Discipleship in America, Part 3: Some Responses to Individualistic Consumerism

January 29, 2006

At this point, I want to unpack some of the statements I made in my last post.  It is easy to point at problems.  And it is just about as easy to offer vague solutions.  But we must go deeper than simple prescriptions.  We need to re-ground Christian practices theologically, and practice them in an intentional contrast with the Powers.  In my previous post, I named the "power" of consumerism.  Our response to consumerism shouldn’t be capitulation.  Instead, we should resist it inasmuch as it caustically erodes our faith.  Since "individualistic" consumerism undermines an authentically Christian, Trinitarian, approach to prayer and reading Scripture (because it causes us to find our identity outside of the context of the Church and because it reinforces and hardens our own inadequate and incomplete God-images), it must be intentionally resisted in our Christian practices.  We cannot confront it only within the realm of ideas since, as Vincent Miller suggests, we can only challenge consumerism and commodification with Christian praxis, since ideas can easily be commodified and consumed. 

So, how can we practice prayer and Scripture-reading in ways that intentionally confront the power of Consumerism?  Here are just a few suggestions.  I’d welcome any additions from you, my readers:

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Discipleship in America, Part 2: The Problem with Individualistic Consumerism

January 25, 2006

I was hoping to sumbit my second installation of this series earlier, but I’ve been overwhelmed this week.  I have an event to attend this weekend (InterVarsity’s Breakaway) and am preaching at the Crossing at Woodland on Sunday morning, so I’ve been feeling spread thin.  Nevertheless, I am perhaps more committed to writing this series than I’ve been committed to anything I’ve ever written in this blog.  And so, here is part 2.

The Church should take a much more central position in how we conceive of our faith.  This observation is articulated by many many emerging church leaders.  When one reads the Scripture, it is helpful to keep in mind that it is the Church that is being addressed, not the individual.  This is more than just semantics.  The individual cannot read Scripture apart from the context of the Church.  And I am reminded by a comment that Eugene Peterson once made (I’m not sure where it comes from, but when I get home I’ll look it up and cite it in the comments) that prayer must first be a community enterprise and then an individual one.  We should come together and pray according to the mission, purposes, and needs of the church, and then, when we are at home alone, pray for our selves as though we were one part of a larger group.  This is contrary to the normal practice, where we build up a sort of prayer list in our private prayer sessions, and then come to church or small group or prayer meeting with the top 2 or 3 ready to be shared during prayer time.  At the end of the meeting, a big list is compiled made up of individual needs, and then maybe…maybe…there are prayers which center around the church.

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Discipleship in America

January 20, 2006

How do we live as disciples in this nation? One might be tempted to think that this is a relatively easy question. But this is the most difficult question that I’ve ever pondered. Bear with me as I explain why.

A lot of folks assume that discipleship is pretty straightforward. You just read the bible, pray, and fellowship with folks (usually in that order), and you’ll become a fine disciple of Jesus. Some folks disagree with that sort of logic. I am one of them. I agree with Hauerwas, who says “crazy” things like you need to be a disciple BEFORE you should be entrusted with the Bible (I’ll get to that later). In a recent interview, Hauerwas said this in regards to our “personal relationship with Jesus:”

I really don’t like the word ‘personal.’ It makes it sound like I have a relationship with Jesus that is unmediated by the church. They have the idea that “I have a personal relationship with Jesus that I go to church to have expressed.” But the heart of the gospel is that you don’t know Jesus without the witness of the church. It’s always mediated.

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More Random Thoughts of Evangelism

January 19, 2006

The reason that Jesus created a Body…a group of new humanity to
continue his work…is that we should EMBODY the Gospel, enfleshing the
patterns and rhythm of the Christ-life. Evangelicalism misses this,
because we have a semi-gnostic core that misses the importance of
ecclesiology and the need for a patterned life.  Our Gospel is abstract
and timeless.  Our core doctrines are void of context. 

As Christ patterned life, being the form of humanity, he saved us.
And so, conversely, by patterning the Christ-life in our new humanity,
we bring salvation to others. 

Some Random Thoughts of Evangelism

January 18, 2006

Earlier today, I took part in a regional gathering of InterVarsity staff.  I am the newest member of the North Central Region of InterVarsity.  I think I’m the only person from my region who has no experience with campus ministry.  I come to InterVarsity with a background in church ministry, most recently as an urban church planter (my job is to start a West Bank chapter that is a shared ministry of InterVarsity AND Missio Dei).

Many parachurch organizations grew out of the failure of the Church to engage it context missionally. The church in modernity began to compartmentalize itself, believing that it was the job description of the church to perform a set of vital functions.  Evangelism was one of these functions.  The problem was that once an organization is committed to its own survival and the care of its members, it can become very difficult to also commit people and resources to evangelism.

And hence it was largely the megachurch that showed us the way to salvation.  Resource-rich and people-rich, these large communities were able to offer differentiated professionals and volunteers to tackle the different "tasks’ of the church: evangelism, worship, teaching, pastoral care, mobilization, etc. 

In recent years, many within the Church have begun to realize that that ecclesiology is more that a set of tasks.  And many folks realized that things like community and evangelism weren’t seperate things at all.  About 10 years ago, folks began to read books like the Celtic Way of Evangelism and slowly woke up to the realization that community is an integral part in evangelism (though many folks throughout history already knew this little secret).

And so, today I found myself listeing to InterVarsity folk talking about evangelism.  InterVarsity uses a tool called a GIG (Group Investigating God) as their key evangelism tool.  These small communities of students gather to explore the Bible together.  And as much as I respect InterVarsity, they still tend to do things in a way divorced from ecclesiology.  They tend to see mission apart form ecclesia, just like Churches often see ecclesia apart from mission.  IT was evangelicalism, largely, that created parachurch organizations as a response to the Church’s failure to engage its culture missionally.  And while folks within groups like InterVarsity realize that it needs to embrace community, they haven’t really gotten to the point where they’ve embraced the Church.  I hope the sort of partnership I’ve formed with InterVarsity is a taste of things to come.

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DeLurking Week

January 14, 2006

Apparently, it is delurking week.  All over the blogosphere, bloggers are calling upon lurkers to reveal themselves.  I’m not making this up…it truly is delurker week all over the web. 

So, if you’ve been reading this blog, please leave a comment.  It is your civic duty to do so…after all it is delurker week! 

Tell me your name, where you’re from,  how long you’ve been a reader, and then just any old info you want to share!Dday_button_copy

Promoting the Consumerism Conference

January 12, 2006

The upcoming conference on Christianity in a Consumer Culture is coming together quite nicely.  In addition to having Ron Sider, Sondra Wheeler, Rodney Clapp, and Vincent Miller coming to be our main speakers, we have a number of breakout session leaders like Ryan Torma from Spirit Garage, Kevin Rains from Vineyard Central, David Fitch from Life on the Vine Christian Community (and author of the Great Giveaway)…plus a number of others. I mention these folks in particular because they are all church leaders and have blogs to which I link.  We’re having folks from other walks of life as presenters as well).

But I need your help getting the word out.  We don’t have a very large promotions budget.  Our good friends at Emergent sent notice of the conference in their latest email newsletter, and a few bloggers are helping get the word out, but we need more help if we’re going to have the 200+ registrants needed to pay for the thing. Please help if you are at all sympathetic with the aims of the conference.

Why should you care? Well, if you’ve ever been frustrated by the ways in which consumerism and the consumer impulse make it hard to be Christian in this country or hard to do church in a way faithful to Jesus, then you know that consumerism is a HUGE problem that must be addressed by Christians.  And, if you’re like me, you’ve felt powerless and unsure of how to respond to the consumerism and materialism in our churches.  This conference is designed to get a bunch of excellent thinkers and a bunch of excellent "doers" in the same room (though most of our folks are a bit of both) to work through how we as Christians can live our faith out in this consumer culture of ours–a culture that makes it very difficult to live out the Gospel call. Rodney Clapp makes the case even more eloquently in a recent interview. 

Here’s how you can help:

  • register for the conference
  • if you think folks at your church would be interested in coming, email me your mailing info and I can send you some nifty brochures which fold out into posters
  • if you are a student or professor, see if your school would be interested in displaying the poster, and then email me your mailing address so I can send you some
  • link to the conference on your blog or website.  you can host the conference banner on your blog with the code below:

<a href=""><img
width="175" height="100" border="0"></a>

(the banner will look like the one on the top right of my blog)

I’m open to any other ideas you’ve got…but they’ve got to be cheap!

Revisioning the Church

January 9, 2006

Ed Stetzer, church planting guru, has recently written an article in Baptist Press called "Understanding the Emerging Church." I think his summary of three different streams of the emerging movement are pretty helpful, especially for those new to the emerging church conversation.  However, there is one area in which I take issue.  Below are pieces from his article, with my commentary.


My own observation as one who speaks at some events classified as “emerging” is
that there are three broad categories of what is often called “the emerging
church.” Oddly enough, I think I can fairly say that most in the emerging
conversation would agree with my assessments about the “types” of emerging
leaders and churches — and just differ with my conclusions…

The first type of emerging leaders and churches are what Stetzer calls "relevants":

…Yes, I made up the word. Sorry about the grammar. However, it expresses an
important idea. There are a good number of young (and not so young) leaders who
some classify as “emerging” that really are just trying to make their worship,
music and outreach more contextual to emerging culture. Ironically, while some
may consider them liberal, they are often deeply committed to biblical
preaching, male pastoral leadership and other values common in conservative
evangelical churches…

I’ve been in some discussions with friends about whether or not these people are really "emerging." I’m not really interested in figuring out who is "in" and who is "out," but I think it is understandable.  Many in the emerging church are troubled by "relevants" who keep with the same way of doing church–an in so doing keep most of the embedded dysfunctions–but merely slap a new label on it and call it "emerging." Many within emerging want the movement to stand for something theologically deeper than that. 

The second type are the "reconstructionists":

The reconstructionists think that the current form of church is frequently
irrelevant and the structure is unhelpful. Yet, they typically hold to a more
orthodox view of the Gospel and Scripture. Therefore, we see an increase in
models of church that reject certain organizational models, embracing what are
often called “incarnational” or “house” models. They are responding to the fact
that after decades of trying fresh ideas in innovative churches, North America
is less churched, and those that are churched are less committed…

Reconstructionists realize that a change in packaging won’t do.  It has been interesting to me how receptive folks have been to reconstruction.  I think most serious Christians in this country know that the Church has got some serious problems.  However, types 1 and 2 seem to both be driven by a sense of pragmatism.  And both seem to assume that evangelical theology has been pretty well figured out (except for a few key arguments), while ecclesiology is completely up for grabs.  Most evangelicals I know think ecclesiology is basically the fluid outer layer of a static set of beliefs.  That way of thinking has always frustrated me, but for different reasons.  I used to think that ecclesiology was supposed to be set too.  I would never have said that everything was static, but I would have said that it was "set"–maybe in the way jello "sets" the shape is there, but there is some room for "jiggle." 

Much of the concern has been addressed at those I call revisionists. Right
now, many of those who are revisionists are being read by younger leaders and
perceived as evangelicals. They are not — at least according to our
evangelical understanding of Scripture. We significantly differ from them
regarding what the Bible is, what it teaches and how we should live it in our
churches. I don?t hate them, question their motives and I won?t try to
mischaracterize their beliefs. But, I won?t agree with them.

This is where I start having problems with Stetzer.  I’ve read a good handful of books about evangelicalism.  Not one of them has had the same definition of what an "evangelical" is.  I’d like to know what definition he’s using. 

Revisionists are questioning (and in some cases denying) issues like the nature
of the substitutionary atonement, the reality of hell, the complementarian
nature of gender, and the nature of the Gospel itself. This is not new — some
mainline theologians quietly abandoned these doctrines a generation ago. The
revisionist emerging church leaders should be treated, appreciated and read as
we read mainline theologians — they often have good descriptions, but their
prescriptions fail to take into account the full teaching of the Word of God.

There is SO much I could go into here.  He mentions a handful of doctrines that could each warrant a doctoral thesis.  Let me just say that the nature of the atonement, the reality of hell, the complementarian nature of gender, and even the Gospel itself have never been nailed down effectively by all those who would call themselves "evangelical." Stetzer seems to have a narrower definition of "evangelical"–maybe he should say "reformed conservative evangelical."

The penal substitutionary view of the atonement has been over-emphasized, due in part to the strong emphasis on forensics within early Reformation systematic theology.  What Jesus accomplished on the Cross is multifaceted and has had lots of interpretations over the past 2000 years–even with some very conservative, biblically-driven, thinkers. And to address his other doctrinal concerns: I believe there is a hell, but I don’t think Jesus’ teachings on hell (nor those of John in Revelation) are so clear and free from symbolism to develop an iron-clad doctrine of hell.  And I never knew being a complementarian was a pre-requisite for being an evangelical.  I’ll talk more about the Gospel later.

Does that mean we cannot learn from them? Certainly not. I read mainline
theologians like Marcus Borg and George Lindbeck like others in the past read
Karl Barth — good thinkers, but deeply wrong on issues I hold as important. I
read many emerging church writers the same way. They ask good questions, but I
am driven to Scripture for the answers.

…To be in this conversation, we need to think
biblically and critically. We should journey and partner with the “relevants,”
seeking to make the Gospel understandable in emerging culture. We can and
should enter into dialogue with reconstructionists — learning, discussing and
applying together what Scripture teaches about church.

But, we can and must speak prophetically to revisionists that, yes, we know the
current system is not impacting the culture as it should — but the change we
need is more Bible, more maturity, more discernment and more missional
engagement, not an abandonment of the teachings of scripture about church,
theology and practice. Every group that left these basics has ended up walking
away from the faith and then, in a great twist of irony, is soon seen as
irrelevant to the world they tried to reach.

This is an important moment in the emerging church. Many “emerging”
evangelicals are distancing themselves from the revisionist leaders. Papers
have been presented, publishing relationships have been altered, and many in
the blogosphere are questioning the ecumenical nature of new partnerships.
That?s good. Let?s affirm the good, look to the Scriptures for answers to the
hard questions, and, yes, let?s graciously disagree when others hold views
contrary to our best scriptural understanding of God, Bible and church.

I understand why Stezer puts revisionists in with non-evangelical mainline thinkers.  And I believe that Stetzer’s tone is very irenic and his statements are gracious.  But they are also incredibly bound by presuppositions.  He never explains what he means when he says "the Gospel" but he does believe that many revisionists are challenging or rejecting it.  I assume what he means is the Gospel which hinges upon: Christ’s substitutionary atonement, the Gospel of foreign imputed righteousness and legal justification before God. 

My difficulty is that I have serious biblical and theological problems with how the traditional way that this version of the Gospel is articulated.  How is it that I can disagree with these seemingly rock-solid biblical doctrines while I take the Bible very seriously?  I don’t mentally disregard those passages which I find unhelpful in order to construct my own version of the Gospel–though I must do that, or I’d agree with him. Or maybe it is that I am confused or misled.  But I think the truth is that Stetzer and I are entering into exegesis with a different set of assumptions. 

According to Stetzer, I am not an evangelical.  I have some friends who’ve thrown aside the category of "evangelical" because they believe it is unhelpful.  But I still would like to be considered "in."

New Monasticism on MPR

January 8, 2006

FYI: on the morning of Jan 11, 9-10am, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (from Rutba House–the 12 Marks of the New Monasticism folks) is going to be on MPR’s Midmorning show talking about new monasticism. Listen in.

Imago Recast: Created and Re-Created in the Missional Image of God

January 5, 2006

When blogging folk don’t know what to blog, what do they do?  If they are students, or were recently a student, they often decide to post a paper they wrote for some class.  I’d like to think that I am above such cheapish actions, but I am not.  Since I can’t think of anything better to write, I’m going to post a paper I wrote last quarter.  I hope you enjoy it.


            Jesus, the imago Dei, takes up humanity and transforms it, recasting what it
means to be human (recasting the imago
), serving as a transitional object for us to participate in the
Trinitarian life.



the heart of theological anthropology is the assertion that we humans have been
created in the image of God (imago Dei). This concept has captivated the Christian
imagination since the beginning of the Christian movement, since not only does
being created in the image of God tell us something about ourselves, but it
shapes our understanding of Jesus Christ, who is called the “image of the
invisible God” (Col 1:15).[1] I will begin this essay by examining Genesis
1:26-28, which is the key passage for understanding the doctrine of the imago Dei, and its larger context. After a brief exegetical treatment, I will
engage in some of the ways in which Christians have traditionally interpreted
the imago Dei. From there, I will jump ahead to the New
Testament, examining the ways in which various New Testament authors use the
concept of the imago Dei in relation
to Jesus Christ. I will also examine
other passages in the New Testament which indicate Jesus? new way of being
human. It is in this section that I hope
to establish my assertion that Jesus creates a new way of being human-a
Trinitarian humanity. Jesus doesn?t
merely “fix” the fallen imago Dei. He
recasts it-becoming a new humanity. Next, I will integrate insights from object
relations theory to help articulate a way in which Jesus? new way of being
human opens for us a new way of being
human. Jesus is the “Good Enough
Mother” who transitions us into the Trinitarian life. In this section, I will also draw from
Zizioulas? notion of ecclesial being.

[1] All Scripture references are from the New Revised
Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.

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