Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Neil deGrasse Tyson and believing in science (or not)

A clip on Sunday’s 60 Minutes showing a sold out crowded auditorium of dedicated followers, Neil deGrasse Tyson opened with this line:

“The great thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.”

To which the crowd wildly applauded and cheered.

Here’s the thing, no one in that audience (and probably most watching that 60 Minute segment) ever even thought of questioning his false statement. Yes, false.

You see, science is neither true or false.

DeGrasse said it all for show, to get around people actually thinking. Science, the discipline through which, using various methods, seeks to determine how things in the created world works. Tests are done. Data is collected. Conclusions are drawn. While it can be true or false that a scientific discovery (i.e., conclusion) has been made, or the data from the experiments and research is true or false, science itself is neither true nor false.

Scientists can draw conclusions that are true or false. And some conclusions are a leap that involves faith at its best. For instance, the existence or nonexistence of God doesn’t necessarily follow experiments that create “life” in a laboratory. Science does not answer metaphysical questions. Scientists and those who use science can believe science answers such questions--but that is sheer faith, not science.

In fact, many scientists see a Designer (yes, capital “D") behind creation and the known universe. The conclusions drawn after scientific experiments lead many scientists to see a Designer beyond the material creation, and thus further conclude that God exists.

I found it rather humorous that the premiere astrophysicist used such a line--either he is not as knowledgable as his degrees and bio suggests (which I doubt, for he is very knowledgable); or, he was conning his audience with a weasel statement or mere puffery in order to manipulate them. So, they’d respond with emotion, not thinking. I believe it was the latter.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Taking the crowds (that surround our churches) more seriously

After studying and writing on the Mark 3 Beelzebul passage about blaspheming the Holy Spirit (it isn’t what you think it is), I was fascinated by Mark’s use of the “crowds” throughout his Gospel. If we take Mark as inspired and the “crowds” as a strategic character in the gospel story, it seems to me we should grasp the “crowd’s” significance.

One specific characteristic of the “crowd” is they are always around Jesus, meeting and greeting him, listening to him, jumping over one another to be near to what Jesus was doing. Another, the “crowd” is sometimes believing and sometimes unbelieving, and sometimes, well, you just can’t tell one way or another. I have come to the conclusion that is the way it should be with the church, the local church today, who is God’s fullness, Christ’s body local. The church should be surrounded by the “crowd” (stop thinking just in a building). While the inner circle of followers and disciples are believing and learning obedience, the outer circle that surrounds the church (and sometimes crowding inside) is a little foggy on the issue, but they are out to be there--sometimes looking like believers, sometimes they won’t, and sometime you will just not be able to tell one way or another. We need to see the “crowd” around the church as a vital character in the church’s story in the community it finds itself home to.

Read the chapter in my Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism:

“A Prelude to Judgment (Mark 3:20-35): The Beelzebul Episode and Its Significance for Evangelistic Social Action”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Gay Marriage: A settled Bible and Orthodox Christian teaching-I think not

I was told today that it doesn’t matter what the Greek words exactly mean, for it is settled Bible and Orthodox Christian teaching concerning same gender marriage. I might still have issues with this subject myself, but I cringe at this position on the Bible and Christian Orthodoxy. Slavery and divorce-remarriage were settled issues also at one time by Bible and Christian Orthodoxy.

The same text used in 1 Corinthians 6 includes those in adultery, so that would mean those who marry divorced people, who the Bible says are then committing adultery, cannot and are not granted access to the kingdom of God. I guess I would be deemed unworthy of the kingdom as well since I am divorced and remarried to a divorced person.

I am thankful for those willing to battle over the text of Scripture, because the text is central to this debate . . . not our feelings, not our traditional views of marriage, not politics, nor our prejudices.

I believe that personhood and full and free access to the Father are the issues in this debate. I do see it a bit different than most. But with that said, the text is central to the discussion. Although I haven’t fully decided my own position on gay marriage, I certainly am not ready to make a stand where there is certainly interpretive disagreement by fine exegetes on both sides. I am disturbed to think settled theology can’t be challenged (on any topic). I would like a similar stand on those who are covetous, since those too cannot inherent the kingdom. Let’s see as much emphasis on the other adjectives and named types in that Corinthian passage.

Friday, January 16, 2015

ETS paper proposal: The Dynamics of “Inner” Sacred Space (Eph 3:16)

Putting a brief summary together for a paper on Paul’s use of “inner man” in Ephesians 3:16 for the upcoming ETS Northeast regional annual meeting. The paper should also be a chapter for my next book on Church Growth, Not By the Numbers:

The Dynamics of ”Inner” Sacred Space (Eph 3:16): The Church-Temple as Revelation of God’s Reconciling Mystery and Its Potential for Church Growth Outcomes

Typically, church growth outcomes is limited to numbers of people and is verified by an increased averaged attendance at one specific type of event (i.e., a weekly worship service) in one room (i.e., the sanctuary or place where the weekly worship service is held) at a particular address or tallied as increased membership at an annual congregational meeting. This is a building-centered form of church growth, which is actually foreign to the concept of “church” in the New Testament. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians imagines believers “growing into a holy temple in the Lord” that forms “a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (2:21-22). This paper seeks to establish Paul’s “inner man” as a (corporate) temple reference (3:16c), which is an allusion to the “one new man” that is God’s growing church-temple.

A corporate reading of Paul’s “inner man” reference in the Ephesians 3:16 context reinforces the church-temple as sacred space and as such has revelatory power, disclosing the wisdom and mysteries of God (cf. 3:8-10). This implies that church growth outcomes go beyond numbers of people and may include social, demographic, and justice outcomes as well. This study will develop this thesis through (I) leveraging the concept of Sacred Space for a interpretive-model; (II) by examining an “individual” vs. “corporate” reading of Paul’s use of “inner man” in the Eph 3:16 context; (III) by showing how Solomon’s temple dedication and other Old Testament temple texts have implications for interpreting Paul’s “inner man” reference; and, (IV) how a corporate understanding of “inner man” denotes the revelatory nature of the church-temple; and, thus, indicating potential church growth outcomes beyond mere numbers of people.

Paper outline:
I. Leveraging the Concept of Sacred Space reFocuses a Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation
II. Weighing the Context and the Burden of Interpretation: Individual or Corporate?
III. Potential OT Implications from Solomons Temple Dedication and Other OT Temple Texts
IV. The “Inner [One New] Man” Temple Reference and the Revelatory Nature of the Church
V. The Corporate Implications: Revelatory Church Growth Outcomes

Friday, January 09, 2015

Paper Proposal--Domesticating Church Growth (Eph 5:18-6:9)

I am preparing a proposal for a paper, which I am also designing to be another chapter in my book on Church Growth, Not By the Numbers, a journey in the book of Ephesians. Here is a draft for the proposal:

Title: Domesticating Church Growth (Eph 5:18-6:9): The Architecture of God’s Spirit-Filled Church-Temple (Wives-Husbands, Father-Children, Masters-Slaves) and Outcomes of Personhood

Our focus on numbers as church growth, that is the average tallied attendance in one room on a Sunday or the totaled at an annual meeting’s reading of a membership roll, creates a social reality that promotes “church” habits and attitudes that are antithetical to the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, potentially creating space that dehumanizes individuals, promotes inequality among populations and demographics, and views people as consumers to be targeted and the gospel as a product to be marketed. Church growth outcomes related solely to numbers of people in relationship to a building-centered church experience limits potential outcomes that reflect the imagery and trajectories presented in Scripture, particularly as imagined through the text of Ephesians. Paul’s reference to the “filling in the Spirit” (5:18) and the following Haustafel creates space to think biblically, even exegetically, about “church growth,” for the sacred space(s) currently in place (i.e., the typical building-centered church experience and business-centered bureaucratic church models) can be barriers for reimagining from the text a different narrative for church and church growth.

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians presents the local congregation as God’s expanding ("growing") household-temple in the Spirit (Eph 2:21-22), making the “filling in the Spirit” command (5:18) related to (local) church growth, not simply privatized spiritual development. Commentators note that the household code (the Haustafel) that follows in Eph 5:21-6:9 is related in some way to the command to be “filled in the Spirit.” This paper will take into consideration that the household code, or domestic relations, following the filling command is the expanding structure of God’s Spirit-filled church-temple. The re-oriented domestic relationships in Paul’s Haustafel (Eph 5:21-6:9) are the church-temple’s architecture: the expanding sacred space created by the filling is the household code of wives-husbands, fathers-children, and masters-slaves. This suggests potential church growth outcomes related to “personhood.” The paper will develop this thesis through (I) how “sacred space” impacts our concept of “person”; (II) connecting the “filling in the Spirit” to the church-temple imagery in Ephesians; (III) developing a contextual reading of the “filling of the Spirit” command; and (IV) demonstrating how the Haustafel suggests a trajectory of church growth outcomes beyond mere numbers.

I. Sacred Space and the Concept of Personhood
II. The “Be filled in Spirit” Command and the Church-Temple Imagery
III. A Contextual Reading of the Filling of the Spirit: Ephesians 5:16-21ff
IV. Household Codes as the Architecture of the Church-Temple: The Trajectory of the Filling
V. Implications: The Significance of Personhood and Church Growth Outcomes

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Think more deeply about Christmas (part 2)

Facebook thoughts over the past two weeks on “Thinking more deeply about Christmas”

I am not so sure that our tamed version of the Christmas story is truly able to save to the uttermost, to deliver men and women from the deep despair, selfishness, suffering, and sordid wounds that scar our souls and minds. As my daughter reminded me tonight after the Christmas Eve service, we cannot avoid the fact that the Christmas story begins and ends in a death sentence--at every turn someone wants Jesus dead. But we have so tamed the story and have made it more palatable to fit on a Hallmark card or as background Muzak in our stores. There is lament blended with the angelic choir declaring peace and joy; and, it is through this lament (found in Mary’s song and in Rachel’s cry) that only this joy and peace may come. The wretchedness of humanity and the deep wounds of our neighbors are not cured by our tame, commercialized Christmas story. Think more deeply about Christmas.

* * * * * * * * * *

“I am sitting in church with my family and I am thinking that few if any of these people here know what it’s like to wake up afraid, in fear of their lives. They will wake up to food and presents and family, safe in their houses. It won’t be on their minds to think of everyone who doesn’t have the security, the privilege that so many of us ignorantly have. There are kids around the world that go to bed fearful for their lives and wake up so thankful they made it through the night; yet so incredibly frightened because they will spend the rest of the day afraid. What a privilege it is to not wake up afraid” (by my daughter, A. Hawley Anderson). And, may I add: think for deeply about Christmas.

* * * * * * * * * *

When the cliche is used, “Wise men still seek Him,” I wonder if they also include “where” do they find Him? The pageantry of American Evangelical Christianity tells us He is found amid the sparkle, high energy, glitter of showmanship and architectural theater. The wise men sought Him in the king’s palace. They were wrong. “Where” they found Him (in Matthew’s Gospel and based on God’s Word, I might add) was amid the poor, small, little town of Bethlehem, for which the prophets told us, didn’t amount to much (couldn’t in its day raise enough soldiers to protect itself). Wise people might still seek Him, but if and when they do, they are only wise when they seek Him in places that are insignificant--and following the Matthew 2 story--and where there is (the potential of) death and destruction to follow, for Herod ordered the slaughter of all the male two-year-olds and under (I assume in Bethlehem) in order to prohibit any potential insurrection to his power. Where are you seeking Jesus, the Messiah, born King? It matters where you seek Him, for where you find Him matters--and it puts everything at risk, for the power, elite, and affluent will seek to stop this humble king from disturbing their reign. Think more deeply about Christmas.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him’” (Matthew 2:7-8).

Don’t be fooled by power’s kindness and rhetoric about our faith. Those with power, whether thrones, government, or business, don’t take challengers to their power lightly. They feign worship to disguise their real intent: control any possible insurrection of their power. Power is never a friend to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Think more deeply about Christmas.

* * * * * * * * * *

Just saw a rather good tag line in a meme: ‘Is there room for me in your Christmas?’

There are so many people (do I really need to list them for you) that are wondering just that about our churches. Think more deeply about Christmas this year.

* * * * * * * * * *

Do your last minute, end of year, seasonal, Christmas donations to the poor make a happy moment for the poor, then leave them in the same condition before the donation? Sure it makes you feel good. You get a tax deduction. But the poor stay poor. Consider more systemic, strategic sacrifices, giving, and decisions that have long term potential to alleviate the conditions of poverty. Think more deeply about Christmas.

* * * * * * * * * *

At this season, of which we say we celebrate the all sacrificing Lord of Heaven and Earth relocating from the glories of heaven to be “nailed” to this poor planet, finding His first moments of incarnation in a dirty barn out back of an Inn, I wonder if we even think of following this king, who became poor so we could be made rich in grace? I see in the media and, as well, here on FB the pageantry celebrating the glitter of the commercial-version of Christmas, nothing--nothing--like the first advent. I am reminded at this time that so much of the church’s wealth, resources, and talents are so poorly distributed, being hoarded by the few. Explain to me how this displays the first advent in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 and the real meaning of Christmas? Think more deeply about Christmas.

* * * * * * * * * *

Think more deeply about Christmas . . . words from Miroslav Volf, “Poor is the church which relies on the power of the state.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

The first moment of incarnation for the Son of God, the King of all creation, was to have no place, to belong a family who had no place, and to find a bed among barn animals in a musty barn out back of an inn. Why is it that modern followers of this King continue to want and seek to be incarnated in safe, affluent, well-membered, rich-in-resources places? Church, think more deeply about Christmas this year.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thinking more deeply about Christmas (part 1)

When we read the Christmas story in both Matthew and Luke, we should be struck at how unassuming and insignificant an occasion it was. The real Christmas story should destroy our paradigms that suggest bigger is better, leveraged popularity is the pathway for success, and privilege and numbers are needed to produce results and an affective rate of return for donated resources. Everything about the original Christmas story should shake the foundations of modern business-modeled church and mission. It should render celebrity and high professionalism dead or at least as nothing to God’s ways and plans. It should destroy our notion that numbers have a better scaling affect on mission.

Mary could have started a movement; but the shepherds returned to their fields. Even the large magi entourage (there were not just three wise men!) that could have funded the project left and is never heard of again. Reread Mary’s song, after it was revealed that she was with child by the Holy Spirit, is characterized by lament and irony:

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:46-55).

A young couple living with disgrace over an unplanned pregnancy, and what looked like sin, had to endure ridicule and eventual banishment to a foreign country. Numerous innocent children, two and under, were slaughtered as a result of this baby born in a dirty barn out back of a local, insignificant motel. The brief moments of rejoicing quickly fade in the story and we are left with anguish and sorrow, and confusing mystery. Nothing about the story as it is told in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 is neat, proper, and a platform for success; but is messy, harmless to history, and blatently left mundane.

The Christmas story is hopeful, nonetheless, to every regular, everyday person, not because it is a spectacular church or media production, but for it is insignificant, ordinary life at the margins. Like the poor, scandalous pregnant, unwed teenager sang, this Christmas scene in the gospels is about God showing the strength of His arm and, right there, he destroys the proud and arrogant thoughts of our hearts.

Think more deeply about Christmas.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thanksgiving Day with the family wasn’t what was on God’s mind

Trouble in the making here (you are warned!): I feel the need to make a comment on all the posts from Christians and conservatives concerning businesses, especially Big Box businesses, closing down for Thanksgiving.

First, it is no skin off their bottom-line backs and plays to the PR value of “appearing” family friendly. I will give that there is perhaps some sincerity in the shut downs, but really, the Big Box Stores have stock- and share-holders and Boards that ultimately care about the bottom line (store managers cannot independently shut down a franchised store on their own). Second, we’ve got to stop applying our suburban Christianity to the issues of our day (or what we suburbanites perceive as the issues of the day) as if that’s the only reality to which the Bible speaks. I find it offensive, frankly. And third, a cousin to the second, these Big Box stores hire low-income populations who are on the clock and will not get paid for the missed hours (all because suburban family value Christians have advocated and in some sense pressure for such a non-voluntary day off). I am all for scheduling as many as want to have the day off, but to blanket the entry-level populations with lack of funds for a day is another thing. For the suburban Christian to be a cheerleader for “closing down on Thanksgiving” is arrogant, culturally self serving, and, frankly, an act against the poor and low-income families in mass. Seems to me, contrary to following Jesus.

I know you want to set a good example, Christian, but it is your suburban example you are setting, not necessarily Jesus’. Please recognize there is not one verse or passage in the Bible that calls for you to advocate for shutting down businesses on the American holiday we call Thanksgiving (which by the way, is a holiday that highlights our disenfranchising the native Indians for whom we stole their land through violence in the first place--you go Christian!).

Family values-suburban style is NOT what the Bible calls for. Want to set a good example: move your families out of the sidewalk-less-suburban neighborhoods and into the more low-income and impoverished neighborhoods and really act like Jesus among your urban neighbors. Or, take your Thanksgiving meals into the city and share--after the days work is done for the good, responsible, hardworking people of our urban centers. Or, take out your checkbooks and payout to those missing a day’s pay because of your suburban family values. (Gonna get hate FB-post now.)

You have 365 days a year to make a difference. Stop sounding like a family meal around a thanksgiving feast is a Christian virtue. Die on that cross you so happily sing about on Sundays. Advocating for a work-free Thanksgiving day is an easy, cross-free, fake spirituality. Now I know there are many good intentioned Christians advocating for this; so, rather than take offense, think first about what I have said. Think Christianly.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving day--I do and so appreciate my mother’s and wife’s efforts to provide a feast. Advocate for the poor. Remember Micah 6:6-8:

“‘With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Thanksgiving day was not on God’s mind here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Idolatry of church growth as attendance

When defining church growth in terms of attendance, we must recognize that most attendance is gained through inner-local-institutionalized-church shifts. Not new Christians entering into attendance. Church growth isn’t really happening; it is merely shifting geographically from one local, institutionalized church-building to another. When one claims “our church is growing,” this is at the expense of another who must say, “Our church is in decline.” This is, in part, the idolatry of attendance as it relates to so-called “church growth.” I believe we need to rethink both church growth and, as well, church.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Thoughts on the significance of the Ephesian’s temple reference and imagery (2:11-22)

Significance of “temple” in Ephesians for developing biblical church growth
Ephesians presents the blessing of God’s redemptive actions “in Christ,” that is Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God in the heavenly places, in juxtaposition to the Gentiles’ former relationship to temple-life.  This frames Paul’s Letter to “the saints who are at Ephesus” (1:1). In fact the centrality of the temple-concept can be seen in the pivotal, and central pericope of 2:11-22, where the Gentile-Jew One New Man (2:15c), the church, is referred to as “a holy temple in the Lord” (2:21c).  Interpreting this text, 2:11-22, and developing its significance to the contemporary local church must consider this aspect of Paul’s framing as he develops his concept of the church local (i.e., the church in Ephesus).

Like the relevance of ancient idolatry and idols within a contemporary social environment, the concept of “temple” also has contemporary referents.  Ancient temples were structures, as well as systems, in miniature to display and explain people’s relationship to divine rulers, deities, and creation. The priestly functions and the habits formed by people participating in the temple system orient the person toward a worldview and a personal, group, national identity--forming how the creation works and which powers exist. There are contemporary “temples” as there are contemporary “idols.” There are contemporary “temple systems” as there are contemporary forms of idolatry.

All this is important in applying the significance of Paul’s temple-teaching in Ephesians and developing a biblical concept of church growth. Our building-centered church experience provides a similar temple-experience for people today, forming habits and offering a display both to the believer and, as a testimony, to the community who God is, how creation is ordered, what defines God’s community, and where God’s purpose is to be carried out.

Significance of the Gentile-Jew framework
No doubt the issue of the Gentile and Jew relationship needs to be considered both for interpreting the Ephesians 2:11-22 text and seeking to apply its significance to the church today. While it is important to understand the hostility and prejudice that existed among Gentiles toward the Jews throughout the Roman world, Paul seems more concerned with how the Jewish world and its temple system related to the Gentiles.

The barriers exist that keep the Gentiles from access to God in Christ. The language Paul uses, particularly in 2:11-22, seems more concerned about the negative effects of keeping Gentiles from experiencing the Messiah, than merely a ethnic hostility between Gentiles and Jews. Pauls reference to the breaking down of the dividing wall that abolishes the enmity between Gentiles and Jews (2:14c-15b) seems less about “Law” as a barrier to Gentiles having access to God in Christ, than how Jewish temple-experience enables such enmity to exist that keeps Gentiles from Messiah. For Paul harnesses the imagery and language of the Old Testament to describe both this existence apart from Messiah and how the Gentile-Jew believing community now has “access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:18).

What should be considered as that which places a barrier to the Gentiles is lack of access to the Scriptures, i.e., the Old Testament that contains extended blessing to the Gentiles (the Abrahamic promise) and the promise of Gentile inclusion in God’s remedy of exile, through the development of a system of belief and temple-experience. Paul’s reference to the “enmity” (2:15a, 16b) does not necessarily mean the Gentile-Jew hostility that existed, but equally can be the barrier causing enmity in the system of interpretation and temple-experience that kept Gentiles out, on the margins, and/or ignored in relationship to God’s promises to them. The significance of the language and imagery Paul uses to describe the former condition of Gentiles (2:11-12, 19) implies that the barrier causing enmity can be the systems of interpretations and systems of building-centered church life. The Gentiles of Ephesus former experience of pagan temple-life and the former experience of Jewish temple-life can be barriers to free access to the Father (v. 18). Modern systems of interpretation and building-centered church life can have the same outcome, hindering free access to the Father in Messiah.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Some dangerous thoughts on Sunday morning: Placelessness & the church-building experience

For most, if not for many, the suburban church experience is “placeless.” There might be addresses (e.g., 477 Long Street, or 23 Thomas Drive, or 100 North Wilbur Ave) attached to the buildings where Christian communities gather weekly, but such addresses do not mean these buildings, let alone the gathered church in these buildings, are a place. Place is confused with address; a destination, such as a church-building, is not a “place.”

Obviously I am defining “place” similar to the idea “there is no place like home,” that is, “place” offers identity where relationships, associations, and commitment have rooted meaning and memories, more specifically identity. Think of the idea of “place” in relationship to the command “to love your neighbor.” It is hard to love one’s neighbor when suburbanites are divorced from their neighborhoods by their weekly, daily, mundane routines of work and church.

Most suburban churches are dependent on the automobile so individuals and/or families can traverse over unrelated space from their neighborhood (which is a “place") to a locale divorced and disconnected from their neighborhood. There is little to no relationship between the two points, that is, first, there is no connection, roots, ownership or investment in the space between home and neighborhood and the address where a church gathers in its addressed building; and second, there is little to no relationship to the neighborhood surrounding the address of the building to which they have traveled to meet as a group of people. Thus, modern suburban churches depend on Christians leaving their neighborhoods (which is a “place") to gather together, to support with their time, efforts, resources, skills, and finances a building, which for all spiritual and practical purposes is not a place. Literally the building-centered church robs neighborhoods of Christians, along with their resources, talents, and capacity, who are recruited and, then, via the automobile, are transported out of their own neighborhoods to a placeless building experience unconcerned about “neighborhood.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

Living as New Creation Exiles (Jeremiah 29; 1 Peter)

A brief proposal for an article to be submitted to CCDA Theological Journal (no guarntee, for sure, but I thought I’d share the idea--I’ll probably do the article, no matter)

Living as New Creation Exiles:The Distraction of False Prophecy, Envisioning the Welfare of the Land (Jeremiah 29; 1 Peter)

Strangely, the New Testament describes the church as a community in exile (1 Pet 1:1; 2:11; Jas 1:1). This is an ironic designation, since God’s redeeming work through the cross of the Messiah was the solution for the sins of his people and an end to their condition of exile, thus creating a new humanity (Eph 2:11–18), the church of the redeemed. On the one hand, Christian congregations are people of hope and life; on the other, they are a suffering, exiled people because they are aliens, strangers in this world—in their communities, in their neighborhoods.

Jeremiah 29 is a text about God’s exiles living in Babylon, far away from their rightful home. Yet, even as exiles in a foreign land, God calls his people to live out the new creation by seeking the welfare of the city. Incredible! In seeking the welfare of Babylon, the evil empire used to bring God’s judgment of exile, they will find welfare—they will find peace. Jeremiah 29 presents an image of God’s people as carriers of the future through their present action, doers of hope and peace. Meanwhile, there are false prophets whose message offers faulty hopes that distract from God’s purposes, both in his judgment and in his redeeming promises for peace.

Using 1 Peter as a NT point of reference, this article will be an exposition of Jeremiah 29, showing the local church to be God’s New Creation Exiles. I seek to make Jeremiah 29 preachable (as a teaching tool) for pastors, so they may enable their congregations to lean toward their city of residence, their parish (the wider community), the neighborhoods (the places where the church people live, go to school, work, play, and interact with friends, colleagues, neighbors, and social structures). Based on the significance of Jeremiah’s message in chapter 29, I will also offer potential outcome development that will help Christian communities to act as New Creation Exiles as they “seek the welfare of their cities.”

Check out my new book, Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism, A Journey in Mark’s Gospel

Saturday, March 01, 2014

New Adam-New Man as Church: It’s significance for church growth models

As most of you know I just finished and released Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism. Well now I am working on my next book--my study in Mark (i.e., Wasted Evangelism) led me to the topic of church growth; so, now I am turning my exegetical attention to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  I enter the fray through Ephesians 2:11-22, more specifically here at the beginning with Paul’s reference to “One New Man” in Eph 2:15. Below are my initial thoughts as a prepare a paper for the New England region of ETS’s annual meeting at the end of March.

The “New-Creation Adam” as Church: The Significance of the “One New Man” on the Biblical Concept of Church Growth (Eph 2:15; cf. 4:22–24; Col 3:9–11; Rom 6:6)

Like the concept of evangelism, church growth is typically not formed by exegetical study and often lacks theological reflection; but, is usually consigned to matters of practical theology. Much of popular church growth literature builds concepts and models of church growth, not on the significance of the text of Scripture (i.e., exegesis and sound biblical theology), but on social group dynamics and the methodologies of contemporary marketing. “What works best” is the paradigm for modern (and even postmodern) church growth models, and dare I say, market-driven propaganda. Bible verses and Bible stories are often harnessed as proof-text backup where words and phrases have some verbal or conceptual correspondences to our modern concepts of church and church growth (the ideas precede exegesis and biblical theology), leveraging the modern concept to interpret the original meaning in the texts being used (i.e., leveraging application to interpret the biblical author’s meaning). This study seeks to investigate the use of Paul’s reference to the “new man,” with a special interest given to Ephesians 2:15 and 4:22–24 (cf. Col 3:9–11; Rom 6:6), and its significance for developing a (more) biblical concept of church growth. The “new man” concept and imagery is related to Paul’s understanding of the “Last Adam” and the “New Humanity,” which are intrinsic to Paul’s understanding of God’s action through the Christ-events, particularly the cross-event, for determining the defining nature of the church; and, thus, the “new man” has implications for our understanding of church growth and church growth strategies. Herein I will seek insight from Paul’s understanding of Jesus as the “Last Adam” and the Church as the “New-creation Humanity” as biblical concepts and imagery that should shape a biblical understanding of church growth; and, then, draw some conclusions regarding form and function of the Pauline “new man” (i.e., corporate “last Adam,” the “New Humanity”) for implications on Church Growth models and strategies.

1. The Problem of Church Growth Paradigms and my working thesis about church growth

a. Ephesians 2:11–22, particularly verse 15 and Paul’s reference to “one new man” (ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον, hena kainon anthrōpon) draws out a wide range of contemporary social issue topics: gender, race, immigration, reconciliation, diversity. In fact, the way one even translates or the various contemporary Bible versions render the phrase hena kainon anthrōpon, literally “one new man” (v. 15), leverages the issues rather than seeks the meaning and significance of Paul’s choice of words in their particular epistolary context (or contexts in other texts utilizing the same verbal experience or literary concept). This tends, even in attempting an English dynamic equivalent for the phrase “new man,” to leverage application in order to determine meaning and significance (i.e., the tendency to translate the Greek word for man, anthrōpos, as “self” or “humanity”). /1/

b. Similarly, church growth models and paradigms, which strangely enough do not rely on what is overtly a “church growth” text in Ephesians 2, often tend to apply the praxis of church growth as it is known in the modern context to the texts of the Bible. Paul’s allusions and references in Ephesians to “new man” and their NT literary concepts elsewhere are a frequent identifier of the body of Christ or what we understand as the church or churches./2/ Interestingly, it is even a concept based clearly on the Jesus-event of the cross. Despite the importance of the personal significance of the penal substitution of Jesus Christ for our justification and forgiveness of sins, the cross-event is also the basis, even more so if biblical occurrence is taken into consideration, for providing the definition and content of Christian ecclesiology, discipleship, mission, and, in particular, church growth.

c. I contend that we need to rethink “church” and “church growth,” yet not in terms of the modern American experience (or even the postmodern American moment), nor in terms of various market-driven business models, economic paradigms, or the within the boundaries of established church-building and ecclesiastic bureaucracies and socially constructed church-related habits (e.g., weekly, building-centered, event oriented, power-invested-in-a-few “leaders” church systems, local and denominational). We need to demythologize and, yes, deconstruct our modern notions and habits of church, missions, discipleship, and church growth (and dare I say church-planting). We need to create the space to think biblically, even exegetically about “church” and “church growth.”

d. For classification and referent sake, I am using a blended definition of the English term “Church.”/3/ As I use the term church I am less concerned about the its relationship to the Greek word ekklesia and its NT use, and more or less utilizing its for its common contemporary referent as social groups who gather together, typically through a building-centered . . .

e. What is the nature and objective of biblical church growth? This is the first concern: exegetically can we derive at some New Testament understanding of church growth? What is an exegetically defined understanding of “church growth,” what significance does that understanding have for us today, and, then, how should be apply that significance? I add, what outcomes should we have to determine actual church growth?

f. My three working theses for a biblical concept of church growth:

1) Exegetically defined: The New Testament concept of church is not the building-centered experience of “church,” but derives its conceptual meaning from the imagery of the “new man” (which I provisionally render as New-Creation Humanity) and the imagery of the expanding garden-temple of God’s presence among creation.

2) The significance of New Testament church growth (based on “new man” texts): The New Testament concept of church growth is not the expanding number of individuals who can occupy a given space on a regular and/or weekly basis, but the geographic and demographic expansion of God’s new-creation humanity living out God’s reign and rule amid everyday life and who seek local and global missional outcomes based on God’s right to reign and rule over all aspects of humankind.

3) An outcome-based trajectory: The outcome of a New Testament concept of church growth is not an expanding number of individuals who occupy a given space on a regular, weekly basis, but the geographic and multi-demographic expansion of God’s new-creation through a humanity acting as God’s redemptive image-bearers.

/1/ “Deeper life” circles tend to build expanded “theologies” of human nature, inividualistic Christian life, and personal applicationi from the translations rendering Paul’s reference to “new man” or “old man” as “new self” or “old self.” Similarly those who identify with various gender, race, or immigration issues draw on modern renderings of Paul’s “new man or “old man” as “new humanity” or old humanity.” Although significant, application for personal spiritual (or deeper) life experiences and modern political and social issues should not anachronistically move from the English rendering to Paul’s meaning. The significance of the phrase “new man” (or “old man”) should stem from its original meaning in order to find appropriate and applicable outcomes of obedience by Christians and the Christian community.

/2/Interestingly we refer to the congregations of believers as “church” when “church” (or ekklesia) is one of the least frequent verbal identifiers of the groups, gatherings, or congregations that identify or call themselves “Christian.” In fact, similar to the German word “Kirche” or the Dutch “Kerk,” our English word “church” derives its etymological background from the Greek word kyriakon, meaning “belonging to the Lord” which at first turned into”the Lord’s people” or “the Lord’s community” and only later in history became associated with a place referred to as “the Lord’s house.”

/3/For which I prefer to understand as “gathering” or “assembly” or a geographically (not demographically) related social group of Jesus followers, i.e., converts to Jesus Christ, that form a loose membership of mutual commitment to each other to apostolic traditions. This seems to be a proper view of the use of ekklesia (church) for both our reading of the New Testament and what should be our view of churches as we know and experience such in our life today.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Some thoughts on power and structures as I develop my paper on Eph 2

Those in power and those benefiting from those in power tend to validate the structures that enable the powers and the benefits by projecting god or divine approval onto that structure, sometimes even affirming that god or the divine inhabit those structures. I see this in our modern politics as well as in our evangelical attachment to our American style of government and economic system. (Even antiChristian, atheists, and the cultural politically liberal attribute divine character to their views of the American Dream and the structure they seek to have in place--it is unavoidable; whatever carries ultimate authority is still sacred no matter who is doing the projecting.) Any threat to the structure is tantamount to attacking god or the divine, i.e., the sacred (or in the case of evangelicals, attacking God and Christianity).

Please don’t read I am against the constitutionally guaranteed American life or against capitalism and the free market (which bytheway isn’t in the constitution or bill of rights, albeit a reasonable result of our constitutional form of rights and government); I just am not attaching divine like attributes or origin to them as if they are “in” the Bible. Our evangelical attachment to the constitutional form of American life is more socially contrived than biblically affirmed. We walk, as evangelicals, a fine line between idolatry and socially derived benefits from our form and structures within a constitutionally formed American life. I contend we stand in need of more biblical affirmed values, which will inevitably lead to advocating for the poor and marginalized more so than protecting our benefits and comforts derived by our constitutional rights and economic privileges.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reason for the judgment of exile, the sin that matters

Two sins in particular stand out for why Israel was judged and cast into exile: idolatry and not caring for their poor. I have argued elsewhere that the Bible links idolatry and poverty together, but here I focus on the issue of poverty as the reason for judgment:

“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. You are to use accurate scales, an accurate ephah and an accurate bath” (Ezekiel 45:9-10).’”

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,� says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 3:5).

“Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-1).

When Christians speak of why Israel was judged and exiled, we make it sound like their sins were related to the current and modern debaucheries of porn shops, poorly crafted TV shows, the Grammys, and the unconstitutional policies of the debased Washington DC political elites. But a more careful reading of the Old Testament leads in a different direction for the cause of Israel’s downfall and eventual judgment of exile: Not caring for the poor as a nation. Now I will grant how to apply and correct this sin among us contemporaries is difficult and open to serious discussion, but it is the sin that God considers central to his judgment--it is the sin we should be discussing (especially a the church in America). Even the foreign, non-Israelite emperor Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon was judged and exiled for the sin of not caring and showing mercy to the poor. Daniel, God’s man in the king’s court, was clear on what Nebuchadnezzar needed to do to repent:

“Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity’” (Daniel 4:27)


So when I hear Christians, preachers, and religiously right ideologues chant on how evil the nation has become, I cringe. For we are not only distracted by the glitter of Caesar’s playboy palace (the glitter of Hollywood and the media), but we actually argue against advocating for the poor and marginalized. Frankly, despite my very conservative view of politics, the economy, and the constitution, America’s demise (aka eventual judgment of exile) will not be because Beyonce pranced around the Grammys looking like a porn shop diva or Katy Perry danced with the devil or because our pols have wrecked the constitution (which they seem to be indeed doing), but because we have not cared for and advocated for the poor and marginalized right here in our neighborhoods. We have not--right and left, conservative and liberal--ensured that the least among us have shared in the benefits of living in this land. I put this mostly on the so-called church, Christians, and may I add for emphasis, evangelical Christians. The church, the local and wide church in America should be making this the first concern, calling for a serious discussion, empowering every congregation to call for this repentance and take action to care and advocate for the poor.

"My conscience is
captive to the Word of God"
~Martin Luther~


"Anyone wishing to save humanity must first of all
save the Word"
~Jacques Ellul~

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