Church

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!

“To each his own!” – What We Mean When We Say This

Have you ever heard someone say this to you in response to something you have decided to do or to say? What was your response when they said this? I have heard this a few times in my life and for some reason I can remember and recall the content of the conversation and who had uttered the phrase “to each his own”. Since my later years in high school, this phrase has irked me; you could call it a pet peeve or a conviction of sorts, but it doesn’t really matter what you call it. The reason it has irked me (which I realize might sound silly to some) is not because the semantics or the choice of words, but rather the sentiment that lies behind the statement.

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I am not sure if you have ever studied the period of time in European history known as the Enlightenment, but if you haven’t, I would recommend that you do so because it is one of those things in history that has had a tremendous impact on our Western world . For the time being, I will simply introduce you to some of the ramifications of this movement during the 18th century in Europe. The essence of the Enlightenment philosophy was an elevation of the human faculty of reason as the highest and most virtuous of human qualities. The aim of the enlightenment was to create a people who were free (this is evident in our Declaration of Independence). What was it that people were to be free from? The Enlightenment was a movement that attempted to free people from the restrictions of tradition and community and move the spotlight on the individual who was the one who contained natural rights and the freedom to fashion their own future. Thus, there was a certain detachment that the Enlightenment created from other people (community) and from history (tradition). My good friend, Stanley Hauerwas, writes this about the impact of the Enlightenment on today’s modern culture:

Yet most modern ethics begin from the Enlightenment presupposition of the isolated, heroic self, the allegedly rational individual who stands alone and decides and chooses. The goal of this ethic is to detach the individual from his or her tradition, parents, stories, community, and history, and hereby allow him or her to stand alone, to decide, to choose, and act alone.

I think that the phrase “to each his own” actually perpetuates this Enlightenment type of thinking and tends to support the detachment from community and history that our modern culture aptly personifies. First, the community. Every time that I have heard this phrase spoken it has felt as if the person saying it has little care for understanding who I am. Also, while they are in the process of saying these four words they simultaneously seem to be in the process of detaching themselves from me. Does it not seem that way to you too? The sentiment behind this statement keeps people from a true knowledge of one another and thus keeps them at arms length. Just as well, it forfeits the opportunity to dig into life with other people; to know deeply and to be deeply known. This sentiment, birthed from the age of the Enlightenment, says “You do what you want to do and I will do what I want to do, and everything will be cool” or “Just make sure not to infringe on my individuality and we will be ok”. Our culture has a inflated view of the individual and it keeps us from real community and deep relationships and I think these ideas are found in such statements like “to each his own”. We are far too content with remaining strangers with family, friends, and those we deem apart of our community.

Second, the deeper meaning of this phrase tempts to detaches us from history and tradition. As a lover of history, I despise this idea because no matter how hard we try to separate ourselves from the past (whether it be our parents, our personal story, or from the far-removed ancients) the more we realize how inextricably connected we are to everyone and everything that has come before us. We are not individuals that are isolated from the people and events that came before us and whether we acknowledge it or not, most of our life is a reaction to what cane before us. It is ironic that we wish to detach ourselves from history when the very idea of individualism taking center stage and tradition or history entering backstage is a direct product of a historical happening! It was the philosophy of the Enlightenment!

At this point you may be wondering why any of this actually matters. Well, I am particularly passionate about these ideas (and openly critical of them) because they have no room in the community of people called the church. The church is a community of people where strangers come to stop being strangers and where those with no story come to realize that they are indeed apart of a story. In the church I cannot see any room for sentimentalities that propose detachment from each other or from history. The church must be a body where people no longer remain strangers to each other nor remain detached from the history and tradition. Therefore, there can be no throwing around of such phrases as “to each his own”. This sentiments has the potential to estrange us from our community and the story of humanity. The church and its practices should oppose Enlightenment thinking and leave behind phrases such as “to each his own” that bring about a worship of the individual. How do we do this? Great question. Thinking would be a good place to start…but don’t think alone, think with others :).

P.S. I welcome all critiques, clarifications, and comments on this matter!

The Mission of God=Evangelism?

There is a great book out there by a guy named Graham Tomlin called The Provocative Church. My friend Matthew McClure recommended it to me a couple of years back. It is a wonderful book on evangelism and the mission of God. I especially like it because it has this chapter called “evangelism makes me feel guilty”. Sounds risqué, I know. I like the title because I sometimes feel that way about evangelism. In fact, I have come across many young people in the church who feel similarly. Some feel burdened and guilty because they know they (or at least they are told) should be sharing the gospel with their friends (this might be an appropriate time to remind my readers that this blog is not a place where I write about polished arguments or propose ideas that I am fully certain about, so be sure to keep that in mind). I think there is something very wrong with this. I don’t think conviction is wrong about these things is wrong, but guilt is something quite different. It is not a sign of health when churches contain people who feel guilty and burdened by the admonishment that they receive from leaders and peers to share the gospel as the only way to partake in the mission of God.

I think the reason that many of the students that I know are disenchanted and burdened with guilt by evangelism is because it is often framed as the only way to live a missional and intentional life. Therefore, if it is the only way to do be apart of God’s mission and they are not doing it, then it makes sense that guilt would be a proper response. Perhaps you’d disagree, but it makes sense to me. The problem with this though is that God’s mission is broader than just evangelism. Much broader.

There is another book out there called The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission by John Dickson and in it he puts forth the idea that God’s mission is not merely sharing or proclaiming the gospel, but something much more of which proclaiming the gospel is part. He draws from biblical theology and history to describe the different ways in which the church partakes in the mission of God. As a preface to this argument, Dickson says that sharing the gospel is kind of like the “icing on the cake” of God’s mission (which I agree with). He also states that evangelism is indeed for everyone, but at the same time it may not be everyone’s primary activity within the church and the mission of God. Essentially, he proposes that not everyone is primarily an evangelist. My issue (which Dickson addresses aptly) is that living missionally is often assumed to be synonymous with evangelism and sharing the gospel, which can contradict a proper ecclesiology on the body of Christ being made up of many members. This argument is not that complicated. When I look at Ephesians 4:11-13 and 1 Corinthians 12 I see a description of a community that is made up of a diverse group of people in personality, gifting, and strengths/weaknesses. I am not sure that I give students that I meet with a vision for the breadth of God’s mission and the variety of ways that they can partake in it according to their giftings, personality, and whatever else. More often I treat God’s mission like a “one size fits all” pair of pants– unfortunately, there is no such thing! If being an evangelist worked for that person, then it should work for this other person too, right? Sounds silly, but I think God’s mission gets narrowed when we do not aptly cast vision for people to be part of it in ways that makes sense for them. This is not to say that we should not challenge people in our churches to get our of their comfort zone and do what they are not good at when appropriate, but it is to say that we need to cast vision for variety of ways to partake in God’s mission as the body. If we do approach mission with a “one size fits all” mentality then I fear that we will end up with people who are burdened and guilt ridden.

I appreciate what Dickson proposes in his book. Dickson uses the word promote (rather than proclaim or something like that) to describe the different ways in which the church is able to “promote” the gospel or partake in God’s mission. He says that we can promote the gospel with our prayers, our public praise, our beautiful works, our money, our words, and a couple others that I cannot recall right now. In any case, he broadens the practical ways in which people in the church can actually promote the gospel, and I think it is an important thing to think about for the health of our churches.

Wheaton Theology Conference 2013 – Christian Political Witness

I am not sure if you have heard of Wheaton College and/or their Annual Theology Conference that is held in April, but either way, you should check out their media archives from this years conference. You can see watch videos or listen to the lectures here.

This years theme or topic was Christianity and Politics. The topic strikes a cord in us doesn’t it? It seems implicitly unsettling, controversial, and perhaps not important. Unsettling and controversial?-I get those two reactions. Not important on the other hand could not be further from the truth. I think the role of government and the role of the church is something often misunderstood and watered down to a simple repetition of Romans 13 or 1 Peter 3. I’m convinced that the Bible just doesn’t talk of politics but instead that the Christian faith is a politic in and of itself (stirring the pot, I know- but I have to give credit to Stanely Hauerwas for this). There is a vast history of relations between church and state, and there is so much of that history that pertains to the predicament of the church and state today.

In any case, the first lecture I listened to from this conference was “Church Matters” by Stanley Hauweras. I will leave you with a quote from his lecture in which he states, “Christians no longer believe that the church is an alternative politics to the politics of the world, which means we have lost any way to account for Christians in the past who thought they had a faith worth dying for”. I hope you are able to ponder the question of Christianity and politics deeply through some of these lectures.