About every five hundred years, the church feels compelled to have a giant rummage sale

See the full article by Becky Garrison at God’s Politics.

When I interviewed Phyllis Tickle for Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church, she reflected on the seismic changes she sees occurring in contemporary Christianity. “Evangelicalism has lost much of its credibility and much of its spiritual energy as of late, in much the same way that mainline Protestantism has.” Lest anyone find this news so depressing they want to run for cover, Phyllis offers some much needed historical and hopeful perspective. “About every five hundred years, the church feels compelled to have a giant rummage sale.” During the last such upheaval, the Great Reformation of 500 years ago, Protestantism took over hegemony. But Roman Catholicism did not die. It just had to drop back and reconfigure. Each time a rummage sale has happened, in other words, whatever held pride of place simply gets broken apart into smaller pieces, and then it picks itself up and to use Diana Butler Bass’s term, “re-tradition.

I am intrigued by this bird’s eye view of the church. I do think that evangelicalism as I have known it has spent itself and is seeking a new paradigm. We have been embarrassed too much, confused too much, with a theology that is getting shallower and with a vulnerability to fads that demonstrates an inability to reflect and have larger views that require balance and wisdom. Some are seeking the stability of the Roman Catholic church as a respite from the rocking boat of evangelicalism. Some are downsizing to the smaller communities of meaning and mission that are being validated by some of the thinking offered by the emerging church. But too many churches are still trying to be the Saddlebacks and Willowcreeks of the 1980’s and 1990’s, churches that don’t exist anymore even at Saddleback and Willowcreek. I am wondering what it all will look like in twenty or so years.

I have lived through southern fundamentalism, Billy Graham evangelicalism, Carl Henry neo-evangelicalism, charismatic renewal, inclusive seeker models, and now emerging and emergent. I have gone to seminary and been on the board of a seminary and witnessed the coming and going of staff as each new wave hits the church. Some professors can’t catch the new wave and have to go; some professors try to build a breaker wall against the new wave and get rid of those who would surf it; and meanwhile mega churches are producing their own institutions of reproduction that bypass the seminary. Is there an omega point? Or is there a necessary turmoil being stirred that will force evangelicalism to reconnect with church history?

Is the church under-masculinized?

Below is a blog article from The Constructive Curmudgeon. Actually, I have been trying to follow Mark Driscoll’s description of Jesus as a man with big biceps. Actually I think it easier to be holy, but I think the big biceps should come first.

Real Men or Followers of Jesus?
A new movement is afoot, inspired in part by John Eldridge, author of Wild at Heart. Call it the Christian men’s movement. The thesis is simple and wrong: the church is feminized and, therefore, cannot attract me (or at least cannot attract “real men”). The solution is simple and just as wrong: to masculinize the church and create separate associations where men can beat their chests, spit, scoff at all things “feminine,” and glory in the power of testosterone.

One Brad Stine has formed a group called GodMen (sounds a bit pantheistic), which, according to Christianity Today, “provides a space in which ‘men can be men; raw and uninhibited; completely free to express themselves in a uniquely male way that only men understand’” (Brandon O’Brien, “A Jesus for Real Men,” April, 2008, p. 49). Pastor Mark Driscoll says that men are drawn to Jesus’ “calloused hands and big biceps.” This is, he says, “the Ultimate Fighting Jesus” (p. 49). I have never been drawn to these features of Jesus, if he even had them. They are not the point of the Incarnation. I am drawn to Jesus’ holy personality (perfect love and justice), his truth, his miracles, his death, his resurrection, his ascension—none of which require macho muscles and calloused hands. Those hands were pierced for us; that body was broken for us. That is what counts—for men and for women—for time and eternity.

The problem with the church is not that it is presenting a feminine Jesus, although some of the depictions of Jesus are such (another argument for not making any image of God.) The problem is that the biblical Jesus, in all his uncomfortable glory, has been eclipsed by worldliness. Now Jesus is not the crucified and risen Lord, but an idea to comfort us, inspire us to be who we already want to be. Instead of coming with a whip and driving out the money changers, he helps us make money to spend on stuff. Instead of heaving with paroxysms of grief and outrage over the death of Lazarus, he is saying nice things to get us to distract ourselves from the brutal realities of sin and death in our broken world. One could go on.

The answer is not to create a Jesus that fits the stereotypes of today’s masculinity. That is just more worldliness and should be repented of. Humans, male and female, are equally made in the image of God. The fruit of the Spirit is for both sexes. The gifts of the Spirit are for both sexes. The way of life for both women and men is to deny themselves (and the current worldly views of masculinity and femininity), take up their crosses and follow Christ.

Yes, men and women are different, each tend to have different strengths and different weaknesses in some areas. For example, how many women are addicted to pornography? How many men over idealize romance? But the answer is not to become more masculine or more feminine (unless one has sexual identity problems). The answer is to become more broken before God, more biblical, more filled with the Spirit, more of a sold out agent of the supernatural Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

Anne Rice on Easter

I read her book Christ the Lord and some of the stuff on her conversion to Christianity in its Roman Catholic version. Thanks to Marko for offering this on his blog.  

…On the afternoon in 1998 when faith returned, I experienced a sense of the limitless power and majesty of God that left me convinced that He knew all the answers to the theological and sociological questions that had tormented me for years. I saw, in one enduring moment, that the God who could make the Double Helix and the snow flake, the God who could make the Black holes in space, and the lilies of the field, could do absolutely anything and must know everything—- even why good people suffer, why genocide and war plague our planet, and why Christians have lost, in America and in other lands, so much credibility as people who know how to love. I felt a trust in this all-knowing God; I felt a sudden release of all my doubts. Indeed, my questions became petty in the face of the greatness I beheld. I felt a deep and irreversible assurance that God knew and understood every single moment of every life that had ever been lived, or would be lived on Earth. I saw the universe as an immense and intricate tapestry, and I perceived that the Maker of the tapestry saw interwoven in that tapestry all our experiences in a way that we could not hope, on this Earth, to understand….

…As we experience Easter week, we celebrate the crucifixion that changed the world. We celebrate the Resurrection that sent Christ’s apostles throughout the Roman Empire to declare the Good News. We celebrate one of the greatest love stories the world has ever known: that of a God who would come down here to live and breathe with us in a human body, who would experience human death for us, and then rise to remind us that He was, and is, both Human and Divine. We celebrate the greatest inversion the world has ever recorded: that of the Maker dying on a Roman cross.

Let us celebrate as well that throughout this troubled world in which we live, billions believe in this 2,000-year-old love story and in this great inversion—and billions seek to trust the Maker to bring us to one another in love as He brings us to Himself.

What is a synagogue sermon?

I ran across this interesting characterization of some sermons being preached in evangelical pulpits today. They are sermons with no cross, no Christ crucified, no shed blood and the offer of forgiveness of sin. They are monotheistic – God is, God is personal, God answers prayer, God loves, but there is no redemption other than one or two remarks at the end of the sermon or in the final prayer. This kind of sermon has more in common with the messages in a synagogue than those that should be in a church.

I wonder!!! If the evangelical church in its broad sweep observed the Lord’s Supper each Sunday, I doubt it would ever feel comfortable with such bare monotheism in the pulpit. Or at least if there were such bare monotheism in the pulpit, the Lord’s Supper would be the centripetal force that always brought everyone back to the core of it all.

When I happen upon a Roman Catholic service, there is no mistaking what Christ has done. Most of the sermons I have heard in the local RC church are moralistic, but the Eucharist is another matter altogether. With the weaving together of Scripture, prayer and comment, there is true food and true drink. Christ has died in my place and for me, and by his stripes I have been healed.  I confess my sins and transfer trust to Jesus as the Savior. Is it just me or is that transaction becoming less evident in the evangelical church?

 Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter have centered me again and set me square in the midst of the history of redemption, from the message in the pulpit must emerge.

Most of the important things that a human being ought to know cannot be comprehended in youth.

This is a quote from the catalog I received from The Teaching Company. (By the way, I highly, highly recommend the Teaching Company as a resource for viewing the best in college teaching.

I am 58. I shudder to think of the things I did not know in my twenties and thirties. I had zeal, passion, commitment and the willingness to be led. But in looking back I now see that I was being led by people in their twenties and thirties. This is where almost all the “new ideas” for marketing our faith are coming from. They are being shaped by quite intelligent and well-motivated twenty and thirty somethings.

I was listening to a Rob Bell Nooma video on Easter Sunday titled “Today.” (It was great). He referred to a dad raising a teenage daughter. I wondered – how of this does he really know. Has he lived long enough to give me the insight I need on this one? Does he grasp this isuue? CAN he grasp this issue?

Is it time for the church to grab back the baton and bring in some other hands to pass along the faith? Maybe there are some things people in their twenties and thirties cannot know about the faith journey, things that get left out or minimized or dismissed. Maybe we need to include leaders who have seen what happens over three or four generationas of kids when certain models are followed. Maybe we need to intentionally give dead leaders a vote, people who followed Christ for a whole life-time and who shaped worship and service so that nothing gets left out, nothing foreign gets put in and nothing is left out of balance.

CS Lewis commented that even as translations of the Bible increase, biblical literacy is decreasing. Cannot it not similarly be said that even as the models for ministry multiply that the confusion over church is increasing. How much have we really gained? Are we holier, more pious, reverent, separated from the world system?

The church should take seriously the fact – “most of the important things that a human being ought to know cannot be comprehended in youth.”

The Faith of George Washington

This morning I showed to my 9/10 and 11/12 grade Bible classes this video sermon by D James Kennedy. I have it in my library from some years back, taped right off the tube when I was watching the Coral Ridge Hour.  It continues to thrill me to hear of the life and faith of Washington. While it has become custom to question the religious faith of our founding fathers and to entertain any suggestion, no matter how small, that they were men of clay feet, there is powerful evidence of extraordinarily deep devotion, moral rectitude and humble piety among them. Foremost must be George Washington.

As Kennedy quotes in his sermon, some considered Washington, in his day, to be the “moral wonder of the world.” The fact remains that there are those who follow in the train of the apostles, who run for the prize and who do manifest a life worthy of emulation.

The book from which Kennedy does much of his quoting is “George Washington, The Christian” by William J. Johnson.

Of course, there was no reference to Washington’s slave holding or to any other worldviews that made him a creature of his day. But if we are to have heroes of any kind, we must at some point be generous enough of spirit to allow others to remain but flesh.

 I think I am challenged enough to do even more reading on Washington. I am in temperament his opposite. I am often hot blooded, quick of response and a man of moods. I like men who do not hold their cards to their chest and who are not squeamish is expressing opinion. (In this I am particularly fond of John Adams). But it would do me well to look at the spiritual journey of such a man as this.

And besides, as a teacher I wonder who will be the heroes of our youth. Washington should be a good start.

That church is dead – really dead!!!

From A Peculiar Prophet

A couple of years ago, a District Superintendent paid me (Will Willomon) of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. He had told a pastor of our interest to move him to a different church. “I can’t do this,” responded the pastor. “That church is dead. It’s been dying for years and now I hear it’s really dead.” The DS replied, “I’ll tell the Bishop but let me warn you, this guy really believes that Easter is true. To tell him a pastor or a church is dead means nothing to him. He just sees death as an opportunity to see what Jesus can do.”