Monthly Archives: December 2007

Divine Hours

There seems to have been a revival of interest in ancient forms of spiritual discipline, notably in the area of prayer. From the early Church, the day was marked by regular hours. As early as the Didache in 60 A.D. Christians were encouraged to pray with regularity – the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, the Psalter throughout the day. By the time of the Church fathers [Clement, Origen, Tertullian] the hours of the day were marked by prayer: the terce, the sext, the none …

There are websites that provide guidance through these hours, mostly from the Orthodox traditions [http://www.agpeya.org/index.html] Over this last year, as I’ve sought to elevate my own discipline of meaningful prayer, I’ve benefitted from the manuals for prayer written by Phyllis Tickle [The Divine Hours.] Written as a Trilogy: Autumn/Winter; Spring; Summer … the books are more than a matter of prayer. They are a guide for the type of worship that is woven through time and space. As she explained: Christians, wherever they practice the discipline of fixed-hour prayer frequently find themselves filled with a conscious awareness that they are handing their worship, at its final “Amen” on to other Christians in the next time zone. Like relay runners passing a lighted torch, those who do the work of fixed-hour prayer create thereby a continuous cascade of praise before the throne of God.

As Christmas approaches, there is an evening [or Compline] prayer that is ending each day. As I pray it in these few remaining days before Christmas, it seems to add more meaning: O God, you have caused the holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light; Grant that I, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with You and the Holy Spirit He lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Everyday Theology

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends
Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson, Michael J. Sleasman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007. 285 pages, $29.99, paperback.

Most of our churches in the Fellowship are not missional, but communal in orientation.  That is, their primary orientation towards the community in which they are placed is inward focused, seeking to draw people into the programs of the church.  On the other hand, the primary goal of a missional church with respect to their broader context is to seek relevant and impacting involvement outside of the programs of the church.  The communal oriented church addresses the surrounding community with approval, caution or rebuke through the stance of an outsider.  The missional church seeks significant involvement with the community in order to speak as an insider.  Such a church takes a missionary stance of seeking understanding, involvement and acceptance with people outside of the church in order to speak with relevance to them.  

Most of our churches in the Fellowship are not missional, but communal in orientation

A missional stance requires skill to recognize, interpret and respond to the concerns of people who do not believe church is relevant to their lives.  Kevin J. Vanhoozer, a research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Theological Divinity School, has made an important contribution to this end through the recent book, Everyday Theology.  The book is designed to provide guidance on “how to read cultural texts and interpret trends” as the book’s subtitle states.  By “texts” Vanhoozer does not mean merely written texts, but all aspects of culture, including music, art, and architecture, that communicate a message.  By interpreting these messages correctly we gain a window onto the yearnings of the human heart. Vanhoozer provides an introductory essay explaining “the Method” for successful interpretation.  The remaining chapters, which include an analysis of Eminem’s music, the grocery checkout line and mega-church architecture, are products of his students that provide insight into how understanding culture allows us to shape the gospel message in such a way that it speaks to the people who need to hear the message of life.

Click to discover a workshop on how to make missional a part of your church’s agenda

Manly Orthodoxy

Over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself increasingly distressed by the quality of evangelical worship, or lack thereof. It’s gotten to the point where I have to discipline myself from ranting over the loss of the deep symbols of our faith, the absence of holy moments and spiritual drama, and the general illiteracy of our treasury of liturgy. It’s troubling.

But, while I seek to contain my rant, I have to share an article written by Frederica Matthewes-Green published on the internet site Beliefnet.com on November 6, 2007. It’s title: Why Orthodox Men Love Church. It was the product of a study she had conducted due to a unique phenomenon: In a time when churches of every description are faced with Vanishing Male Syndrome, men are showing up at Eastern Orthodox churches in numbers that, if not numerically impressive, are proportionately intriguing. This may be the only church which attracts and holds men in numbers equal to women … rather than quess why this is, I [contacted] several hundred Orthodox men, most of whom joined the church as adults. What do they think makes this church particularly attractive to men? There responses … may spark some ideas for leaders in other churches who are looking for ways to keep guys in the pews.

While Frederica Matthews-Green identified 7 key reasons, there was one specific spirit that emerged from the comments: Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding … I am challenged in a deep way, not to “feel good about myself” but to become holy. It is rigorous, and in that rigor, I find liberation. Among the 7 reasons, I was struck by the robust dynamic created by profound worship: It’s easier for guys to express themselves in worship if there are guidelines about how it’s supposed to work … learning clear-cut physical actions that are expected to form character and understanding … learning immediately through ritual and symbolism … the regimen of discipline making one mindful of one’s relation to the Trinity, to the Church, and to everyone he meets..

There is something manly to worship. Matthew-Green reports: the men who wrote me expressed hearty dislike for what they perceive as a soft Western Jesus … a Christianity that has been feminized … presents Jesus as a friend, a lover, someone who walks with me and talks with me … This is fine rapturous imagery for [those] who need a social life … [but] lines like “reaching out for his embrace”, “wanting to touch His face” while “being overwhelmed by the power of his love” are difficult songs for one man to sing to another Man.”

One man said that worship at his … church had been “largely an emotional experience. Feelings, Tears … singing emotional songs, swaying with hands aloft. … from a Deacon, “Evangelical churches call men to be passive and nice [think Mr. Rogers]. Orthodox churches call me to be courageous and act [think BraveHeart.]

The thoughts are well worth pondering. Ideas worth consideration.

New Testament Talk: Defining “Evangelical”

Considerable discussion is occurring about the appropriate way to define an "Evangelical". John Stackhouse (Church and Faith Trends volume 1, issue 1, EFC website) proposes a definition that includes the following elements:  orthodox and orthoprax, crucicentric, biblicist, conversionist, missional, and transdenominational. There is much to commend such a definition, although personally I think it emphasizes the individual aspects of the Christian reality too much and does not express the ecclesial community that marks the Evangelical  reality. Yet, it will serve well for the purposes of historical and sociological study.It is important for us to use terms with understanding, lest we talk past one another.

But trying to define ‘Evangelical’ does raise the question as to which term we might use to most adequately describe a follower of Jesus. The term ‘Evangelical’ may well serve this purpose within intra-Christian discussion and dialogue. However, when we consider the New Testament, particularly the epistle literature, the descriptor most frequently used is "holy ones" (or "saints" as rendered in the King James Version). The focus seems to be not so much on confession of specific Gospel content (i.e. evangelical) which one affirms, but rather on a positional or relational reality (i.e. holy by virtue of position in Christ or relationship with God). In Acts the writer identifies followers of Jesus as "disciples" (e.g. Acts 6:7; 9:19). The emphasis in this term defines the learning that occurs, as a person follows a teacher or philosopher or religious savant  and is mentored in the process. Frequently the New Testament leaders will refer to fellow believers simply as "brothers" (a somewhat generic relational term). In the case of the terms disciple and brothers, again the emphasis is on position (i.e. learner) or relationship. These terms are used by Christians to describe themselves.

When followers of Jesus become sufficiently numerous to be noted, their opponents used diverse terms to describe them. These include "followers of the Way" (Acts 9:2; 24:14); "Adherents to the Christ party" (i.e. "Christianoi", Acts 11:26: 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16); and "the Nazarene sect" (Acts 24:5).

It seems to me that the term ‘Evangelical’ serves to distinguish a certain type of Christian from another kind of Christian. It’s function would be similar to terms Paul used in intra-Christian debate to describe "Judaizers", i.e. Christians who thought Gentile believers should adopt Jewish practices in order to be included within the covenant.  For this reason non-Evangelicals might find it useful to type or categorize a certain segment within Christendom. However, for those within "Evangelicalism" it cannot be a sufficient expression of who we are, because it does not identify sufficiently well our relationship to God and Christ, or our relationship with one another. Here the biblical terms in the first category, i.e. holy ones, disciples, brothers, speak more eloquently and forcefully of our identity in Christ.

Our language reveals the way we think about things. The term "Evangelical" expresses a distinctiveness from other diverse groups. It is exclusive language, in a sense. So when it is used, it separates, it makes divisions. This is sometimes necessary and in certain contexts very helpful.  Within the early church reflected in the New Testament literature,  the language chosen by those within the church to describe followers of Jesus is  positional and relational, emphasizing their oneness in Christ, loyalty to Him as Lord and Saviour, and commitment to fulfilling his mission. As followers of Jesus we may need from time to time to describe ourselves to those without as "Evangelicals" because this term defines us in certain respects. However, when talking among ourselves as followers of Jesus, we might be better served to emphasize the New Testament terms such as disciples, brothers/sisters, holy ones.  It will make us more conscious and aware of our essential relationship with one another in Christ and partnership in Kingdom progress.

Significant Conversations: Onion model of Culture

The Common hunger of Humanity
What we as human beings search for and value in life is the “meaningful” and the “good.”

With regard to the “meaningful,” we are always trying to make sense of our world. Hopelessness, which is what we seek to avoid, is the antithesis of the “meaningful” and happens when the world does not make sense. Children from dysfunctional families, for example, are more prone to be careless of themselves and others – smoking, dangerous activities, lack of respect for boundaries, etc. Their world is not making sense and much of what they do is a cry of despair of the senselessness of it all. They deliberately do what they have been warned against, partly in reaction to the pain that they experience from those aspects of society considered to be places of security and meaning. Ultimately, the lack of meaning leads to suicide, as in the case of the existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre.

the issue for evangelism is no longer (if it ever was) about finding the right delivery system

Tied to this, and which is also a matter of universal human concern, is the search for and desire to experience and center our lives on “good.” We desire and search for that which is conducive to human flourishing. This corresponds with Jesus’ view of humanity. He had pity on the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. They were in need of what is good and they were seeking for it, but they were looking in the wrong places.

what all of us as human beings are seeking are matters of ultimate concern

In other words, what all of us as human beings are seeking are matters of ultimate concern, the questions of human existence: What should I do? Why are we here? What may I hope?

Implications for our post-Christian Environment
Common approaches to evangelism assume that we as Christians have the answers to these questions and look for “delivery systems” whereby these answers can be provided. Church services, evangelistic meetings, tracts, etc., are all designed with the desire to deliver the Christian message. These approaches do work for some, but, if statistics Canada is correct, not for the majority of Canadians.

Read the rest of this entry in Cross-cultural Impact #57

Seeker Becomes Self-Feeder

 
            As full disclosure, I should confess that I’ve been a fan of Willow Creek before Willow Ceek was Willow Creek. In the mid-1970’s the youth pastor of my home church in Park Ridge, Illinois was a Trinity College student named Bill Hybels. I always enjoyed coming home on holidays from Seminary just to see what was happening with Bill and the youth group at South Park Church. In the vocabulary of the ‘70’s, it was a “happening!” High School kids were showing up by the carload, each week more than the last. When I heard one of the elderly people complain, it was the first time I heard a phrase that has since become an evangelical mantra: we are just being sensitive to the seeker.
            The term “seeker-sensitive” has become so much the standard for evangelical style that I was a bit shocked to read the recent confession from Willow Creek reported by Bob Burney in the Baptist Press [November 6, 2007.] As the result of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their philosophy of ministry, the Willow Creek leaders discovered that while they have reached large numbers of people, they have not been producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ.
            The studies, published by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins in a new book entitled “Reveal: Where Are You?”  produced a remarkable confession from my friend, Bill. “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that hey have to take responsibility to become “self-feeders.” We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”
            It’s a remarkable moment. And I can’t help but think that we may begin to hear another term added to our vocabulary next to “seeker-sensitive” … “self-feeder.” It will be fascinating to see what that will begin to mean.