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Archive for March, 2008

Profound.

I’m back after a week in Appalachian Kentucky. I have no less than a hundred emails to catch up on, about two weeks worth of things to do in the office, eight hours of video training to watch for our new online system, and nearly three weeks of classwork that desperately needs my attention. And, of course, what am I doing? I’m catching up on everyone’s blogs and updating my own. Priorities. 

 I had a great week in Cumberland (Lynch). Cumberland County is among the top twenty poorest counties in America. The average household income there is right around $17,000, and that number reflects the total combined household income. The poverty there is unimaginable for most of America, and the town is plagued by all kinds of addiction, abuse, and hopelessness. There is a heavy spirit in that mountain town. We spent the week working with some of the most incredible missionaries I have ever met – Terry & Angie Burkeen and Chad & Ryan Morgan. They moved to Lynch on faith that God was calling them to speak life into a lifeless community. They opened Club180, a community center that currently serves as a teen hang-out and will hopefully grow to become a job training center and community gym. They rely on God for provision on a day-to-day basis, and they are dreaming big as they labor in sharing the Gospel with the individuals there.  

There were a lot of happenings this week that are worthy of a blog post, but there was one particular moment that marked me as significant and profound. On Friday night, we allowed one of our students to go out with the Burkeens and the Morgans to find a girl who had not been at the club that night. She is only twelve years old, and she lives in a family full of dysfunction, addiction, and abuse. It’s a sticky and volatile situation, and the missionaries had been waiting for an opportunity to intervene.  The Spirit prompted one of our girls to go find her, and it fell into place with some things that the missionaries had had on their hearts that day, so we allowed her to go with them despite the danger of the situation. They were not successful in finding the girl, but they did run into a domestic issue at her home and used the moment to call police into the situation.  

For all practical reasons, it was a failed mission. They did not find this girl. They are not sure that she was safe. They were not sure that the police would handle the situation well, and it could have actually put the girl in more danger. We just don’t know. But for all spiritual reasons, this was one of the greatest moments I’ve watched in student ministry.  

The girl who went with them came back to the school where we were staying, and she was shaken to the core about what she had seen and the fear she felt for this girl. She admitted to having missed an opportunity earlier in the week in talk to her, and she was just broken over her own disobedience and regret. She was terrified for this girl, and she could barely get out any words between heaving sobs.  A small group of us (myself, another leader, and several girls) circled around her to pray. As these middle school girls prayed, I was blown away by the depth of their heartbreak and the authenticity of their trust in God. I was already moved to tears in listening to them (a rare occasion for me), and then one girl began to pray. This was the first thing out of her mouth. 

 “Lord, this must be what it means to share in the fellowship of Your suffering.”

 How profound. From the mouth of a middle school girl came one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard. She understood that the fellowship of His suffering is sharing the heartbreak that He has over lost and hurting children. These girls were broken for the things that break God’s heart, and they understood that this burden for people is the fellowship of His sufferings. I was blown away. I could not believe that a thirteen year old girl could understand so clearly that their ache for this girl reflected a small portion of the ache God has when he sees things like this girl’s family situation. How profound. 

 I never cease to be amazed at how much I learn from these girls. And while most people cringe at the thought of taking middle school students anywhere (must less on a construction-oriented mission trip), I found myself thinking that night about how great a privilege it was to take them to Kentucky and hear such profound things from the mouths of such young girls. What a privilege.

 Edit: One of my girls just started a blog. She is the BEST, and her faith insight is way beyond her years.  Check it out here for her perspective on Lynch, KY. 🙂

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Gezer.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working through a study on the Promised Land. It is a study produced by a guy named Ray Vander Laan. He’s a phenomenal teacher. He came and taught for a day when I was at Focus. I literally spent about eight hours with my mouth hanging wide open in astonishment. I had no idea how much I’d been missing in Scripture until I listened to him teach. Phenomenal. The study itself is great, and I’m learning so much… but I keep going back to this one concept.

Here is a map of the Promised Land.

tel-gezer-map.jpg

The to east of Gezer (the Promised Land) was Mesopotamia (AKA Babylon, Assyria, Persia), and to the south of Gezer was Egypt.  Egypt and Mesopotamia would have been considerd the cultural epicenters of the ancient world. These two civilizations were the root of all ancient culture and society.

Gezer was located along a trade route known as the Via Maris. The Via Maris was significant because it was the only trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia. It connected the two most influential cultures. In order to get from one to the other, you would have had to pass through Gezer. Gezer was at the crossroads of civilization.

This is not exactly what I pictured the Promised Land to be like. I guess in my mind I’ve been thinking all these years that the Promised Land was some secluded oasis – away from the world, set apart for dwelling and enjoyment by the Israelites. Usually, I hear churches and Christians talking about the Promised Land as if it is symbolic of eternity in heaven…almost like a retreat center for the Israelites.  I’m sure there is some truth in that description, but really, the geography alone paints a different picture of the land God called the Israelites to inhabit.

God called the Israelites to inhabit the land that was at the crossroads of culture and civilization. They were called by God to be at the center of the ancient world. The people that controlled Gezer controlled the culture and society of both Egypt and Mesopotamia, and the possibility of influence there is beyond our imagination. They weren’t called into a secluded oasis – they were called to live at the crossroads of civilization.  How different would things be if they had been obedient to that calling???

I don’t know how I missed these important facts for this long, but I do know that I just can’t get it out of my mind this week. I’ve been stuck on this idea of our calling to be positioned as a cultural influence. What does that mean for us? For me? In what areas of my life am I positioned in a place of influence, and how can I use that influence to proclaim the kingdom of God? More than just me, how can we, as a body of believers, position ourselves to influence culture, to take some control over society, to change the direction of the world we live in? Seems significant to think about.

I’m out for the week. Heading to Kentucky with about a hundred middle school students. Most of you just cringed at the thought. We’re doing a sports clinic and construction. Cringe again. 🙂 I’m excited. I’ll post about it when I get back.

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Indeed.

He is risen.

He is risen indeed.

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The odds and ends that didn’t quite make it into the letter (but are not necessarily of less value):

First, my apologies for not clearing this up from the beginning, but I do want to comment (from strictly a personal opinion) about the ways I use “emerging” and “emergent” differently than the current trend.  I know that typically people are considered “emerging” if they use contemporary and postmodern styles and methods, while “emergent” typically refers to the theological ideas that I’ve talked about in my posts. I have some issues with the way these words are used and some concerns about it.

If you call yourself “emerging,” (just thinking about the word itself here) the question becomes this: from what and to what are you emerging? It’s kind of a progressive adjective, and it implies that you are emerging from something and to something. The most logical thing for a typical person to think is that the progression goes from “emerging” to “emergent”. And that’s where I have the biggest issue. What most of you probably consider “emerging” is, in my mind, a great idea. I’m all for new methodologies and being creative in reaching a postmodern generation. I just don’t want to call it “emerging.” To a non-believer, “emerging” and “emergent” will go together, and I don’t know that I really want evangelicals with good style (what few there actually are out there) to get lumped into the same category.

 So, when I refer to “emerging,” I typically use it more in the progressive sense. In my mind, Emerging refers to those who may have some excellent things to teach us now, but who also have shown at least a few questionable things in my mind that could progress to Emergent. I referred to it a couple of times as “emergent-ish.”  When I chose to title and tag my blog as “emerging” instead of “emergent,” I did so on purpose. Real Emergents are pretty far out there in their theology, and they have made a decision about their faith. They know what they believe already. In the back of my mind, I thought that if anyone stumbled upon my blog on accident (which some of you have clearly done), I am more interested in voicing my concerns about those who are teetering on the edge between evangelical faith and Emergent faith. These people are Emerging by my definition, and they are the ones I wanted to address.

Does that make sense? I’m with you on the new methods and creative thinking.  I’m not sure anyone would disagree that it’s about time for that to happen in the church.

 The second thing I didn’t get to really address in my posts is something that I just want to state in briefest terms here. I haven’t formulated a very detailed opinion worth talking about or arguing with on this, but it bears mentioning. Emergents are doing a great job at talking about social activism – taking care of the poor, working to stop injustice, loving the unlovable and destitute, etc. But, I just want to point out that that the conversation they seem to have about social activism points to social action as the definition of the Gospel message. In Emergent conversation, the Gospel = taking care of orphans, feeding the hungry, freeing slaves, etc. Those things are all well and good, and they are certainly a part of the Gospel message, but the Gospel is not equal to social action. The Gospel is (simply stated) that Jesus saves. Our salvation and relationship with Christ should certainly spur us on to be socially active and take care of the least of these, and I think we’re on track when we re-prioritize that in the church, but those things are not the Gospel.  Social action not rooted in our salvation is just social action. That makes Jesus the great prophet who taught us to be socially responsible, but if social action is the definition of the gospel, it takes away the need for Jesus to be Savior. I don’t think I need to expand on that point. You get the picture. Just be careful. Social action not rooted in salvation = just another member of the Peace Corp.

Finally, some of you have asked why I decided to write these posts, and though I’ve shared somewhat briefly about that in dialogue and through emails, I thought it might be a good place to end.

I am a twenty-something evangelical. Most people I interact with on a daily basis have never even heard of the Emergent movement. They have no clue what is going on in church culture. I live in the Bible belt, and I have sometimes even questioned if the Emergent movement even stands a chance at penetrating the traditional culture here. But more and more, I see my peers and my friends ask hard questions and look for better answers. They are honestly searching. The problem, though, is that while there are a TON of young Emergent-ish people and Emergents talking about their new way of doing things, there are very few people my own age talking about the other side of the issue.  Obviously, leaders in the evangelical church and in seminaries are talking about the “evils” of the Emergent church, but I haven’t found a lot of people my own age who are speaking up.  I don’t think old men in suits and seminary presidents are going to be the ones jumping on board with the Emergent movement, and I don’t think that they will  be the voice that really makes a difference in speaking out about it. I think it’s our responsibility – my responsibility – to speak out to my peers and friends. I want to hear their questions and offer them a better solution than a theologically jumbled Emergent movement. I want to be an opposing voice for my friends who are searching, because I have searched for myself and have found a completely different answer.

At the end of day, it’s just my blog. Very few people will ever read it. I knew that, and I know that. So really, I wrote to help articulate my own views and to use this like a scrimmage for real life. Thanks for tuning in and thanks for helping me. It’s be fun.

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Here we go. Can of worms: Part 2.

 Dear Twenty-Something Emergent-ish Believer –  

Be careful. I have been where you are. I’ve read the same books you have read and I’ve heard the same motivating messages spoken by Emergents and those who associate with them. It’s hard not to get swept away in it. It was made to speak to our generation, after all, and some of its loudest voices are engaging speakers and excellent writers (note: did you know that McLaren studied English – specifically, that he spent a significant amount of time studying philosophical literature? I think it’s kind of significant to note that, since he writes as if he’s an educated theologian and philosopher. He has an honorary D.Div., but no formal education in theology to my knowledge….which is why he writes great books that have questionable theology. J). It looks as if the culture we live in and the church we’ve been hoping for have collided to form the Emergent conversation, and it is really, really appealing for you to think that you have found the answer to your questions.   

It is so easy to point a finger at the evangelical church. We don’t quite fit into their modernistic, Baby-Boomer ways, and there aren’t many evangelical churches that seem to have adapted to a new generation quite yet. It’s really easy to think that because we ourselves don’t quite fit that the church must not be real or authentic or correct in its teaching. Because you feel like the church has failed you, you feel like the church has failed. I don’t think so. Maybe the evangelical church isn’t reaching our generation. Maybe it is a bit stuck in modernistic ways that don’t reach a generation of believers that have grown up in postmodern culture. I think that is true, in a sense. I don’t think the church has really caught up with the culture yet…but I think we, as a generation of young believers, are probably the ones at fault for that. 

Generally speaking (as a culture, not necessarily as individuals), we are self-centered and cynical, and there has been so much hoopla about saving our precious, fragile self-esteems that we’ve ended up a bit arrogant about how we will change the world and live our lives. This isn’t just a church thing. This is a cultural thing. We’re a generation of people who don’t know how to appreciate those who have gone before us. We have a hard time with the idea of delayed gratification or working our way to the top the corporate ladder. We walk with a sense of entitlement to the best and the most and the first….and we’ve transferred some of this generational arrogance to our position in the church. (Note: Don’t take that the wrong way. I’m not speaking of the Emergent church when I talk about generational arrogance. I’m talking about our whole generation – myself included).  So, you say that the church is outdated and irrelevant, and you jump into the new Emergent stuff because it’s easier to do that than to be a part of slower changes in evangelical churches or to have to continue participating in church with generations that may never adapt to postmodern style. When you separate yourself from the evangelical church, you don’t really fix the problem. You act as if the Emergent church is the solution, but I’m not sure that it’s logical to think you’ve found the solution when you haven’t helped to fix the problem.

When you jump on board with Emergent Church (or more commonly Emergent-ish faith communities), I’m not sure you know what you know what you are getting into. I’m not sure you understand some of the theological foundations that you are now standing on, and I’m not sure you know where your leaders are deriving their key influences. I’m not sure you understand the implications of what they are saying because it just sounds so good. It is so good to be welcomed and understood and accepted by a faith community that thinks like you do that it is easy to be swept up in it without thinking twice about some of the theological foundations.  

 It seems like Emergents value the church as a “who” over church as a “what” (church the people v. church the institution). I think it’s both, but I do like that they value the person-church instead of just the institution-church. But if it’s true that the church is meant to be more person-church than institution-church, it’s not the evangelical church’s fault that our generation is not being reached. The evangelical church you generally refer to is the institutional church. If the church is a “who” more than a “what”, that makes it the “who’s” fault that our generation is not being reached…and that is us – me and you – not the institutional church that often takes the blame for things. 

I’m one of a million voices who are recognizing that church isn’t trendy in a postmodern culture, and it’s increasingly difficult to reach our generation with the gospel. And I’m one of a million voices that still doesn’t know how to articulate a better solution than the ones already offered. But I do know this.  I’m going to be smart about the choices I make as an individual. I’m going to read up on theology (on both ends of the spectrum), and I’m going to understand the implications of my beliefs. I’m going to value the generation that has gone before me, and I’m not going to jump ship from the evangelical church just because my personal needs are not always met with excellence. I’m going to be firm on my foundational convictions. And every time – every time – I’m going to measure the changes I want to make by the teaching of Scripture. I want to be a part not just in creating an alternative (like the Emergent Church) but in creating the solution to the problem of an unreached postmodern generation. And to be a part of the solution is to be a part of fixing the problem. I’m sticking with the evangelical church. 

Sincerely – and with genuine love and concern –

A Twenty-Something Evangelical 

 Tomorrow: Part 3/Wrap-Up. I have a few odds and ends to tie up that I think might answer/address some of the comments made. They just didn’t fit neatly into my letter, so I’ll try to bullet through them tomorrow or Tuesday.

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I got online about an hour ago, ready to tackle part 2 on the Emerging church topic. After starting about twenty-five different paragraphs, I just realized that I just don’t have the mental energy tonight. Tomorrow.

But before I get offline tonight, I just wanted to make this quick note: My blog’s popularity has shot through the roof in the past twenty-four hours. I watch my dashboard regularly (because it’s a good feeling to know that people actually read what you write), and I nearly dropped my jaw when I saw how many hits I’ve had today. I’ve had approximately as many hits today about this Emerging church post as I’ve had collectively this entire month. Things we can learn from this phenomenon:  

  1. Blogging about theological ideas and principles is a somewhat Emergent-friendly trend. 
  2. Emergents are generally pretty excited to talk about their stance on the topic. And real Emergents (as opposed to the millions of college students who simply read Blue Like Jazz, quote Donald Miller as if he’s the Jr. Holy Spirit, and have no idea what is meant by the word “emergent”), are well versed in philosophical ideas and theology. The same does not hold true for many real conservatives.

 Part 2 coming tomorrow. After a Sunday afternoon nap.

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Things to remember as you read this:

  1. I am not a theologian or Bible scholar – just a twenty-something Christian who wants to know and live in the heart of God…not as conservative as most people assume, but definitely not liberal.
  2. My thoughts are a compilation of several years of questions about the emerging church, many long conversations with people on both sides, and my own personal struggle to find my place in contemporary church culture.
  3. I might regret opening this can of worms. I have more friends on board with the Emerging church than I can count on both hands. I’m not trying to bash your faith – but I do know that most of you have no idea what you are getting into, and I think it is only fair that you be somewhat aware of an opposing opinion.
  4. I have a hard time articulating my thoughts on this topic in any concise manner, so I’m writing in letter format. It will come in two or three parts. Will be lengthy. My apologies.

 Dear Emerging Church –  

First, kudos to you. While most contemporary churches are failing miserably to attract and reach out to my generation, you seem to have mastered the art of relevance. You are culturally astute, and you are up-to-date with postmodern beliefs and attitudes. Your values are attractive to people in my generation, and at the very least, you have created an environment in which conversation about faith can be both comfortable and engaging.  

Unfortunately, that is where my applause stops. Other than being culturally relevant and creating an environment for faith-based conversation, you are leading my generation – my friends and my peers – away from what is real and true.  I am a part of the generation that is struggling with questions about church and culture and relevance and reality, and I have read your books and heard your messages about church and faith. I’m not impressed.  

Postmodernism is a worldview and philosophy – not a theological foundation. You have created a faith based on postmodern philosophy instead of theology, teaching that Truth may not exist or may not be knowable, that we should question everything we’ve ever been taught, and that Scripture comes second to philosophical ideas. What ever happened to Sola Scriptura? Did you forget that the very reason Jesus said He came to earth was to testify to Truth (see John 18:37)? 

Your philosophical faith is just that – philosophical. It is not based on Truth or conviction, and the Jesus you talk about is not the one presented in Scripture. You talk of Jesus as if He too was bound by the culture He lived in, and this gives you a loophole to question His teachings as if they were culturally relevant in His day but not ours. Jesus was not bound by culture. He created culture and He transcends it.  He called us to be Holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), set apart and distinct for the sake of the Gospel. He called us to be different, to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), and no Biblical teaching calls us to relevance over conviction. None.   

You refuse to talk about truth as absolute, but Jesus has told us that HE is the Way, the Truth, and Life (John 14:6).  By your standards, if Jesus is Truth, we cannot know Him, and if He is not Truth, He is a liar.  Neither of these options looks great. It is one thing to question the things that have been taught to you all of your life, but it another thing entirely to question the character of God and the Truth of His Word. The first is a great idea – a way of sifting out false teaching and biased ideas. The second is heretical (yes, I said it – heresy).   

Your movement is (in some ways) scary to me.  My friends are searching for real faith and intelligent theology, and you misguide them with your social action and relaxed worship experiences and postmodern language. You walk them through philosophical circles that they cannot follow, and because it sounds deep, they follow willingly. You meet them where they are – where they are questioning their own faith – and you show them through your wordy messages and beautiful rhetoric that you are relevant. In their minds, you are real, and without understanding the implications of your philosophy and the your serious lack of solid theological training, they follow, unaware of where you are leading and unable to sort through complex theological principles.  

I am one of those people who have struggled with your ideas. You, Emerging Church, are an attractive idea even in my mind. It might be nice to think that Jesus isn’t as tough about conviction as we once thought He was. It would certainly free up the way I live. It is much more fun to talk in philosophical circles than be disciplined in studying the Scriptures. It is hard to deny the attractiveness of your social justice causes and your innovative church “experiences.” But on the basis of my belief in the inerrant and infallible Word of God, I cannot follow you.   

There is nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9), and I think it is presumptuous and arrogant to consider yourselves to be the “new” version of Christianity. Even as I watch my friends inhale your best-sellers and use them to create cynical conversations about contemporary evangelical culture, I am not overly concerned about your movement.  Postmodernism is on its way out (if not already gone), and even you cannot logically stay in your philosophical ideas. Your movement will continue to grow and evolve (yes, I use that word intentionally), and at some point, there will no longer be a blur between your teachings and those in Scripture.  You may lead many of my peers away in the process, but even your movement seems to line up with Scripture. Check out 2 Timothy 3 as Paul talks of end times.  It talks of men having a form of Godliness but denying its power (v5), always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth (v7). And here is why I don’t fear this movement: 2 Timothy 3:9 – But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.  

I’m just praying that clarity comes sooner rather than later. You are wrong about a lot of things, and in the process of re-authoring Christianity, you are rewriting the Gospel, and I’m not on board with that. So – drink your coffee, smoke your cigarettes, and use all your terse language in the name of being culturally relevant. Just don’t count on me to be a part. I choose Jesus – Truth Himself – and I don’t think His ideas about reaching others come at the cost of His message.  

To be continued tomorrow…

**Note: Comments closed for this post. You can send them to me, but I probably won’t post anymore. Watch the new post today (3/17/08) for a brief explanation.**

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