Month: November 2010

integrating Christian proclamation and social action

How to integrate our proclamation of Jesus with social action — and whether we should even bother trying — is one of the big underlying issues evangelicals of our generation must address.

As far as I can tell, it’s this issue that is animating the division between people like David VanDrunen and those who want to talk about and work towards the ‘redemption’ of human culture and institutions.

In this brief clip, N. T. Wright paints a compelling picture of the way Jesus’ resurrection — in which God ‘launches’ the new creation — provides a mandate and a platform for doing exactly that:

The details are tantalisingly thin (it is only a thumbnail sketch of the direction Wright’s heading, after all).

Careful attention would no doubt need to be paid to how Wright would unpack the relation between proclamation and action within the broad framework furnished by the resurrection.

But this has got to be the right place to start as we wrestle with what shape mission should take. And as we entrust ourselves to the risen Lord of all who poured himself out in love for all…

Christian marketing doesn’t have to be an oxymoron

Lots of Christians have a reflexive distrust of marketing.

And I guess I can understand why.

Marketing can often feel downright manipulative. Such as when it tries to manufacture a sense of dissatisfaction — e.g., by playing on the profound insecurities of its target demographic — and then offers a product or service as the solution to this ‘problem’.

But I’m not sure it’s always so cut and dried.

It frequently seems like you can’t really help but ‘market’ yourself. People start forming an impression of your church or ministry are as soon as word gets out about you — whether you’re putting the word out or it’s getting out some other way.

So if it’s happening anyway, then surely the issue is going to be how you’re doing it. And whether you’re marketing yourself in a distinctively Christian way (rather than being sucked in to the perverse dynamics of the industry.)

I found what I think is a great example of this in a comment on this post over at Church Marketing Sucks:

We went around our local area and took pictures of local landmarks that people would recognize that represented who & what [the town was]. Monochromed a lot of the images and then brought out others that we wanted to highlight, including a picture of me and my wife on a billboard. It worked better than we could have imagined and it said, “We are part of this community.”

What a great idea!

Of course, it’d need to be true. You would actually need to be part of your community — engaged and faithfully present in it. But what a brilliant way to show it if you are!

That’s a least one way in which you can market yourself in an authentically Christian way. Any others you’ve seen or can think of?

why it matters that God really did become human

If any assert that He has now put off His holy flesh, and that His Godhead is stripped of the body, and deny that He is now with his body and will come again with it, let him not see the glory of His Coming…

For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half of Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, an so be save as a whole. Let them not, then, begrudge us our complete salvation.

Profound words from fourth century theologian, Gregory of Nazianzus (‘Epistle CI’).

Worth meditating on at any time really.

And especially this weekend as the liturgical clock ticks over to Advent, the season focussing on God’s first coming in the flesh in Jesus — and looking forward to his second coming!

we got reviewed!

Cuba Gallery: Urban / Lightroom preset rose vogue / city / umbrella / reflection / walking / rain

From Cuba Gallery (on Flickr)

A couple of weeks ago, our friend Carla gave a very flattering review of this blog on Hope 103.2FM.

Natalie and I really enjoyed the process of answering Carla’s questions. It helped clarify our sense of what we think we’re doing here — and what kind of conversations we’re hoping to foster.

We also appreciated the way Carla graciously reframed our (extreme) nerdiness in terms of ‘not dumbing down’ the good news as we reflect on stuff in this world that Jesus lays claim to.

At the risk of creating a universe-ending infinite regress or whatever, here’s a podcast of the review.

So thanks again, Carla!

what if hospitality is the key to reading (and applying) the Bible?

Have you ever stared at a Magic Eye picture for ages before it’s resolved and you can see the image inside the pattern?

Or looked up at the stars searching out the relationships modern astronomers have discerned and clothed with ancient mythological names — Orion’s belt, Hercules, Andromeda?

You have?

Well, you know the moment just before everything resolves — where you know that there must be some sense, some coherence, but it’s hovering tantalisingly out of reach?

That’s how I feel about hospitality right now.

I feel like I’m close to a break-through. Close to seeing how hospitality may provide a key to reading the whole Bible. How it may in fact be the central interest and goal that draws together the various threads of the Christian story — of God’s own story.

Of course, it’s all tangled up with the practical question Christine D. Pohl raises in Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (p 150) — ‘If we use hospitality as a lens through which to examine our homes, churches, jobs, schools, health care, and politics, might we see them differently?’

(This is especially true because, for some months now, I’ve been working on some resources to help local churches harness hospitality to better connect with their communities in mission and service.)

Like I said, I’m not there yet. If there’s a break-through coming, it’s still waiting in the wings.

But stay tuned! Because I’ll have something for you — irrespective of whether or not the pieces all fall into place…

why the church needs to reclaim the evangelical margins

'Christian Dirce', Henryk Siemiradzki (1897)

I’ve got this growing sense that the church needs to reclaim the ‘evangelical margins’ — at least as far as our engagement in the wider culture is concerned.

Read pretty much any portrait of the early church. Whether it’s Rowan Williams’ subtle and masterful treatment in Why Study The Past? (which should be mandatory reading for every theological student). Or Rodney Stark’s racy The Rise of Christianity.

What do you see?

A church clinging fiercely to its crucified (and risen) Lord. Often in the face of entrenched suspicion and social exclusion — if not always of direct and active opposition.

The early church’s position of social and political powerless, was used by God’s Spirit to confront the powers and authorities and contest, e.g., Caesar’s false claim to absoluteness.

There’s something about the marginal situation of the early church that makes the church’s identity and mission transparent. Which is why I’m convinced that Richard Bauckham‘s words need to be our rallying cry:

The church in the West may have to get used to the idea that its own centre in God, from which it goes out to others in proclamation and compassion, is actually a position of social and cultural marginality.

It may take some getting used to. But with Bauckham we may hope that ‘This may improve its witness to the Christ who was himself usually also found at the margins’.

could mission be the key to reading (and applying) the Bible?

I read Richard Bauckham’s new — and as-yet-unpublished — paper on ‘Mission as Hermeneutic for Scriptural Interpretation’ last night (h/t Mike W). I loved his treatment of the ‘theological geography’ of Christian mission in terms of:

  1. The centrifugal movement of individuals ‘sent out’ from the gathering of believers,
  2. The centripetal pull of a community that God is powerfully present in, and
  3. The exilic scattering/dispersion of churches such that our identity is detached from any one physical centre.

You can get hold of the whole thing HERE. But I want to share this brilliant quote:

[T]he church’s mission takes place between its commissioning by God and the coming of the kingdom of God. It lives from the God who gives and sends and towards the God who gives and comes. We can see how the world of possibilities the biblical narratives create for their readers is not simply a different way of seeing the world, though it is that, nor are the possibilities such as the church’s mission itself can achieve. The missionary church’s “passion for the possible” (Ernst Bloch) is a passion for what is possible with God, for what the church, living faithfully and expectantly, receives as divine gift in every anticipation of the coming kingdom.

Much hunch is that only something like this can break the deadlock between the advocates of Christianity-as-world-transformation and those (like David VanDrunen) who are concerned that this emphasis threatens to unhitch redemption from God’s decisive action in Christ, attaching it instead to God’s continuing presence in Christian engagement with culture…

re: creation

I know I promised to say some more about why I think it’s important for us to join the dots between providence and redemption (in relation to VanDrunen’s Living In God’s Two Kingdoms). And I will get there.

Before I do, I want to take a step back and glance at what appears to be an underlying issue. And that is the vexed one of the continuity and discontinuity between this world and the new creation.

I was fascinated to observe how VanDrunen marked out the distance between his ‘take’ on this issue and those of neo-Calvinists thinkers, N. T. Wright, and Brian Maclaren. But his comments did nothing so much as bring to mind this (extended) quote:

Let us be clear […] about the relation between our present work, our present reshaping of the world, and the future world that God intends to make. Christians have always found it difficult to understand and articulate this, and have regularly distorted the picture in one direction or the other. Some have so emphasized the discontinuity between the present world and our work in it on the one hand, and the future world that God will make on the other, that they suppose God will simply throw the present world in the dustbin and leave us in a totally different sphere altogether. There is then really no point in attempting to reshape the present world by the light of Jesus Christ. Armageddon is coming, so who cares about acid rain or third-world debt? That is the way of dualism; it is a radically anti-creation viewpoint, and hence is challenged head on by, among many other things, John’s emphasis on Easter as the first day of the new week, the start of God’s new creation.

On the other hand, some have so emphasized the continuity between the present world and the coming new world that they have imagined we can actually build the Kingdom of God by our own hard work. I am thinking not just of the so-called liberal social gospel, but also of some aspects of Calvinist heritage, which, in its reaction against perceived dualisms of one sort or another, has sometimes played down the radical discontinuity between this world and the next. This is sorely mistaken. When God does what God intends to do, this will be an act of fresh grace, of radical newness. At one level it will be quite unexpected, like a surprise party with guests we never thought we would meet, and delicious food we never thought we would taste. But at the same time there will be a rightness about it, a rich continuity with what has gone before, so that in the midst of our surprise and delight we will say, ‘Of course! That is how it had to be, even though we’d never imagined it.’

Know who said this?

One of VanDrunen’s adversaries — N. T. Wright (The Challenge of Jesus, p 138). And that complicates things a bit, doesn’t it? Because as far as I can tell VanDrunen would utter a hearty ‘Amen’ to this!

you may not be able to judge a book by its cover…

…but what about by its introduction?

Over the weekend I read the first chapter of David VanDrunen’s new book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision For Christianity and Culture. Chris has glowingly reviewed it (at some length). And various snippets are appearing around the web.

Since I’ve only read one chapter, I’m in no position to make any definitive pronouncements. But I do want to share my gut discomfort with what appears to be a key distinction VanDrunen introduces on p 26:

Scripture … requires a distinction between God’s providential sustaining of human culture for the whole of the human race and his glorious redemption of a chosen people that he has gathered into a church now and will gather into the new creation for eternity.

In a sense, this distinction is unobjectionable — as far as it goes. I don’t think that we’d want to invest every action or occurrence in the history of the world with redemptive significance. Not that God doesn’t (providentially) sustain and govern his world. Simply that not everything is invested with the same significance as the events and occurrences picked out in Scripture.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that it’s the connection between the (admittedly distinct) realities of God’s providential and redemptive action that gets big billing in the Bible. I’ve pondered this before.

Keeping it tied to redemption is certainly part of the burden of the traditional theological analysis of providence in terms of God’s governance and preservation of (as well as his co-activity with) a world he’s given its own created — and therefore dependent — integrity and independence.

Why is it important though? I’m not sure I can exhaustively say in this brief post. That’ll have to wait for a later instalment (preferably when I’ve read more of VanDrunen’s book).

why Facebook isn’t radical enough

We watched The Social Network the other day. Anything involving Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher and Justin Timberlake was bound to be awesome. But I left the cinema feeling sad and bitter.

It had a little to do with feeling yucky about the people represented. But mostly I was just really really disappointed with the way the film represents the motivation for the genesis of Facebook: a desire to leverage the status of being at Harvard in order to pull chicks.

I have a very fond affection for computer geeks. I miss daily working with programmers and being able to hang out with the IT department. Like Alison, I got a kick out seeing the technology of my life on screen.

Furthermore, I love the radical hacker ethic that went hand in hand with the development of the internet; an ethic that seeks open access, freedom of information, decentralisation grounded in a radical democratic ideal and mistrust of authority, love of beauty, and judgement based on merit rather than status.

I’ve been thinking lately about how that same ethic could intersect with academic anthropological research.

Facebook is not part of this radical hacker ethic.

Over at St Eutychus, Nathan has posted a review of the film and makes this comment:

I hear a lot of Christians bagging out Facebook because it “doesn’t promote real relationships” or it has replaced time with real people or because it promotes superficial relationships over deep ones.

My problem with Facebook is exactly that it reproduces all the status of real relationships. It was created out of a desire to reproduce exclusivity and what Lupe Fiasco might call ‘the cool’. It has none of the imagination or ethical commitment of a hacker ethic.

And the problem is, we all think it’s cool too.