I’ve been at the Untamed conference at Asbury Seminary all week, having my mind blown by Alan and Debra Hirsch. In addition to their very provocative talks, I’m studying with Brian Russell, a great teacher who finds in the Bible a passion for missional living. It’s been an inspiring (and at times disconcerting) few days.
I want to share some of the stuff I’ve been trying to soak in, but haven’t yet been able to process it into a manageable essay. So here’s an unconventional blog post for y’all. (Actually, is there such a thing as a “conventional” blog post??) I’ve just cut and pasted my notes. Hope y’all can mine some good stuff out of this. It would be better if you heard it in context. And, by the way, if this kind of thing interests you, check out their book Untamed.
The battle for the church in the West will be won or lost in America. In this generation biblical Christianity will be over in Europe. In this generation the lights will go out. If we don’t adopt a missional approach, Christianity in the West will die.
Idols are what the bible calls those things that intrude into our relationship with God. We call ourselves monotheists. When the Bible says God is one, it isn’t an ontological statement. In polytheism every sphere of life had a different god associated with it. The Shema brings ALL of life, every sphere of it, under one God, to whom it should all be offered.
Jesus added “…and love your neighbor as yourself” to the Shema.
The Shema says false gods are to be refused. We are to offer all of the aspects of our lives to the one god. It is a statement over against idolatry, rather than a statement of ontology.
True worship is offering everything back to God.
We’ve made theology an ontological exercise, rather than an existential one.
Martin Buber says there are only 2 realities in the world, the holy and the not yet holy.
Sexuality and money, for example, if not offered back to God become idols.
Where is the sacred and the secular if God claims everything?
If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail.
All of us come to God enslaved by idolatry.
In the evangelical world we’ve made the nuclear family into a primary idol.
At the time of the reformation society felt burdened with guilt. It was the question of how to deal with that guilt before God that needed an answer. That feeling doesn’t generally exist today, but we continue to present the answer to that question to a world which isn’t asking it. We need to present something else.
We evangelicals only focus on Jesus’ death, resurrection and second coming. We don’t focus on incarnation, except at Christmas and only with baby Jesus. We tend to ignore or downplay the importance of incarnation.
Christianity minus Christ equals religion.
What is it about the holiness of Jesus that drew sinners to him like a magnet and what is it about the holiness of the average Christian that repels the same kind of people who were drawn to Jesus?
What we tend to have is moralism, not holiness..
Are people outside the faith drawn to us, or are they scared to come to us? If we’re embodying our forms of moralism, we’re never going to draw people to us.
We think of holiness in terms of what we don’t do, when we should be thinking of it in terms of what we do.
We’re called to witness, but not to be the moral guardians of society.
The church is meant to model an alternative society. When people scratch us, they should smell the Kingdom come out.
We can’t tell people how to live their lives if we haven’t yet washed their feet.
In America we’ve bonded church and nationality, rather than church and state.
God created us in his image, and we returned the favor.
If we don’t let go of the idols when we inquire of God, he speaks to us through that idol. Thus inquiring of God while clinging to the money idol, results in things like the Prosperity Gospel.
It is very rare that people have a true intellectual issue with God. It is almost always a moral issue. It is cognitive dissonance. Accepting God would, they believe, cause them to have to give up something else they’re worshipping instead, so they rationalize God away.
Our fundamental job is to redeem culture, not just to critique it.
We have made “the market” a god. We personify it and give it attributes of a deity. We say “the market determines…” or “the market rewarded…” or “the market punished…”
What we are saying is “Jesus, you’re a very nice guy, but you’re not very smart when it comes to money.”
Money is not a neutral power in our lives.
Consumerism is the greatest alternative to discipleship in our day. Malls are frequented as the modern temples of the consumerist society.
Stuff and brands give us meaning and identity.
If we don’t disciple people, our culture surely will.
We are being profoundly manipulated by advertising.
Shopping is no longer about buying what we need. It is a form of spirituality now.
Consumerism is the new alternative religion and it is doing a much better job of disciplining people than the church is.
The church has adopted the consumer model. If we’re offering church as a consumer product, don’t be surprised if people treat it as one.
We fool ourselves if we think people are “tithing.” They aren’t giving to God. They’re paying for religious goods and services. If you don’t believe that’s true then try this test—stop giving sermons for 3 weeks and see what happens to offerings. They’re consumers and they’re buying religious goods and services. If they like the goods and services they’ll pay more for them. If not, they won’t. We’re entertainers.
Middle class culture is dominated by desires for safety and security, comfort and convenience. So we offer that in middle class churches. (which are competing for the middle class church-goods-and-services consumers)
Status anxiety is one of the things that breaks us as humans. We can be happy as long as we all have approximately the same stuff. But if one person in the group gets something that gives him status the others don’t have (a swimming pool as one example) then the rest of the group, which had previously been happy even without a swimming pool is now unhappy.
We should be an incarnational community. Instead we box ourselves into walls like church buildings where we think outsiders should come to us, to get to know God. (instead of us going to them)
We put ourselves into a group defined by the b’s: We have a sense of belonging together, we believe the same things and we behave the same way. To get in the group you must believe and behave as we do.
In the West has the family itself become an idol? The nuclear family is our social understanding of family. But it is a very modern Western concept, probably not much more than 50 years old (a product of the industrial revolution)
The meaning of family has, over time, shrunk to mean Mom, Dad and 2.2 kids (maybe a dog and cat and a bunch of stuff)
Our families are meant to be little tastes of the Kingdom, but we don’t let anyone in them.
When we shut the doors of our homes, we shut the doors of our hearts.
We’ve narrowed our idea of family down way too far.
We’ve bought into the modern nuclear family as the model biblical family, yet the Bible knows nothing of this kind of family.
To substitute the nuclear family for what the bible says about family is a major category error.
Our families should include the stranger and the alien.
We don’t want to get rid of the nuclear family, we want to open it up.
The archetypal family is the church, not the nuclear family.
We have to see that every human being is, first and foremost, created in the image of God.
We tend to see people first and foremost as sinners in need of redemption. It is true that we are. But that is a secondary truth. The primary truth is that we are created in the imago dei. Recognizing that changes everything about how we understand and deal with people.
Jesus is the exemplar of what it means to be a true human.
CS Lewis says the incarnation was the drawing of Manhood into the Godhead, not the other way around.
There is no word for “person” in Hebrew. The closest word is the word “face.” So the Bible talks of seeking God’s face.
We Christians have compartmentalized sexuality and separated it from spirituality.
We fear our sexuality.
This is a product of Hellenistic dualism, which separated the body/flesh and the spirit, with the former being base and bad and the latter being good.
Spirituality and sexuality are actually very similar. Through spirituality we seek to satisfy our deep longing to know and be known by the “Other.” We Christians understand that to be a longing to know and be known by God.
Sexuality represents our hunger and need to know and be known by “the other” also. We seek the loving, giving and receiving of love.
Think of the 2 great commands: the Shema (love God with all your heart, soul and mind) and love your neighbor as yourself.
Sexuality is a very powerful force. If we don’t bind it to God, it will take us to a very dark place.
My definition of pornography is when we love beauty more than we love goodness. We love beauty, but we must love goodness more.
Thinking of the story of the woman caught in adultery…
Shows that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentence, not his harshness.
Jesus first offers words of acceptance (“neither do I condemn you”) then he told her to change her behavior. We do it the other way around. First change your behavior, then we’ll accept you.
We’re impoverished as evangelicals for having failed to deeply engage the doctrine of incarnation. The incarnation must impact the way we live in the world. How we are sent is defined by the incarnation. As the father sent me, so I send you. How was Jesus sent? Jesus was in the neighborhood for 30 years and no one noticed. Mostly when Christians engage the incarnation it’s at Christmas. And its completely coopted by Santa—a materialistic pedophile. Christmas is coopted by other stories. Its really a celebration of familyhood—elevating the idol of family. What is really being worshipped here? And it’s the only time we really take the incarnation seriously.
The whole message of Jesus is saving—not just the “saving events.” We don’t take the humbling god very seriously.
Presence—how god has identified in Jesus. Jesus has completely identified with humanity. That is the incarnation.
He’s not just for us and with us, he’s of us. Jesus is one of us.
Its one thing for the church to be for the community, its another thing for the church to be of the community.
Proximity. Jesus is in proximity with people. He goes to where they are. He didn’t just set up some holy academy on the hill and expect people to come to him.
The most fertile contexts for western mission now are not family or workplace (as important as they are), but in “third places”—people’s preferential social environments (pubs, social gatherings). Go into their spaces.
Go to their space, don’t expect them to come to you. We are the sent ones, not them.
Stories about incarnational mission—instead of going to church on Sunday morning, create “church” in already-existing places of gathering.
Powerlessness. Jesus came as a baby. As a dependent child. Our God is humble. There is a humility about our God. We ought not come to people from a position of power, having all the answers. Instead we should come humbly.
Passion. As protestants we don’t put enough emphasis on this. We need a solid redemptive theology of pain and suffering. To sufficiently understand the incarnation we have to understand suffering. To work with gays or Jews for example, we need to understand the pain they have suffered. A struggling world in pain wants someone to come and share their pain, not come from a position of power to dictate answers to them.
Empathy comes from incarnational engagement.
Prevenience. God is at work now in every person and people group. We don’t bring God to people. He’s already there and cares about them far more than we ever would. We just try to join with God where he is already acting. Prevenient grace. Whatever context you go into, God is already there. We just join him there. Everyone has religious experiences whether they are realizing it or not. We are not to deny people’s experience of God, but to relate them to Jesus.
Proclamation. Historically we’ve put this one first, rather than last, in importance. If we’ve done the other things, then we’ve earned the right to open our mouths. God was living in the neighborhood 30 years before he started speaking. We’ve got to do a lot of work before we proclaim. Do proclaim. But we mayhave to walk a long journey before we start the god conversation.
Kierkegaard’s goose parable. It is possible to domesticate a goose, but a domesticated goose almost never becomes wild.
The cost of the domesticated life—you lose the life you were designed for. Beware lest you get domesticated. If you get used to the barnyard existence, but you may never fly again.
Ships are safest when in port, but that’s not what ships are designed for.
In their community they expect folks to do at least 3 acts of goodness a week in blessing to other people (could be send a postcard or paint their house, whatever), one person inside the community of faith and one outside. Same with eating. Commit to eat three meals a week with someone else (at least one inside the community and one who is outside (nonChristian)). Commit to three hours of week of study in community—bible and other books as well. Discipline of examen—spend at least 20 minutes every day reflecting on what they have done during the day. Keep a journal and record where you worked with jesus that day and where they resisted him. Everyone comes together one day, Sunday for example. Share blessings. Eat together. Contemplate silently for a 10 minutes or so—Quaker style. Then they share. Then they bless each other and “send” them out. After a year of doing this, you will change.
The truth sets you free. Idols will blind you to truth.
Those are just my notes, snippets of things I most wanted to remember from 11 hours of teaching. Maybe someday I’ll try to boil some of my thoughts down into a more manageable meal.