Friday, July 28, 2006

The Emergent Church and Blogs, 1

For many years now, the annual issue of The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches has included a section on “Trends & Developments.”

The 2006 edition contains an essay by Eileen W. Lindner on “Postmodern Christianity: Emergent Church and Blogs” (pp. 15-20). The EC and the religious section of the blogosphere are grouped together because, as the author says, they are “two interconnected phenomena of a new century.”

Regarding the Emergent Church, Lindner says that this “many-faceted expression of Christian faith” typically thinks and speaks of itself as a “conversation,” rather than a “movement.” Nevertheless, she thinks that the word “movement” certainly describes what the EC has become.

But what exactly is the conversation or movement about? Fueled by a distinctively postmodern outlook, says Lindner, the EC “centers around deconstructing inherited faith and practice and reconstructing a Christianity” that is apparently focused on four points or ideas (and here I both quote and rephrase a little):

1. Christocentrism -- following closely and emulating the person and ministry of Jesus.

2. Narrative theology – according to which truth is found in story, not in propositional statements or traditional doctrinal standards.

3. Missiological focus -- which challenges existing forms of church life and discipleship, emphasizing service to a broken world.

4. Responsive worship forms – the place of worship is central to the EC drawing from apostolic as well as contemporary sources to forge a diverse worship through experimentation.

So much for what they’re about, who is the emerging church? Prominent people, says the author, tend to come from “evangelical protestant backgrounds with an age cohort largely in their 20s and 30s.” Lindner points to the Wikipedia entry for Emergent Church which provides a list of “Pioneers in the Emerging Church Movement”:
  • Brian McLaren, founder of Cedar Ridge Community Church near Washington, D.C.

  • Doug Pagitt, founding pastor of Solomon’s Porch, Minneapolis

  • Dan Kimball, founder of the Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA

  • John O’Keefe, founder of

  • Spencer Burke, former pastor, founder of

  • Leonard Sweet, the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University

  • Mark Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA

  • Mark Pearson, founder of Cityside in Aukland, New Zealand

  • Karen Ward, founder and pastor of Church of the Apostles in Seattle, WA
McLaren is singled out for his books which have “lent the Emerging Church much of its historic self-understanding and its spirit of both vigor and humility.

More about this beginning next week. But to this point, I’m curious to hear what you think of Lindner’s analysis. What might you add or change?

Also, although I’ve gotten a feel (by reading blogs) for how the Churches of Christ are interacting with and participating in the EC, I’d like to hear from people who have lived among and/or studied the conservative heirs of Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell. In what ways does the EC movement dovetail with and/or correct our Restorationist tradition?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ready . . . Set . . .

New classes will begin here at Amarillo College on Monday, August 21st. It doesn’t seem possible, but by this time next month the fall semester will be underway. I can hardly wait.

Already, a total of nearly 50 students have pre-registered for the five courses we’ll offer through Amarillo Bible Chair. I’m hoping that once fall registration begins, the number of students will double.

In addition to offering academic courses, the plan is to restart Kappa Chi, our Christian student organization. A handful of students have said they want to be a part of the club. I really think that by promoting Kappa Chi, we’ll be successful in attracting new members.

You can find out more about Amarillo Bible Chair here.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Forthcoming Article . . . with Photos!

A few months ago, I finished up an article about the life of Paul after the close of the Book of Acts. It’s titled, “The Last Letters: Exploring the History Behind 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.”

I called it that because the three letters named in the subtitle have Paul referring to all sorts of travels and activities that simply don’t fit into his biography according to Acts. For what it’s worth, I take the classic position that Paul covered a lot of territory following what we know of his life from Acts, that he experienced a second Roman imprisonment in the year 64, and was sometime later executed.

Last week I got an email from Neil Anderson, the editor of the Gospel Advocate magazine. He said article is scheduled to appear in next month’s issue.

It’s always neat when your written work sees the light of printed day. But I’m especially looking forward to the appearance of this article mainly because of two photos I sent along with it.

I got one of the photos at the American Numismatic Society in Manhattan. It’s a picture of two Neronian coins. I sent it along with the article because, at it explains, Nero was the Emperor who, in the 60s, carried out an infamous persecution against Christians. And it’s likely that that would have been the occasion when Paul would have been arrested once again, brought back to Rome, and finally martyred.

I guess I’ll never forget the day I got the photo. Very few people I knew would have wanted to go to the American Numismatic Society; nor would they have gotten why I wanted to go. So it turned out to be a solo trip.

ANS is located on Broadway several miles north of the bustling section of town (up around 157th St.). It’s not one of the touristy sections of the city.

After I finally got there and was buzzed in, I looked around at the exhibits and spent some time in their library. I met one of the curators. As we talked, I told him about my interest in coins that might open a window on the biblical world (ala the influence of Dr. Richard Oster mentioned in a previous post).

There were very few people there that day. The man I was talking with wasn’t particularly busy. Eventually, he led me back to one of those places where I couldn’t have gone without him and pulled open a shallow metal drawer. It was completely full of nothing but Neronian coins, all of them heads up. It was one of those moments I’ll never forget. And I could only imagine what was in the dozen or so other drawers in the same cabinet.

“Could I get a photo of one or two of those?” I asked.

“Sure.” he said. “Which ones?”

Do you remember the scene when, as a kid, you went to the dentist and on the way out got to pick a goody from the treasure box? That was me.

I pointed to a couple of the coins, being careful not to touch them. He took them out, gently laid them on a felt pad and snapped the picture.

The other photo I sent along with the article is of a fragment known as Papyrus 32. Containing sections of Paul’s letter to Titus, P 32 dates to about the year 200 and represents the oldest witness to the text of that letter. It’s housed in the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, England.

The acquisition of that photo also has a story that includes these beautifully-crafted letters from England, full of prim and mannered language. The international correspondence took months, mainly because I didn’t want to sound like a complete idiot, and wound up polishing every letter for a long time before I sent it.

The magazine editor also told me he’d be sending several extra copies of the magazine. The GA is a print-only journal. If you’re not a subscriber and would like to have a copy of the August issue, email me your physical address and I’ll be glad to send you one.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Preaching, Great and "Dreadful"

Last night, as I sat on my front porch reading, there were a few times when I laughed out loud. My wife, also with a book and sitting nearby, wanted to know what was so funny. I told her.

I was reading selections from the published diaries of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the German Protestant theologian who was martyred by the Nazis during the last days of the Third Reich.

Bonhoeffer spent a few weeks during the summer of 1939 in the United States, most of it in Manhattan. And he visited a lot of churches, sometimes two on one Sunday. He’d attend one church in the morning. Then, he’d go to evening services somewhere else.

One morning, he attended the illustrious Riverside Church. I don’t know if Harry Emerson Fosdick was preaching there at the time. Anyway, Bonhoeffer’s response to the sermon included the word “Dreadful.” I laughed at that point because sometimes that’s exactly what we think. But how often do we say or write it?

Not only that, Bonhoeffer mentions some of the things that put him off about the sermon. Too much interest in easy, simple application. Too much psychology, not enough theology. Forced interpretation, all designed to make things turn out the way we want them to, something that he rightly identifies as “idolatry.”

That evening, Bonhoeffer attended a much more conservative Presbyterian church where the preaching was evidently much more straightforward, robust, unabashed, what’s the right word? It had the effect of lifting his spirits, restoring some of his confidence in American theology and church life.

Reading that made me wonder about preaching, about the things that differentiate the good from the “dreadful” sermons. What do you think?

What is it that bugs you about some of the preaching you’ve heard? What characterizes the great preaching you’ve heard?

Monday, July 24, 2006

More from Philip Jenkins

In 2002, Philip Jenkins published The Next Christendom, an eye-opening description of the explosive growth of various expressions of Christianity in the global south. One of the central questions raised by that book has been sized up by Yale missions scholar Lamin Sanneh: “Whose reading—whose Christianity—is normal now? And whose will be in 50 years?” The world is changing. Rapidly. Someone has said you’ll know the shift in Christendom has occurred when African scholars begin writing about “North American Theologies.”

Now Jenkins has a new book. It’s slated to come out in September under the title, The New Face of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (Oxford University Press). To get a feel for what this one will be about, take a look at his article in the Christian Century magazine (July 11, 2006, pp. 22-27), “Liberating Word: The power of the Bible in the Global South.” A couple of quotes from the article:

“Gatherings of the worldwide Anglican Communion have been contentious events in recent years. On one occasion, two bishops were participating in a Bible study, one from Africa, the other from the U.S. As the hours went by, tempers frayed as the African expressed his confidence in the clear words of scripture, while the American stressed the need to interpret the Bible in the light of modern scholarship and contemporary mores. Eventually the African bishop asked in exasperation, “If you don’t believe the scripture, why did you bring it to us in the first place?”

“Traditionalist themes are important for African and Asian Christians. These include a much greater respect for the authority of scripture, especially in matters of morality; a willingness to accept the Bible as an inspired text and a tendency to literalistic readings; a special interest in supernatural elements of scripture, such as miracles, visions, and healings; a belief in the continuing power of prophecy; and a veneration for the Old Testament, which is often considered as authoritative as the New.”

From what Jenkins has written so far, I’ve come to two conclusions, which dovetail with some of my own convictions:

1. Simply from a pragmatic standpoint, this is not the time for the Churches of Christ to continue an evolution (at least on some fronts) into a American mainline protestant (i.e., theologically-liberal ) denomination. A life-long member of this family, I know a lot of its problems and failings. At the same time, I love this heritage not in spite of what it is, but because of what it is. And I truly believe that its traditional Biblicist voice is worth hearing.

2. It is past time for the Churches of Christ to reject much of our traditional position regarding the Old Testament. Fifteen years ago, when Richard Oster forced me to rethink our borderline-Marcionite (rejection) stance on the first 78% of the Christian Canon, the exercise was for me mostly academic. It was a question I could turn over in my mind and talk about. I had no idea that even then, and before, the erroneous conclusions of the past could have such an impact on mission. To put it bluntly, the global South is simply not going for the notion that what Christians call the Old Testament has little if any real continuing authority. Nor should they. How did we miss the truth that when Paul says “All Scripture is inspired” and is therefore, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” he was referring to the Old Testament?

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Plan for the Klan

The Ku Klux Klan is coming to Amarillo, Texas.

According to our local paper, the Amarillo Globe-News, a KKK chapter from San Angelo has been granted permission to conduct a downtown rally here. It’s scheduled for Saturday, August 5th. 

The Klan has reportedly said that the purpose of their rally is to address the question of Mexican immigration. Inquiring minds want to know. What does the Klan think about that?

Our paper also reports that the Amarillo chapter of the NAACP is planning an alternate rally at a different site, an idea endorsed by the editor. A few senior high summer school students have told their teacher they’ll be at the Klan rally to protest the KKK. Others have advocated that we all ignore the whole thing. At least one local pastor is planning a prayer time at his church to coincide with the rally.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Email Afterlife . . . The Importance of Study

When checking my email, I sometimes get a report from my ISP that they’ve sent a suspicious incoming piece to the email equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. I’m then directed to go to said place, where I can look at it and give it either an “Okay” or a one-way ticket to email H-E-Double Hockey Stick.

However, not being God and all, it’s sometimes not easy to get to the spot where I can take a look at the red-flagged mail.

More recently, I’ve been told that some of said mail may actually be something other than a Viagra sales pitch from India.

Now, it might very well be that some of you have sent me an email that I have not seen. If that’s the case, the reason your email did not go straight to Frankly-Speaking Heaven, or Paradise, or wherever good email should go (i.e, my inbox) is, ironically, and for reasons explained above, out of my hands.

So, if you’ve emailed me and I haven’t written back (1) I’m sorry about that, (2) it’s (probably) not my fault, and (3) please try again.

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My current read is Alister McGrath’s book In the Beginning, subtitled, The Story of the King James Bible and how it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (New York: Doubleday, 2001).

McGrath teaches Theology at Oxford and has been writing books in that discipline for many years. Until last week, I’d not read any of his stuff. But now I’m planning to read more from him. He’s a superlative researcher and a good writer too.

Besides teaching and entertaining, there’s something else this book has done for me. It’s revived my confidence in the vitality of scholarship.

Anyone who spends much time hanging around in Western culture these days knows that it contains a strong anti-intellectual current. This evidently goes way back. I remember something that Tom Jefferson wrote to the effect that, if you put a problem to a plowman and a professor, the plowman is more likely to figure it out because he is not bound by “artificial rules” (I think was the expression).

Ever since then, and probably before, one of the most common stock characters in American stories is the rustic who, with simple wisdom, expresses what the scholar, blinded by his “superior” knowledge, cannot see. From “Where’s the beef?” to the Carl character in the movie “Sling Blade,” it seems that we’re surrounded by simpletons who are capable of seeing the truth and saving the day, provided that all the eggheads stop droning long enough to listen.

Now, I’d be the last to say that wise words never come from the mouths of babes. But it seems the observation has gone to seed. Ignoring the truth that even a dead clock tells the right time twice a day, American culture seems persuaded that dumber is not only easier, it‘s better! And besides, who wants to be that other stock character of American myth: the “educated idiot”?

A caveat: I’ve noticed that all such prejudice against expertise fades away once the chips are down and a genuine expert is required. Ask, for example, a well-trained locksmith who’s opened a car with an infant inside on a hot summer day.

To the McGrath book:

“The opening of the third chapter of Matthew’s gospel tells of how John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, and proclaimed the need for repentance on the part of his audiences. The Vulgate [Jerome’s translation of the Bible into common Latin, FB] offers the following account of the ministry of John (Matthew 3:1-2):

In those days, John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying: ‘Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’

Few of the late medieval readers of this text could miss the implications of what was being said, given the highly developed theory and practice of penance of the ear. John seemed to be demanding that they ‘do penance’—that is to say, to find a priest, confess their sins, and carry out any acts of penance this priest might require of them. The Vulgate version of the passage suggested that John’s words were firmly connected to the penitential system of the Church, so that this network of penitence was sanctioned by Holy Writ.”

McGrath goes on to explain how, in the Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) discovered that the Greek original of the passage didn’t have John saying “Do penance,” but rather “Repent!” The prophet was demanding an inward change of mind and heart, which would certainly lead to a changed way of life. But “Do penance”? The biblical text nowhere suggests that anyone do that. But if it weren’t for scholarship, such common knowledge would not be known.

No, not every insight is so revolutionary. But unless people dig, nothing ever gets discovered. What would we be missing without scholarship? We wouldn’t know. I’m glad we do. Study on.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Big Ten

When I was a senior Bible major at Freed-Hardeman College (1985-86), as part of our exit process, the faculty asked us to name the titles of ten books (other than the Bible).

Specifically, we were asked to the name the books we would take with us if we were going on a long-term overseas mission. Required to travel light, each of us could take only ten. So which ones would we pick?

It was one of the better exercises I was put through at F-HC. I can still remember hoping that my list would be respected by those who scrutinized it. (Nowadays I suspect that no one besides me and the Lord saw it).

I don’t remember every title on my list. I do remember thinking that the two categories I’d need would be (1) information and (2) inspiration. So in addition to a couple of big biblical surveys, I may have named one of the few devotional classics I knew at the time. Or did I?

I suspect that now, twenty years later, I’d be embarrassed to see my “Big Ten.” But maybe it wasn’t too bad. Seems like “Old Testament Survey” by evangelical scholars W.S. LaSor, D. A. Hubbard, and F.W. Bush made my list, and I think I’d probably name that one again.

Anyway, now I put the question to you. Name one or three or ten books that would definitely go with you. Why are those books so valuable?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Testing, Testing

At this point, I think I’m going to start each class in the coming fall semester with a pre-test.  That way, I can have a better idea of the baseline of knowledge I’m starting with among the students.  (Thanks, Ken, for your recommendations and counsel along this line).

The following is what I’ve come up with so far for the “Life of Paul” class.  Most folks who regularly attend a Church of Christ could ace this quiz (I imagine and hope).  

Any suggestions for additional items on the quiz?  Those of you who know something about pre-testing, I want to ask, Is there an ideal length for a pre-test?  I’m thinking that relatively-short but broad and comprehensive are what I should be shooting for.

Take a look at what I’ve go so far.  How well would you do?

1.  Paul is the Apostle’s Greek name by which he was known later in life.  His given Jewish name was:

a.  Samuel
b.  Shem
c.  Saul
d.  Shiloh

2.  Paul was originally from which city:

a.  Rome
b.  Antioch
c.  Jerusalem
d.  Tarsus

3.  Which one of the following New Testament books was not written by Paul?

a.  Romans
b.  Galatians
c.  Revelation
d.  Philemon

4.  Which expression does not describe Paul?

a.  Egyptian
b.  Pharisee
c.  Christian
d.  Roman citizen

5.  Which letters were written nearest the end of Paul’s life?

a.  1 and 2 Thessalonians
b.  1 and 2 Corinthians
c.  Romans and Galatians
d.  Titus and 2 Timothy

6.  All of Paul’s letters were originally written in:

a.  Hebrew
b.  Greek
c.  Latin
d.  Aramaic

7.  The expression “the Pauline corpus” refers to:

a.  the dead body of Paul
b.  the collected, available writings of Paul
c.  the wide of array of friends of Paul
d.  the books that have been written about Paul

8.  Which person did not accompany Paul on any of his missionary trips?

a.  Silas
b.  Barnabas
c.  Peter
d.  Luke

9.  According to the Book of Acts, upon arriving in a city new to him, Paul the missionary would first visit:

a.  the synagogue
b.  the bath house
c.  the theatre
d.  the market place

10.  Which is not true of Paul:

a. He received religious training from one of the premier rabbis of his day
b. He was a Roman citizen
c. He died in the second century
d. He knew more than one language

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Home Again, Signs of the Times

We made it back to Texas late last week.  The trip to Colorado was a good one.  But after several days on the road, we were ready to get home.

Since then, of course, we’ve been about the business of getting caught up on things like the mail and the yard, etc.

Speaking of the yard, as long as it’s not too hot and/or humid, I really enjoy mowing and edging a lawn, making it look nice.  I also enjoy driving long distances on vacation.  I’ve talked with other people who like those things too, and we agree that we like the mowing-driving things because, unlike a lot of other tasks in life, those ones are simple, straightforward, closed-ended, and have an immediate, visible result.  “The yard looks so nice.”  “Hey, we made it.”  What sorts of jobs like that do you like to do?  

Wouldn’t it be great if all of what we have to do could be broken down and simplified to the point where we took it on with anticipation?  The Book of Ecclesiastes talks about people finding a big chunk of satisfaction in their work.  And it’s so right.  Under the sun, it doesn’t get any better than that.

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Before I forget, here’s more evidence that the so-called writers of “The Simpsons” are more like chroniclers:  During a recent trip to Lubbock, Texas, my mother-in-law spotted a sign in the window of a Hooters.  When she told us what it said, we thought that her eye-sight was starting to go.  The second time by, we slowed down for a better look.  She was right.  The sign reads: “Kids Eat Free.”

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Our Little Getaway

Michele and I are on vacation this week. So far, we’ve been to . . .

Downtown Denver, including a visit to the Colorado State Capitol, a walk up the 16th Street Mall, lunch at the Wazee Supper Club (ironic, I know), a Rockies—Giants game at Coors Field, (complete with a sell-out crowd, a great view of Scary Barry in left field, and the fireworks after the game).

Royal Gorge, where we walked across the bridge, saw a cool-looking desert lizard, and dared ourselves to go on the Skycoaster over the gorge. Yes, we bought the stupid video of ourselves as proof of our “bravery.” No, I’ll probably never do that again. Is it time for mid-life already?

Seven Falls near Colorado Springs. Much like the Gorge, it’s a bit of a tourist trap and sort of expensive. But at the top of Inspiration Point, you’re well up over 7000 feet and the view is really nice. The tame-ish chipmunks are cute too, although they reportedly carry “plague” which doesn’t sound so cute.