Culture

Dipping into the Donald Miller Discussion

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If you follow Donald Miller’s blog, entitled Storyline, you know that there has been quite a raucous concerning his two posts from a couple of weeks ago. I simply wanted to dip into some of Miller’s content and provide a couple of the responses that merely approach the main concern or question surrounding the ideas that Miller presented. I would also like to include some of my own affirmations and concerns with what Miller has put forth.

The first post was written sometime last week and was called I Don’t Worship God by Singing; I Connect with Him Elsewhere.  Perhaps this title is self-explanatory, but within this post Miller attempts to explain the alternatives to a “traditional” church model that he has begun to pursue. Miller elucidates these alternatives by sharing the ways in which he now seeks intimacy with God and how he learns about God. Miller explained that he rarely learns anything from hearing a sermon but rather from doing the teaching himself-he attributes this to the fact that he considers himself to be a  kinesthetic learner (learning by doing). In addition, Miller says that he experiences most intimacy with God through his work and building his company as apposed to singing in a worship service. Suffice it to say, this post created quite the domino affect.

The next response post he wrote a couple of days later and it was rather lengthy. The blog was entitled, Why I Don’t Go To Church Very Often-A Follow-Up Blog. This blog was primarily a response to some of the more concerning comments that he came across. I won’t take the time to surmise all of these here, but go ahead and give it a skim for reference and a deeper understanding of what Miller was referring to in his first blog.

Lastly, Miller wrote a blog yesterday as a third (and hopefully final) response to his original blog post. This blog post was entitled, Church Anywhere and Everywhere. I found this post to be the most clear in regard to where Miller’s heart resides. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if you walked away from this post confused about where Miller stands. Here, Miller hones in on the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers and attempts to uphold it in order to provide a platform to support what his original blog post was intended to mean. He wonders, in this post, whether or not God has given us more responsibility and more authority (each of us, individually) than we have allowed ourselves to accept-hence the focus on the Priesthood of all Believers.

If you have at least skimmed through Miller’s posts then here are a couple responses for you to munch on as well:

Well, if you are still with me and want something more to think about (which, I highly doubt), then here are some of my personal thoughts on the topic.

I totally believe that there are some nuggets of wisdom in what Miller is offering up in these blogs, and I think there a lot of Christians who actually agree with him, but I think we must realize what is actually at stake here. At the heart of Miller’s blogs the question that needs to be asked is “Who is the Church?”. This is about the church’s identity and much less about alternative forms of worship or whether or not we should gather on a Sunday.

My main issue with Miller in these posts is that he does not seem to grapple with the robust vision that the New Testament offers for what the church is to be. If anything, Miller seems to be buying into the common misconception that American Evangelicalism has provided in recent years and that is that the church is to be centered around a weekly Sunday gathering. If we see church through this lens, we will always be seeing a cheapened version of what the church was actually meant to be and we will always be left discontent.

We miss the point of not only a Sunday gathering but who the church is when we limit it to hearing sermons and singing songs. I resonate with Miller’s restlessness in his desire to see the church to transcend the bounds of its Sunday gatherings and I agree! I simply don’t understand why he stops there and retreats to the rhythms that work for him. If the church is truly Christ’s bride, then we ought to hold her more dear and have a vision and a hope for who she is and who she can become. When we see that the church is not aligning with her identity found in Scripture then why we do continue to sit passively in our pews as if we have no influence. The church is continually being re-formed and that is ok-let’s engage in that process rather than retreating from it!

The New Testament confronts us with an intense perception of the church as a community that gathers to encourage, equip, and remember God together and then scatters in order to partner with God in reaching out and restoring the world. We need to re-read books like Ephesians to gain an understanding of the church that is not limited to a mere Sunday gathering, but a community that lives life alongside one another.

I appreciated Miller’s thoughts and glad he began the discussion and also glad that the responses I read were respectful and helpful. Hopefully this stuff gets you thinking!

Ever Been to Grand Rapids??

I – along with a few dear friends – am traveling to Grand Rapids tomorrow evening until Thursday evening for a conference that is entitled A Missional Reading of Scripture. I am particularly excited for this conference and hoping for encouragement, refreshment, and a greater and deeper engagement in regard to how I understand and interpret Scripture in light of the Missio Dei (perhaps I should lower my expectations a bit?… nah :)).

Missional-Header

One of the speakers is a Pastor/Theologian named N.T. Wright. Wright is one of three or four writers who has remained a consistent conversation partner for me in matters of Scripture, Theology, and simply learning how to follow Jesus. Wright has helped me along in the tumultuous task of engaging in Scripture in ways that I could have never attempted alone. He has helped me to honor the book that Christians deem to be “the Word of God” and I am deeply grateful to him. I will look forward to hearing him speak (and hopefully meeting him)  especially now that I have heavily engaged with six or seven of his books in the past three or four years. There are three other main speakers that are brilliant in their own right, but I have not engaged with any of their writings at the level I have with Wright’s works. But still, I look forward to hearing helpful and challenging perspectives from Darrell Guder, Christopher J.H. Wright, and Michael Goheen.  In between these four (actually five because Wright will be having another lecture the night before his main lecture at a church about 15 minutes from the conference space) lectures there will also be workshop tracks to engage in after each lecture. This is the structure of the events that will unfold during the conference and if you can’t tell, I am very excited to hear from these scholars!

Alright, that is the conference, and I will look forward to writing about it when I return, but here is where you can participate: If you have ever been to Grand Rapids, what are places that you would recommend (to eat, to drink coffee, to visit etc…)? Our group has a couple of places that we wanted to check out (granted we don’t have a ton of free-time to explore), but I wanted to here if anyone out there had any worthwhile suggestions for us to consider! Comment on my blog to let me know your ideas so that we might pack our stay in Michigan with some local-to-Grand Rapids experiences. Thanks in advance for your input!

An Excursus on Righteousness

Have you ever pondered the fact that words can have various meanings according to the culture, time period, and community in which they are uttered? Sometimes the difference between what words once meant and what they now mean is quite nuanced and other times these differences are drastic.  For instance, take the word “cool”. When we use the word cool today we are typically describing someone who is confident and tends to “roll with the punches” of life. By our standards, a cool person is someone who never getting too bent out of shape — at least not outwardly. For African slaves in America during the 19th century, this word meant something rather different. For these African slaves, the word cool was meant to depict an outward confidence that was a way for their community to cope with the utter suffering that they had to endure. They were not actually cool, calm, or collected, but it was the word they used in order to grope for normalcy amidst chaos. “Cool” is an example of a word through which we are able to grasp the occurrence of words that evolve and change over time. Sometimes definitions undergo more significant change than we see in the word cool. Etymologies can be traced that show us that certain words, while spanning centuries, have undergone significant re-definition. I have been learning that one of these words is the word righteous.

The word righteous has undergone many phases, most of which I can hardly begin to unravel. I am especially interested in how the word righteous is used in the Bible and how we use it today. I know that there are plenty of intermediary periods that can shed light on this word, but I hope that we will be caused to see differently as we unpack the etymological differences in the word righteous.

Why is this important? I am convinced that a contextual study of the Bible changes how we see. We often come to Scripture with our own cultural lens, but in order to understand some of the nooks and crannies of Scripture we must begin to wonder about the intent or meaning behind this or that word or phrase. Righteous is one of these words that I hope changes the way we see as we encounter it in Scripture.

In today’s post-elightenment era, the word righteous has often come to mean one who is morally upright. In fact, a quick search through google shows us that Merriam-Webster defines righteous as:

morally good: following religious or moral laws.

Would you disagree with this definition? I tend to think that most of you would not, but please tell me if you would have! When we describe someone as righteous, we are usually defining the moral quality of their person. I am not saying that anything is wrong with the way that we have come to define this term, but I am saying that it is important to understand words in different contexts if we are to understand and interpret the Bible in its context (without bringing out context to bear upon it). As you might have guessed though, our modern-day definition only speaks to part of how the Bible defines the word righteous.

The Bible is where we often see the word righteous and what people think of when they utter the word. Most generally, the word denotes relationship (yes, you read correctly). In the Bible, righteousness often refers to the relationship God has with his people. There are four major components of this “righteous relationships” that is evident at different moments in biblical literature.

1) Righteousness often refers to God’s saving acts in human history. God’s rescue of Israel from Egypt is a great example. These acts of God’s rescue are always described as righteous. Micah 6:5 is a great example of this, but the Psalms are also littered with similar examples.

2) When God rescues his people in the Old and New Testament, he always grants them a new status: righteous. Through God’s saving acts his people are granted a righteous status before Him. There is a great quote from Rudolph Bultmann that helps incarnate this idea:

It [righteousness] does not mean the ethical quality of a person. It does not mean any quality at all, but a relationship. That is, dikaiosyne [Greek] is not something that a person has on his own; rather it is something that he has in the verdict of the “forum” to which he is accountable.

3) Righteousness always includes a human response to the saving acts and granted status of God to his people. The righteous acts of his people are not necessarily morally upright acts but those acts that are proper and in accordance with how God has treated them . Simply put, how God treated them is the model for how they are to treat others. The righteous response to God’s pursuit is an embodiment of how God has graced them in his saving acts and in the new status he has granted them.

4) Lastly, righteousness always corresponds to peace in the Bible. Peace, as depicted in the Bible, usually means wholeness. Righteousness therefore brings peace to interpersonal relationships just as God has enacted peace through his righteous acts and granted status of righteousness to His people.

Hopefully through this brief explanation you will notice the discrepancies between our modern conception of righteousness and the biblical conception of that rich word.

This content was gathered from two different sources. The first paragraph that explained the etymology of the word “cool” was gathered from a book entitled “The Vertical Self” by Mark Sayers. The rest of this blog was content that was gathered from a book entitled “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” by Kenneth Bailey. 

Wrestling with Rhythm

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Rhythm and routine: two concepts that I am largely unfamiliar with but desperately desire. Routine does not accurately reference what I am referring to exactly so let’s stick with the word rhythm. What constitutes a “rhythm of life” and how do we attain or latch ourselves on to such a rhythm? Also, how do we reject a idealistic rhythm that is next to impossible to maintain? These are some questions that I have been wrestling with and so I thought I would write here for us to discuss. First of all, what is rhythm and how does it tangibly works itself out in life?

To me, a rhythm can be similar to a routine insofar as there are certain things you do at certain times of day on particular days of the week, but there is also something that distinguishes it from a routine. Rhythm, like in a musical composition, refers to the pattern or movement of, in this case, sound. Rhythm can also refer to the pace at which that sound moves as well. So, let’s say that rhythm refers to a particular pattern, movement, and pace.

I read this article this morning and it presented the daily routines of some of the most creative and intelligent minds of our modern age. It was a really interesting read and I believe that it spoke to this idea of rhythm. If you take a look you’ll notice that the rhythm’s that these brilliant people maintained were rather quirky. I think that by observing the differences among people it is safe presume that routines and rhythms are rather relative to each individual person.  I think too that rhythms are, to a certain extent, based on the season that we are currently inhabiting. Thus, it would make sense that our rhythm of life might have to be adapted and re-formulated as we are forced to readjust and find a new pattern, movement, and pace.

I once had someone who had undergone many difficult transitions in life tell me that “a balanced life” seemed completely utopian to him. Instead, he realized that God often brings us into seasons of extremes in life where tension, compromise, and rhythm exists. It makes sense to me that rhythm is not a call to a balanced life (where we give equally to everything on our plate), but a life of health lived in the midst of these seasons of extremes.

What is necessary to establish a rhythm? First, discipline. From there, I am not entirely sure, but I think it begins with knowing our priorities. Perhaps there are things in our lives that must be cemented into every phase of life. These may be things like waking up every morning at 6 and praying, writing, or just sitting quiet. Maybe there are significant relationships that deserve time no matter the season. What about hobbies? Exercize? Whatever it is, if these people, disciplines, or hobbies are not identified then they will be more easily forgotten and left out of your schedule even though you desire for them to be included. At the most general level, priorities need identified.

Also, I think that article is right in noting that scheduling is extremely helpful in maintaining a rhythm. Writing your schedule down (the archaic route of course) or putting it in your google calendar can be a helpful means of maintaining pace and pattern. Either way, having your schedule written out can be a helpful hint and maybe even be helpful to those who are close to you.

I think that one of the most important things to remember is that your rhythm must be completely determined by the season that you find yourself in, but it also must include the “unmovable boulders” in your life. I hope that as I learn this it will help me to be more intentional with my time and less reactive to all that is happening around me. I hope the same for you.

With all that said, I am still in the learning process of what it might mean to maintain rhythm in the season I am in currently. Do any of you have anything to add or subtract? I appreciate any and all conversation!