Archive for September, 2007

Emerging Movement as the Evangelical Vatican II?

Tony Jones posted an interesting email on the Emergent Village weblog from a Roman Catholic who compares the emerging church movement to Vatican II. Read what he says and see if you agree,

The Second Vatican Council took place in the Catholic Church from 1962 to 1965. Called by Pope John XXIII, finished by Pope Paul VI, it was the first time in over four centuries that the Catholic Church really took a look around and said, “Hey, there’s a whole wide world out there, that isn’t so bad….maybe we oughta find out what’s going on in it, and see if it has anything to do with our community of faith”. The opening lines of The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (in Latin, Gaudium et Spes) set the tone for this new way of being church: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts”. No longer would, or could, Catholics remain isolated, insular, or reactionary to the world, or others in it. The Catholic Church’s new mission became the world itself, and its transformation would transform the Church as well.

That seems to be what’s happening in Emergent. The people involved seem to all of a sudden see that there’s a big, wide world out there that we all live in- and most of it isn’t even considered “Christian”!- and somehow they have to do everything they can to learn more about it. Somehow everything they’ve learned up to this point – about being a Christian, about being part of the Church – has to change, so that they can truly be a follower of Christ every day of the week. Emergent seems to be a kind of Evangelical Vatican II, for many Christians that got their institutional start a hundred years ago- and maybe not even that long for others!

Pope John XXIII’s legendary quip about Vatican II was that he convened the Council because he wanted to let a little fresh air into the Church by opening up a few windows. I hope the Emergent conversation can do the same for my Evangelical friends, and I look forward to being a part of it for those in my own neighborhood.

Before Vatican II, the RCs worshiped in Latin, and then moved to vernacular masses.  I wonder if part of what is happening in the emerging movement is the move from our version of Latin (whatever that might be) to vernacular church.  In any case, this is definitely something to think about.

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September 27, 2007 at 6:54 am 2 comments

Transformed Lives

Here is the continuation of Dongell’s lecture. Read the first one, and then read this.  Wow.

September 26, 2007 at 6:28 pm 2 comments

Do You Have Any Enemies?

Well then, you might want to read a terrific & thought-provoking lecture by Joseph Dongell that has been posted on Ben Witherington’s blog.

September 25, 2007 at 1:24 pm Leave a comment

Busy as a United Methodist Pastor!

Two charge conferences coming up, my first D.Min. paper is coming due, serving as an assistant spiritual director on a Walk to Emmaus retreat this weekend, kids turning 2 and 5 right around the corner, and I’m a little bit tired. Life is very good in spite of the hectic pace. Thank goodness I’m finished with my Board of Ordained Ministry work – waiting for the interview later this Fall. When things settle down a bit, I’ll post more regularly! Grace and Peace. 😉

September 24, 2007 at 11:25 am 1 comment

Morgenthaler on Worship Evangelism

Sally Morgenthaler, who has a terrific article on leadership in a “flattened” world in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, has been a pioneer in the world of worship. Her book Worship Evangelism set the tone for a large cultural shift within evangelicalism back in the late nineties.

Lately, she’s been rethinking some of the ideas presented in that work. In a new article from earlier this month, she reflects on the successes and failures of this movement (h/t Jonny Baker). Two years ago she taught her last seminar on worship, a year later she abandoned her worship resource website. This article is an explanation of the disappointment Morgenthaler feels over the way “worship evangelism” became an excuse for not being involved with those outside the Church. Instead of holding worship and mission together, some took her work as an excuse to believe that quality worship is a substitute for missional involvement.

Instead of attracting the unchurched, many found that their emphasis on evangelistic worship was not living up to that intention. Morgenthaler writes,

Were these worship-driven churches really attracting the unchurched? Most of their pastors truly believed they were. And in a few cases, they were right. The worship in their congregations was inclusive, and their people were working hard to meet the needs of the neighborhood. Yet those churches whose emphasis was dual—celebrated worship inside, lived worship outside—were the minority. In 2001 a worship-driven congregation in my area finally did a survey as to who they were really reaching, and they were shocked. They’d thought their congregation was at least 50 percent unchurched. The real number was 3 percent.

She later describes the movie Saved as an example of the true attitudes of many secular folks to the evangelical movement, and goes on to cite a journalist who observed worship in one of the congregations that has invested heavily in high-production worship for non-Christians,

“The [worship team] was young and pretty, dressed in the kind of quality-cotton-punk clothing one buys at the Gap. ‘Lift up your hands, open the door,’ crooned the lead singer, an inoffensive tenor. Male singers at [this] and other megachurches are almost always tenors, their voices clean and indistinguishable, R&B-inflected one moment, New Country the next, with a little bit of early ’90s grunge at the beginning and the end.

“They sound like they’re singing in beer commercials, and perhaps this is not coincidental. The worship style is a kind of musical correlate to (their pastor’s) free market theology: designed for total accessibility, with the illusion of choice between strikingly similar brands. (He prefers the term flavors, and often uses Baskin-Robbins as a metaphor when explaining his views.) The drummers all stick to soft cymbals and beats anyone can handle; the guitarists deploy effects like artillery but condense them, so the highs and lows never stretch too wide. Lyrics tend to be rhythmic and pronunciation perfect, the better to sing along with when the words are projected onto movie screens. Breathy or wailing, vocalists drench their lines with emotion, but only within strict confines. There are no sad songs in a megachurch, and there are no angry songs. There are songs about desperation, but none about despair; songs convey longing only if it has already been fulfilled.”

Morgenthaler’s response is direct, “ No sad songs. No angry songs. Songs about desperation, but none about despair. Worship for the perfect. The already arrived. The good-looking, inoffensive, and nice. No wonder the unchurched aren’t interested.”

I’m not capturing all of the nuances of the article here, but these are some of the high points that stood out to me. I would encourage you to read the whole article to get a sense of Morgenthaler living through the shift from modernity to “whatever it is that we’re now experiencing” (post-modernity, hyper-modernity, post-Christendom, whatever). In closing, she describes the uncomfortable call she is currently experiencing,

I am currently headed further outside my comfort zones than I ever thought I could go. I am taking time for the preacher to heal herself. As I exit the world of corporate worship, I want to offer this hope and prayer. May you, as leader of your congregation, have the courage to leave the “if we build it, they will come” world of the last two decades behind. May you and the Christ-followers you serve become worshipers who can raise the bar of authenticity, as well as your hands. And may you be reminiscent of Isaiah, who, having glimpsed the hem of God’s garment and felt the cleansing fire of grace on his lips, cried, “Here am I, send me.”

May we all be so uncomfortable.

September 19, 2007 at 6:22 am 2 comments

Great Thoughts on Young Clergy & the UMC

Will Deuel, whose blog I’ve just started reading, has some interesting thoughts on younger clergy in the United Methodist Church & the ordination process. You really should check it out. (h/t Gavin Richardson)

September 18, 2007 at 12:25 pm Leave a comment

Ordination Questions: Kingdom of God, Resurrection, Eternal Life

9.) What is your understanding of (a) the Kingdom of God; (b) the Resurrection; (c) eternal life?

Although there is a great deal of variety in United Methodist worship, I have yet to attend a United Methodist Church that does not pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Each week, the congregations I serve petition God asking that, “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  So what are we asking for when we ask for God’s Kingdom to come?

One of the central themes of Jesus’ proclamation was that of God’s Kingdom and its entry into our world.  In fact, Jesus seemed to suggest that in some very real way, God’s Kingdom had already appeared on earth in and through his ministry.  Still, Jesus urged us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”  God’s Kingdom, therefore, is located somewhere in the tension between what has already arrived and what is not yet here, or as N.T. Wright once wrote, “an ‘arrival’ with Jesus and a still-awaited ‘arrival’ which would complete the implementation of what he had already accomplished”.[1]  Unfortunately, the language of Kingdom is not as immediately clear as it was in Jesus’ day.  After all, as Brian McClaren points out, “where kings exist they are by and large anachronisms…” and, “When people hear Kingdom of God, we don’t want them to think ‘the anachronistic, limited, ceremonial, and symbolic but practially ineffectual rule of God’”![2]  Instead, we want to communicate the powerful, earth-shattering, life-changing existence of God in our world!  McClaren goes on to suggest some alternative possibilities to translate the meaning of Kingdom: God’s dream, the revolution of God, the mission of God, God’s dance, and God’s party.[3] If McClaren is right, then we need to search for new metaphors to talk about the way God definitively entered our world in Christ and continues to invite us to participate and join in with God’s purposes.  Whatever language we use, what began in creation and continued in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is still happening in our world and awaiting its fullness in the future.  We both anticipate and participate in God’s activity on earth when we follow the command of Micah 6:8 to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

            The resurrection is the basis of our future hope as Christians.[4] I believe that resurrection is far more than someone living in our memory or the appearance of someone being lifted up as an example in some spiritual sense. Instead, resurrection is in a very real way a bodily event.  The preponderance of evidence in the first century and before suggests that resurrection was the word used to refer to someone who had died only to be found alive again.  Of course, we must state that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the body before resurrection and the post-resurrection body, as seen in the confusion of Jesus with a gardener at the tomb (John 20:15). After Jesus’ resurrection, this incredible event was interpreted by early disciples as the very turning point of history, pointing forward to the resurrection of the dead at some future point in time.  Christ’s resurrection was the entry of the end of history into first century Palestine. Bishop Tom Wright helpfully speaks about the theological implications of resurrection for Christians and the Church, “Tyrants and bullies try to rule by force, only to discover that in order to do so they have to quash all rumours of resurrection, rumours that would imply that their greatest weapons, death and deconstruction, are not after all omnipotent.”[5]  Therefore, resurrection is the power of God and the hope of the Church, which gives us the strength to carry on, even in the face of those who might injure us physically.  We may therefore submit ourselves to the One who holds the power of resurrection even in the face of great evil.

            In the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on the Gospel of John, Gail R. O’Day writes about the famous verse, John 3:16, “Eternal life is not something held in abeyance until the believer’s future, but begins in the believer’s present.”[6]  O’Day’s comments are helpful in that they remind us that eternal life is not simply living forever on clouds and strumming harps.  It is far more than the authors of such works as the Left Behind series suggest, because our hope is not reserved completely for the future.  Our participation in the kingdom of God and faith in the resurrection give us glimpses of the eternity that lies beyond our vision and a share in eternity in the here and now.  While it is certainly important not to discount major themes of the Bible, which suggest an eternity beyond our earthly lives, I also believe this is a great mystery (a phrase that we shouldn’t be afraid to use!) which calls us to be faithful disciples as we live in hope and expectation of something we cannot easily grasp. 


[1] Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 568

[2] McClaren, Brian.  The Secret Message of Jesus. (Nasvhille: W Publishing Group, 2006), p 139.

[3] ibid., pp. 144-147

[4] Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 737

[5] ibid., p 209.

[6] The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX. 1995 by Abingdon Press

September 18, 2007 at 12:11 pm 4 comments

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