Category Archives: emergent

What do you do when you are not sure?

This post is part of the May Synchroblog “Life Unfurling” which asks: Have you found more life by letting go of something? So many of us are continuing to grow in our faith by letting go of things that we once held tightly.  These things aren’t easy to shed.  Sometimes people think we’ve lost our minds, are ascribing to bad theology, or have put our souls in mortal danger.  But many of us, in different ways, have found a deeper, richer, and riskier spiritual life as we’ve let go of certain rules, doctrines, theologies, or practices along the way.   

A list of all the participants and their contributions to the synchroblog can be found at the end of this post.

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Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. – Voltaire

Skepticism is the beginning of faith. — Oscar Wilde

 

I still remember where I was and who I was talking with the day that I first seriously entertained the idea that a “real” Christian did not have to be absolutely certain about what they believed.

I have to admit that at first I was rather appalled by the idea.  After all, uncertainty and doubt were viewed negatively in my faith community (for the most part). They were viewed as signs of immaturity or spiritual weakness.  If someone was uncertain or doubtful the standard response was to pray for them to find certainty about their beliefs.  (and, if certainty wasn’t regained then perhaps they never were a “real” Christian)

But something about this conversation struck me deeply and I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t really as certain about a lot of things as I said I was.  Although I suppressed and hid my doubts, questions and uncertainties (not just from others but also from myself) they certainly existed.

In the days that followed that conversation I couldn’t help but begin to confront my own doubts and uncertainties.  And as I did – as I got honest with myself – I found that there wasn’t really a whole lot I was sure about.

What in the world was I to do with that????

That’s the question that Father Flynn asks in a sermon he delivers at the beginning of the movie “Doubt”.

“What do you do when you are not sure?”

Father Flynn doesn’t give an answer.  Instead, he leaves the question hanging out there to be pondered.

As I pondered the question I came to the conclusion that there are two things we can do when we aren’t sure.

We can either confront our doubts honestly, stop pretending they don’t exist, stop flippantly explaining them away, honestly explore and seek answers to the best of our ability, accept that there are some things we can never know for sure, live with the ambiguity that is so often a part of human life and learn to exist with the tension that this kind of honesty creates for our faith.

Or, we can, as I had been doing, embrace a dogmatic kind of certainty, ignore our doubts, live as though our certainty is the absolute truth and that anyone who disagrees with us is absolutely wrong and live with the tension that this way of life creates for our faith.

I chose to let go of my certainty and I believe that I gained a lot more than I lost.

What did I gain when I let go of certainty?

I gained some much needed humility as I adopted what is known as a proper confidence or a chastened epistemology.  In other words, I could have enough confidence in what I believed to be able to live out my beliefs with conviction but I could be humble enough about what I believed to be aware that I may be wrong.

The gained humility then created “more space” for the transforming work of God to be active in my life… thus allowing for spiritual growth to take place.

The humility and spiritual growth helped me form better relationships – more honest, authentic, loving relationships.

The new and better relationships helped me become better at loving others.

Loving others better helped me become more passionate about actively living in the way of Jesus.

Of course, I am human, and I fall down and get up a lot…so I am certainly not saying that I am doing all of these things perfectly all the time.

But, I am certain that I have gained much more than I lost when I let go of certainty.

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Check out the other synchroblog contributions:

Inerrancy Of Scripture: A Reaction To Modernism

 

I do not beleive in the inerrancy of scripture.   I fully acknowledge that my opinion and understanding may be wrong. At the same time, I would add that I have also spent many years seriously studying scripture, living as a committed follower of Christ and have not formed my opinion in a vacuum or in a hurry.

Many would say that there are serious scholars who have been able to carefully harmonize the contradictions in scripture in a way that is acceptable and thoughtful. My experience over the years has been that there are many Christians (many of who are professional clergy) who flippantly explain away contradictions and  I have not personally found even the most careful harmonization of contradictions in scripture sufficient enough for me to continue to claim that scripture is inerrant.

Before I continue I do want to clarify that I am not saying that the many contradictions are a serious threat to the authority or value or credibility of scripture but that our resistance to acknowledge the contradictions is a threat to these things. I may have a different view about the authority of scripture than some who are reading this but that is a different discussion and I don’t believe it hinges on whether or not scripture is inerrant.

Many who believe in the inerrancy of scripture also believe that has been the position of Christians since the formation of the canon.  That is simply not true.   Discussions of inerrancy did not even take place until the modern age. Before then you would find the position being along the lines that there is no false teaching in scripture but that is a long way from claiming scripture is inerrant. In addition,  some might be surprised to find that there are many great and respected theologians through out history who have believed there were (and are) inaccuracies and errors in scripture – people such as Martin Luther, John Chrsyostom, Calvin, Matthew Henry, Charles Hodge to name a few. The fact is that no ancient church council ever debated the issue of inerrancy, let alone announced favor of it and no traditional creed or reformed confession addresses the issue of inerrancy. In other words, the current insistence on inerrancy has its origins in late 19th and early 20th century reactions to modernism. IMO this is a false dichotomy that many thoughtful Christians refuse to accept.

In recent times, I have also begun to believe that the insistence of inerrancy in regards to scripture is a stumbling block and obstacle to what we can learn from scripture.  In addition I have also observed that the insistence of inerrancy tends to make an idol out of scripture among our communities of faith resulting in the displacement of Christ as the center.

The Eighth Letter – Humble Pie (My Letter To The North American Church)

Today’s post is my contribution to theEighth Letter project, which invites participants to compose letters to the North American church in the spirit of John’s seven letters of Revelation.  A handful of these letters will be chosen for public reading at the Eight Letter conference in October.


Dear North American Church,

I don’t know if you remember me but we were pretty close at one time.  I not only was an active member and servant of one of your local communities for most of my life, but I also attempted to be a faithful representative of what you taught and believed in my every day life.  But, that was then, and this is now, and, well … it’s been a while since we were close, and I don’t even know if you would recognize me these days – I’ve changed a lot since then. Which brings me to the point of this letter …  I want you to consider making a change.

I realize it is a little presumptious of me to show up like this, asking you to change, after the way I just up and left with little or no explanation.  I didn’t mean to be rude or inconsiderate – it was a crazy time for me. It all started when my son told me he was gay and that he didn’t believe loving, monogamous same sex relationships were wrong.  At first I tried to tell him all the things you had taught me about same sex relationships but those things didn’t end up standing up under scrutiny.  When I studied scripture and took the time to look at original language and historical contexts I realized that the few references available were not as black and white as I had been led to believe.  On top of that, I knew my son.  I knew he was a good person. I knew he loved God and wanted to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Things weren’t adding up and it was a disturbing, scary and lonely time for me.  Anyway, once I realized, and began to accept, that I (and you) might be wrong about same sex relationships I naturally started wondering about some other stuff … and, well, one thing led to another and before I knew it there were a lot of things about you that I could no longer support.

Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t walk away from the faith – I didn’t stop following Jesus – I didn’t even want to leave the church.  I just didn’t fit in anymore.  There was no place for someone like me unless I wanted to be treated like I was less than others.  If I didn’t conform I just wasn’t “in”  … so I left.  But, I miss you, I really do. And it’s because I miss you and want to reconcile with you that I dare to ask you to consider making a change that I believe would start the healing process that needs to take place between you and me.

Something I would like for you to consider is being a little more humble about what you know and believe to be true.  I would suggest that pastors stop saying most everything from the pulpit with absolute certainty; that those who teach scripture acknowledge the contradictions and conflicts without resorting to flippantly explaining them away; that followers of Jesus with doubts, questions and different beliefs stop being treated as backsliders or as immature or as unbelievers; that different interpretations of scripture be examined and considered respectfully; and that you spend more time teaching people how to ask good questions rather than always being so quick to give answers.  Of course, this would indeed require that you also teach and model how to live with the tension of living out one’s beliefs with conviction while at the same time being humble enough to remain aware that ones belief could be wrong.  That may not be as easy as “being certain” but, I think in the long run it will be more effective in helping people to be transformed into people who are kinder, gentler and more compassionate – people who are more like Jesus.

When you think about it, the church has gotten it wrong in the recent past about things like slavery and interracial marriage.  So, what makes anyone think they are finally to the point where they have it all figured out when it comes to stuff like atonement theories, heaven and hell, women in ministry, same sex relationships and a bunch of other stuff.

After all …How can God speak into our lives if we aren’t humble enough to listen and hear?  How will we know if we are mistaken about something if we hold on to our beliefs with unswerving certainty?  Can we really be transformed without being humble about what we know?  Shouldn’t unity be able to exist without conformity?  Doesn’t it make sense that people who are serious about being followers of Jesus would ask tough questions?

Let me stop there and just say this:

To put it simply, I am suggesting that you put some humble pie on the menu … and if you do, I’d love to sit down and have a slice with you …  if that’s okay with you.

Missing you,

Someone who left

Please go to Rachel Held Evans blog here to find the links to the other letters.

Three Things Tuesday – Emergents Retreating?, Christian Women Oppressed and the PCUSA 219th GA

#1 – Has What Emerged Retreated?


I ran across an interesting series that Kester Brewin wrote about participants of the Emergent Movement in the UK returning to the institutional church and organizations.  He addresses this topic to some degree in his book  Other: Loving Self, God and Neighbour in a World of Fractures (which I have now ordered and am looking forward to reading).  The series (and the comments) covered a lot of interesting topics including how spiritual maturation takes place (part 2), how institutions can become damaging and what can be done to counteract that (part 3), some  info about Vaux (a community of artists and city-lovers who sought to explore the Christian faith through the media that came naturally to their hands) and Temporary Autonomous Zones (part 4).  Jonny Baker and Andrew Jones both post responses to the series.  Of course the authors are all from Europe which is some years ahead of the US regarding emerging/emergent Christianity, but there are still many similarities.  What do you think?  Is a retreat taking place?  Is it maturation?  Has the institutional church changed?

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#2 – Happy Christian Women…Really??? and Drinking The Company Kool-Aid

Pam Hogeweide and Kathy Escobar have written posts in response to a recent Barna survey of Christian women requested by Jim Henderson of Off The Map for his latest writing project about how the modern American church treats women.  I believe that this is a very important issue and am disappointed that no woman is authoring the book with Jim on this project (Pam addresses this in her post) but do appreciate that Jim is at least asking women (here) to let him know if their experience matches the survey results from Barna (mine don’t and I let him know).  Check it out and let your voice be heard.

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#3 – Good News and Bad News

The good news is that the PCUSA General Assembly voted in favor of lifting the ban of non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy.  The bad news is that they voted to not even hear or discuss the issue of same sex marriage and so it is tabled for two more years.

Soul Force held a demonstration at the proceedings and some were arrested because they refused to leave.  There seemed to be some differing opinions (check out Shuck and Jive post and comments) about Soul Force being there but I appreciated them being there to represent the voice of the oppressed and excluded.

Where is up now?

One of the major shake-ups in the last reformation of the church was the new knowledge about the earth and sun.   Scripture indicated that the sun moved and the earth stood still and could not be moved. When it was discovered that the earth literally revolved around the sun questions arose about the believability of scripture.   It was also discovered at this time that the world is round. This knowledge led people to ask the question: “If the world is round, where is heaven?”. Heaven had always been UP, but if there is no UP, then where is heaven?  These are the questions that shook up people 500 years ago.

Today we have different questions that are causing major shake-ups.   With scientific, intellectual and technological advances we are led to ask new questions.  One of the questions that tends to keep coming up in conversations these days is the question of authority as discontentment continues to grow over the inadequacy and failure of church authority and sola scriptura.

Some will say that this discontentment comes from those who are resisting authority  and who don’t like what they hear from the church and/or from scripture.  I am sure those people exist, but, at the same time, I know that there are those who are serious in their search for the answer to the question: “Where should our authority come from?”

I’m leaning towards the idea that Christian authority should come from community that is shaped by scripture and tradition.

What do you think?

The Answer Is In The Story

On any given day there is plenty of negative buzz around the internet about the emerging/emergent conversation.  It is accused of being heretical, a fad, a perversion of the gospel, New Age, a disappointment, false teaching and dead.  Some participants have even decided to drop the label completely – and that’s okay as the label seems to have a lot more meaning to those outside of the conversation than to the participants.

I still identify with the label and so I find myself being asked a lot of questions.  “What is it?”  “Why am I attracted to it?”  “Is it distorting the truth?”  “What difference is it making?”  “What do the participants believe?”  “Does it line up with scripture?”  and many other questions that are difficult (if not impossible) to answer in relation to the conversation.

Sometimes I try to answer by explaining that embracing doubt and uncertainty doesn’t mean that I don’t have beliefs or don’t live out my beliefs with conviction, sometimes I make the point that what scripture says is pretty clear but, on the other hand, what it means isn’t so black and white, sometimes I state that unity shouldn’t be dependent upon conformity and that making relationships and community the main thing IS right doctrine.

Sometimes I share how the conversation has helped me sustain my faith, learn how to believe in a way that builds bridges instead of barriers and become teachable once again.  How it’s given me a safe place to express myself, ponder my doubts and beliefs; permission to change my mind and to be wrong without shame or guilt; and beautiful, diverse, authentic friendships that are able to survive our differences with grace and love.

Today I am here to answer questions about the emerging/emergent conversation in a different way.  Today I want to share someone’s story as the answer to the questions.  I don’t know if the person in the story identifies with the label – just that we connected through the conversation.  I don’t know what this person believes about the trinity, the virgin birth, heaven or hell – just that he believes in loving others in the way of Jesus and he believes it enough to do something about it.

Today I am here to answer questions about the emerging/emergent conversation with a story  because

“the answer is in the story and the story is unfolding”

Pádraig Ó Tuama

Dear Friends,

After the recent article about us in the local paper, I have been asked dozens of times just what we do, exactly.

We feed people. But we aren’t a feeding ministry. And while we do help people get jobs, we aren’t a job training program. Almost 50 times since Christmas we have gotten work shoes for folks. But we aren’t a clothing ministry. And in a few weeks, we will be celebrating the 4thof July in the park with our friends who live outside – but that isn’t what we do.

At any given moment, we may be doing any or all of those things. But we are primarily a ministry of presence.

Being homeless means having no one to listen to you when you hurt, no one to share your dreams with, and no one to celebrate with when good things happen. And no one to stand beside you when you are scared.

Which is why, several weeks ago, I was in the doctor’s office, sitting next to my friend Sarah, holding her hand as we wait to hear the bad news. She had recently had her first annual exam in 16 years. (When you are struggling to survive, sometimes you let things like that slide.) And when she had called for the results, they refused to give them to her over the phone. This is never good.

Her sponsor in NA died of cervical cancer, so she was scared to death of going to that doctor’s office by herself to hear the news. So there I was, looking very out of place as she and the doctor talk about cervixes and ovaries and so on. And when he told her it looked like cancer, I was the guy who held her as she cried. And prayed with her in the parking lot.

Today she got the results back from the specialist. It is cancer of the cervix, and in a few weeks she is going in for an operation. So it was only natural that she called me and some of our volunteers to let us know. And when they wheel her back in the hospital room after cutting on her, it will be our faces she will see when she wakes up.

What do we do? We are present. Often our being present doesn’t change things – she is going to have surgery if we are there or not. But now, she won’t be alone. And that is not a small thing at all.

Love Wins. Always.

Hugh Hollowell



The only reason Hugh was able to be in that doctor’s office next to Sarah was because of financial contributions that pay his salary. And, it is financial contributions that will buy the flowers in her room when she comes out of recovery. If you don’t currently support Love Wins but want to be part of this story, you can find out more about that here. They really need people who are willing to commit to ongoing monthly contributions, so they can budget.

Quotes Worth Repeating – Orthoparadoxy

“Orthoparadoxy is an effort to make God’s main thing the main thing for all the people of God: reconciliation. Not sameness or agreement but differentiated oneness – where the fullness of one can be in relationship with the fullness of another. Orthoparadox is right paradox – holding difference rightly. Orthoparadox seeks to hold difference, tensions, otherness, and paradoxes with grace, humility, respect, and curiosity, while simultaneously bringing the fullness of self to the ‘other’ in conversation, not to convert or to convince but with the hope of mutual transformation through interpersonal relationship.”    Dwight Friesen

(image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisjfry/323461344/ )

Three Things Tuesday: LOST, The God Imagination and God Is Not Male

First Thing:

(the promotional photo of the Lost poster belongs to ABC/Touchstone TV)

Being a big, huge, humongous, gigantic, colossal, enormous, monumental, epic fan of the tv show LOST, I have to mention that the final episode of the series aired this week.  I personally thought the finale was fantastic, but some long- time fans don’t feel the same way.  Some feel there were too many questions left unanswered – others feel the finale revealed that they had been duped for six years because they were under the impression that the show was about the mystery of the island and the finale was all about the characters, their lifes and their relationships with each other.

Now don’t get me wrong – I loved all of the mysterious stuff, all the theories and how when one question was answered I was left with 6 new ones … but I’ve known all along that this was a character driven show and that in the end it would be about the characters.  IMO enough questions were answered and the ones that have not been answered are a gift – in that we can still have many great and passionate conversations about our theories.

In the end LOST was about people, their struggles, their flaws, their fears, their guilt, their failures, their hopes, their successes, their dreams, their progress, their relationships, their redemption and the part that community or the lack of community plays in the life of people.

I feel that the writers, the actors and the producers have been true to that idea from the beginning to the end of this series and I think they created one heck of a backdrop that kept me coming back week after week as they told the story of some very dark, personal journeys.

I will definitely miss the show and all the community that was created around the show.  Thanks for the good times, the good lessons and the good memories.

Second Thing:

Jonathan Brink has just announced that his book “Discovering The God Imagination, Reframing Suffering, Justice, and Reconciliation in the Gospel Story is now available for pre-order.  The book offers a new conversation about how we understand the gospel, the problem that God is solving and how we can participate in the solution to the problem.  I’m really looking forward to reading this book and have already placed my order.  Go here today and pre-order one for yourself.  (I also recommend that you take a look at Jonathan’s blog which always has interesting content)

Third Thing:

Tony Jones is currently exploring an apophatic approach to God.  His first apophatic statement is:  “God Is Not Male”.

I have no idea how many statements Tony will share with us but several interesting things came out of this one post. One thing that I found interesting was that people were showing up to argue against the statement – I don’t really know what to say about that because even in my most conservative “the bible says it and so it is true” days I never thought the Bible said anything at all about God having a particular gender or even that God was both female and male.  I have always understood scripture to indicate that God was beyond gender.

Another interesting thing that developed out of my interaction with the statement “God Is Not Male” was that I was reminded that I naturally and unconsciously put God in a box all the time and that I must be very intentional to struggle against limiting God to my own imagination in hopes that I will recognize any divine revelation if God sees fit to lay one on me.

What do you think about the statement “God Is Not Male”?  What apophatic statement would you make about God?

Survivor, TransFORM and How You Treat People, Matters.

I was in Washington D.C. to attend TransFORM: East Coast Gathering a couple of weeks ago. I have put off writing about it because it was so wonderful that I know my words will not be able to adequately convey my experience … but it was too important not to write about … so, here is the first attempt:

I’m a big Survivor fan and just finished watching the 20th season, “Heroes vs Villians”.  If you are familiar with the show, you know that Russell played two seasons back to back, got to the end in both seasons, but didn’t receive even one vote by any jury member in either of the seasons.  Some believe that Russell should have won Survivor as he played a physically and mentally strong game.  He tends to be able to control who gets voted off, is a convincing liar and a great schemer.  He’s okay when it comes to challenges and has won several immunity challenges, sometimes when it was critical.  But, (that probably should be “BUT”) he treats people poorly and it is difficult to win Survivor when you treat people poorly, since the people you are treating poorly are also the people that get to vote for the winner.  In other words, “how you treat people, matters”.

This got me to thinking about my experience at TransFORM.

Now, to give you a little context, I was a newcomer among the people at TransFORM.  I’ve been in the conversation for less than five years and I pretty much just listened for the first 3 years … so, I was a little worried about how I would fit in at the gathering.  I knew several people online, but had only met one person face to face before. I’m also older than most, not in full-time ministry AND I don’t even have a MAC or an IPhone … I even had the audacity to show up with my HP laptop and my Verizon Blackberry Tour:>)  But, (that probably should be “BUT”) they embraced me anyway, generously included me and made me feel significant, valuable, loved, and even liked.  Was it because of my great personality and wry wit?  My good looks?  Did my charisma blind them so that they couldn’t see past the dazzling light that surrounds me everywhere I go?  No, it wasn’t about any of those things (if you can believe it!!) … it wasn’t really about “me” – it was about them.  It was about this group of people putting a high value relationships with others.  It was about relationships with others being more important to them than anything else.  It was about them believing even if they were the most cool, the most right, the best speaker, the best writer, the best looking, the most fun, the most knowledgeable, the best or most anything, it wouldn’t amount to anything if they weren’t treating others well.  It was about them believing they can’t be winners unless they are loving others.  It was about this group of people believing “how you treat people, matters” – not just intellectually but experientially, not just in theory but in reality.  This is their central message, their main thing.

And that is why ever since I came back home from Washington D.C. I have yearned to be back in the presence of this group of people.  They are good at real community, they are good at loving, they are good at relationships.  They are transparent and vulnerable but not sappy – okay, occasionally they are sappy, but it’s a good kind of sappy:>)  IMO they are courageous when it comes to offering grace and embracing humility.

In the days to come I plan to write about my impressions of some of the TransFORM sessions, but first I just had to say a little something about what I thought was the most important thing about TransFORM  …  which was that I spent a few days with a group of people who were having some significant success at living in the way of Jesus and it was compelling and attractive and inspirational and motivating and comforting and transformational.

It touched me and changed me.

How you treat people, matters!

Whose Soul Will Be Condemned To Torment?

There has been a lively discussion going on over at Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, about Brian McLaren’s view of the Soul-Sort Narrative in his new book, A New Kind Of Christianity.  Unfortunately, some of the theological talk went over my head but the last comment (at least it was the last one as of today) shared one of those real life illustrations that leaves a lot of the theological banter sounding cold and shallow.  Comment #107 by Lindsey, asked the question:  “Whose soul will be condemned to torment?”   Here’s part of what Lindsey had to say:

I attended a funeral of a man that I worked with. He was in his mid-forties and died of a rare form of cancer. He and his family were devoutly Jewish. The service was moving, spiritual, and had the raw feeling of the God of Abraham in Holy Spirit in the room. This man, Brooke, was an ophthalmologist, and had left his successful and lucrative practice to teach high school science to inner city kids. I taught with him. The kids were heartbreaking, helpless, and hopeless, and he built them up in every way. As he went through painful treatment, he refused to quit teaching, and taught up until a week before he died. The synagogue at his funeral was filled with his students: poor kids, minority kids, kids that had never set foot in a house of worship before. Through Brooke, these kids, and all who worked with him, saw God. Brooke, though he didn’t know it, was a true servant of Christ. Meanwhile, my very Christian neighbors across the street sport a confederate flag bumper sticker right next to their cross. Through this simple gesture, they have turned away many people in my neighborhood from even being willing to hear the name of Jesus. These people, have condemned countless people to eternity without Christ through their ignorance and selfishness.
So tell me, who’s soul will be condemned to torment?

In many ways this question is not relavant for me these days as I don’t embrace the theology that revolves around “who is going to heaven? who is going to hell?” but I believe the story that Lindsey surrounds the question with is important as it demonstrates the problem with the type of theology that I grew up with.

What do you think?