the Bible.  All of it.  In a year.  Crazy, I know.

Trust me, I realize that that isn’t really much all that revolutionary about doing this.  I’m confident that there are millions of people who read their Bible all the way through every year.  J. I. Packer is famously quoted as saying, “Every Christian worth his (or her) salt reads the Bible cover-to-cover every year.”

While it won’t be the first time I’ve read the Bible all the way through, it will be the first time a several years that I’ve done so.  Part of what drew me to the project wasn’t just the my personal sense of needing to do so, but to do so with others.  So, I’ll have several friends doing it with me.  Men that I meet with on a weekly basis.  Students with whom I do the same.  Probably some co-workers.  Other people from church.  You know, some of the same folks who just attempted to finish Deep Church.

I’ve been asked by at least one person to consider blogging the entire project.  I’m not making any commitments yet, but I will ponder it the next few days.  So much I’d like to say, and so little time to do so.

By the way, if either of you who read this blog are interested in joining in on the Bible reading plan, I’ll be following this plan from Bible Gateway.

Deep Church 10

Loved this quote towards the end of the chapter where he tells the story of a member in his congregation as an individual who embraces this vision.  He happens to be the mayor of Anaheim, and he is seeking to restore a sense of beauty, vitality and community to the city’s downtown.

Using the principles of the free market, he convinced the city to rezone the light-industrial area around Angel Stadium to create a city center filled with apartments, shops, boulevards, cafes and offices.  Anaheim, like many suburbs in California in the 1960s and 1970s, wiped out its historic downtown, replacing it with strip malls and parking lots.  The city and its community have suffered ever sinc …  [The mayor] wants to reverse this trend and bring back a thriving downtown, which will bring back residents and a strong sense of community.  He is promoting the shalom of the city.

So once again, we return to this idea of salvation being more than just an individual’s personal experience with God.  As important as that might be, it is too small a salvation for what God envisions. 

I especially appreciated this example, because of an interest I have in community and dwellings places that promote that.  Just received an unexpected gift this Christmas that explores this whole idea even more, The Architecture of Community by Leon Krier.

Shalom out.

Deep Church 9

Jeremy Larson – Purgatory

Let’s try to make this short and sweet.  Big words like “ecclesiology” have a way of turning people off.  And the church has often turned people off.  And talking about the church can do the same.

I share Belcher’s opinion that neither the emerging church (or churches trying out new forms of church) nor the traditional churches have a rich enough appreciation for what it means to be the church.  However, I think the conversation needs to move away from simply talking about structure or praxis and towards ontology.  Or in other words…  what does it mean to be the church?

Not that churches don’t need to be challenged to re-look the way they approach their life together as a church.  They should.  In my opinion churches need to be constantly reminded that they don’t exist simply for themselves as an institution.  That they move from an inward focus to an outward one.  The ways we approach evangelism or church discipline or discipleship or any other host of issues need to be examined and when necessary adapted.  However, those things don’t necessarily define what a church is.  They are what we do; not who we are.  And although sometimes mistaken for the same thing, it isn’t.

A few years ago, the church I’m involved in re-looked at who we were and who we were hoping to become, and here’s the statement we came up with…

We exist to mobilize a racially-unified family of God, called out as the presence of Jesus in our world, to pursue His mission: all people reconciled to God.

Now, I realize that even this well-thought through statement doesn’t plumb the depths of what it means to be the church.  And while there might be a word or two that I’d go back and change, there is so much that I appreciate about it.  Each phrase matters.  All the important pieces are there.  It is a good length.

But most importantly it is right, and I have the sense that those of us who are most deeply invested in our local body believe it is right.  It is a statement about who we are (becoming) as a church.  And it is one that actually guides our practice and to a certain extent our structures.

This is going to sound a bit trivial, but… I love this church.  I really do.

It isn’t perfect.  Nor are we pretending to be.

Ok, so much for short.  But it is sort of sweet.

Merry Deep Church 8

(I’m all songed out.  The last few posts should have provided much for your listening enjoyment.)

With the kids all awash in post-present opening bliss, I’m stealing away a few quiet moments to return to Deep Church.  I’m well aware that I didn’t post on Deep Preaching on Monday like I was suppose to.  I know there has been an empty void in your life since then.

To make it up to you, we are going to get crackin’ on finishing up this book.  With the end of the year just days away, there are many things that I’d like to bring completion before 2010 begins.  Most of them I know will stretch on into the new year, but this book is one very small thing that doesn’t need to.  Also, given the extra down time that the holidays afford, my plan is to post once a day for the next four days to finish it out.  That way, both you and I can put the book behind us.

My other motivation to finishing before the close of the year is a different reading project that I’m looking forward to for the new year.  I’ll share more about that anon.

Alrighty…  deep preaching.

Frankly, this chapter wasn’t all that revolutionary – not that he intended it to be.  I’m certainly not drawn to the whole truth discovered out of the community’s process of hashing out on a Sunday morning in a round table fashion idea.  The list of reasons is long, and this isn’t the time to revisit them.  However, it is enough to say that there is a reason preaching in some form has existed for the duration of church history.  Totally deconstructing preaching in favor of some other mode of communication seems faddish at best, and totally misguided at worst.  The antidote to bad preaching isn’t no preaching…  it is great preaching.  Don’t misunderstand.  I’ve certainly had my share of bad sermons – both mine and others.  But that doesn’t mean that the endeavor itself is bankrupt.

And like Belcher, I also chafe under the somewhat predictable three-points and poem format.  Not very creative, and therefore doesn’t reflect the manifestly creative nature of the Scriptures.  So, yes there is a sense in which preaching needs some re-imagining.  I just don’t think it is along the lines turning preaching into sitting down with your entire congregation to have a chat over coffee.

Belcher’s answer is to recognize the drama of Scripture.  And I would agree on many fronts here.  There is the grand story of God’s work in redemptive history.  It is that story we encounter in the text.  And then there are all the little stories that find their way into the grand story.  So it seems to go without saying that preaching should not only tell the story but be told as a story.  In a great deal of my own preaching and teaching, I go to some effort to connect the text to the larger framework of the story in which it finds itself.  Huge portions of the Scriptures are narratives and in my opinion requires that we become story tellers…  not just our own little anecdotal stories…  but masters at telling the story of the One who matters most.

Just a quibble or two… I’ve just suggested that the form of preaching should be dictated by the text.  Where it is narrative, three points and a poem seems to violate the nature of the text.  However, my own feeling is that one shouldn’t necessarily over-react and turn all preaching into story.  Where the text is not as much of a narrative…  more prophetic or didactic or epistolary…  then the form of preaching ought to reflect those genres as well.

Well that seems like plenty to consider over Christmas lunch.  Until tomorrow…  Merry Christmas!

Deep Church 7

Foreign Born – Early Warnings

Some years ago, when the whole “emerging” thing was getting off the ground, Alison and I attended a service that was billed as being a Gen X experience.  That was back when people actually still talked about Gen X.  Funny what a few years can do to our language.  It was one of their pilot services…  an experiment if you will.

At that point in my life, while I wasn’t all that interested in “traditional” church, the contemporary-seeker-friendly-church had sort of lost its luster for me as well.  It wasn’t like I was looking for a new church to attend.  The one I was working at probably wouldn’t have been all that impressed with my choosing to worship elsewhere.  However, I was very interested in seeing what other churches were doing and if there was anything worthy of adopting.

I should have known that the experience wasn’t going to be all that it was cracked up to be simply based on where it was being held.  It was housed in the campus of one of the largest churches in the Seattle area.  But I was willing to push through that.  I didn’t (and still don’t) despise mega-churches.  I mean how trendy would that have been?  And as we all know, I’m anything but trendy.  Which, of course, is trendy in its own right. What were we talking about?  Oh yeah, me doing the most non-trendy thing thing in the world by attending a Gen X service.

So, warning sign number two should have been that as we were walking in, we were allowed to “choose” a photograph of some nature scene that appealed to us.  Ok, that’s nice.  A little pre-service gift, of sorts.  Then we entered a very dimly lit auditorium-style room.  Dimly lit because the only illumination was a number of candles scattered across the stage and room.  I think the idea was to convince us that we weren’t really in some sterile warehouse for people, but something more akin to a monastery.  I really don’t know what the deal was.  Maybe the church had given them such a limited budget to try it out that they weren’t allowed to use electricity.

The service progressed – and I’m sure that in many respects it was a very nice time of worship – not too unlike many other contemporary services I’ve attended prior to and since then.  Of course, the nature photo had a purpose…  I was suppose to turn to some stranger near me and explain how the scene (which I had come discover represented one of the four seasons) was a reflection of my spiritual or emotional state at the time.  Hokey?  Yes.  Memorable? Obviously.  Honestly, it wasn’t the worst exercise in the world.  It just didn’t ring true.  I’m all for stuff like that when the people leading and participating really mean it.  Instead, the whole thing seemed like something of a reach.  Something manufactured.

I didn’t go back.  Which I’m certain is why the service only lasted a year or so.

Ok, there is so much that could be said about this topic.  One of the things I’ve discovered is that there isn’t anybody who is opinion-less about what a worship service should look like.  What do you think is missing from worship services in typical evangelical churches today?  What do you think about Belcher’s proposal that churches need to keep the Bible, tradition, and culture in tension with each other?  Once again, I’ve had several great conversations with people over all this, and look forward to others.

Deep Church 6

Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks

While I’ve read both chapters, I don’t see how I can meaningfully post about both.  Each one has loads to consider, so we’ll do one today and the next sometime soon.

Maybe chapter six should have been called conversations with Brian McLaren about the nature of the Gospel.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand why Belcher has chosen to spend so much time talking about him.  McLaren is rightly (and wrongly) seen as the representative of the Emerging Church.

So keeping in the spirit of the chapter, I’ll give you my take on McLaren.  I’ve read a couple books by him, both of which I have found thought provoking.  And there is no doubt that he is “emerging” in the truest sense of the word.  One very much gets the sense when reading his books that this is a guy in process, and that we are sitting in – so to speak – as he sorts things out.  Of course, this can either be seen as refreshing or maddening.  Just depends on how you look at it.

Several months ago, I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a one day conference for church leaders.  And everything I found present in his writing was true in person as well.  First of all, he’s brilliant.  I don’t agree with him on all the positions he takes.  There are a number of things about his content and style that don’t sit quite right with me.  But the list of people I’ve encountered who are able to synthesize huge amounts of information from a wide range of disciplines…  history, philosophy, politics, economics, theology…  is very, very short.

He is also winsome.  You just sort of like the guy.  I could have done without the Gregorian chanting.  Or some of the kookier theories he’d formulated about “story spaces.”  But he is a far cry from the demonized portrait that some might paint of him.

Is he wrong about some things?  I think so.  Occasionally, I feel like his way of knowing (look at me trying to avoid the word “epistemology”) flows more out of philosophical constructs than a deeply rooted biblical story.  I am certain that he wouldn’t appreciate that assessment.  He would say of me that my agenda and worldview is shaped by a certain philosophical commitment that pushes me to understand the Scriptures a certain way.  I would respond in kind.  And away we would go.  Do I think he skirts too close to universalism?  Yes.  Do I think he downplays the Atonement and the individual’s response to work of Christ?  Yes.  Do I think that he is trying to work out a thoroughly Christ-centered and Christ-honoring way of being human?  YES.  In short, he’s worth listening to, but take him with a grain of salt.  My sense is Belcher feels the same.

So back to the conversation at hand…  the Gospel.  Specifically, the Deep Gospel.  I’ll be brief.  I agree completely that the evangelical church in recent history has been too narrowly focused on the individual salvation experience.  I also agree that a more holistic understanding of Kingdom of God needs to be taught and embraced in churches today.  And yes, there is always the danger that we will swing too far the other way of making the gospel entirely social and going the way of protestant liberalism.

That said, I don’t agree entirely with where Belcher lands with respect to atonement theory.  He cites Richard Mouw as saying that while the various theories all hold some truth, they aren’t all equally valid.  Mouw says that it is a matter of priority.  Which is primary or most important?  He and Belcher believe that the Christus Victor understanding of Christ’s work on the cross, while true, is dependent on a thoroughly penal substitutionary view of atonement.  I was unconvinced and would actually argue that it is the other way around.  Anyway, as you can see, I’ve been reduced to theological hair-splitting.

I don’t think that the feedback is going to be overwhelming.  The conversation about worship has potential to be more lively.  But here’s your chance to say what you appreciate about McLaren…  or don’t.  Or we could talk about how your understanding of the “gospel” has changed over time.

Deep Church 3

Brazos – Day Glo

I hope you appreciated Belcher’s comments on unity and new ecumenism as much as I did.  He repeatedly referenced this idea of the “unity of the Gospel,” which he says is embodied in the classic Christian Creeds.  Of course, not being familiar with the Creeds could pose something of a problem for us.  While I have yet to memorize even the shortest of them, there have been times when I was more familiar with them than I am right now.  Reading over them again, I was reminded of few things.

First, they are simple.  With the possible exception of the Athanasian Creed (I’ll get to its strengths in a minute), they say what they need to say and no more.  They don’t get bogged down in side issues, which of course is the point – both of the Creeds and Belcher’s praise of them.  They deal with what are “core” beliefs of the faith.

Second, they are clear.  There is very little ambiguity in them.  While I was somewhat amused by repetitiveness of the Athanasian Creed, you have to admit…  it is painstakingly clear.

But third, and perhaps most striking, they are radically Trinitarian.  Really, the subject of another post entirely, but it is interesting that the early Christian Fathers put such an emphasis on this biblical truth.  Lose sight of the complexity and mystery of the Trinity, and everything begins to unravel.

Ok, there’s my two-bits.  How about you?  Do you see a “new ecumenism” taking shape?  Is it one that you see as defined by this two-tier idea of inclusive commitment to the “top tier” truths?  What role do creedal confessions play in the church today?  What is your favorite creed?  Favorite ice cream flavor?  Favorite Thanksgiving food?

Deep Church 2

One of the things this chapter does well is identifying the concerns associated with the “emerging” church.  So which (if any) of the protests are ones that you share as well?

Just so you don’t have to go back and look them up, here they are again…

1) Captivity to Enlightenment Rationalism
2) A narrow view of salvation
3) Belief before belonging
4) Uncontextualized worship
5) Ineffective preaching
6) Weak ecclessiology
7) Tribalism

Ok, even as I type, I am recognizing that some of this sounds fairly esoteric.  Let’s try to flesh it out.

Deep Church 1

Ok, so here we go.  I’m going to throw out several questions that came to mind as I was reading the introduction and first chapter. Feel free to answer any, all, none, others, or ask entirely different questions.

In the Introduction, Belcher paints a picture of the rift that has and opened between the “Traditional” and “Emergent” church.

How aware are you of this growing division?
Would you identify yourself as leaning more traditional or more emerging?
How have you been affected (if at all) by the in-fighting?
Do you think Belcher’s broad strokes paint a fair picture of the current state of evangelicalism? Would you describe it any differently?

In chapter 1, Belcher briefly recounts his own story and relationship with the church.

How has your history with church influenced where you find yourself in relation to these two poles within (North American Evangelical) Christianity today?

Belcher describes a strange sense of being both an insider in the emerging movement and yet at times feeling alienated from (an “outsider’) as well.

Can you identify in any way with that “insider”/”outsider” feeling as it relates to church?

Deep Church… Almost

Ok, so I think about a dozen people or so are committed to reading this book together.  We are shooting for having our first “discussion” next Monday (11/16).  Just in case, you haven’t gotten your hands on the book yet, and can’t wait to dive in, here’s a LINK to the intro and first chapter.

Once again, I hope that there isn’t uniform agreement among all of us reading.  I’m not one who likes to argue just for the sake of arguing (despite what my beloved might say), but it will be sort of boring if we are all just nodding our heads ‘yes’ from week to week.  But on the flip side, I think it goes without saying, that we should strive to respect each others’ opinions (including the author’s).  Sometimes electronic discourse creates an environment in which people say things that they might not normally if they were face to face with a person.   Ok, you get it.