Saturday, September 28, 2002

wanting to wrap your brain around the TNIV and the use of gender-inclusive language?

then Christianity Today has some helpful articles for you. First, read the critical piece by Vern S. Poythress, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Then see Mark Strauss', professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in San Diego, response. Strauss then presents a case for Todays' New International Version and Poythress responds.

Friday, September 27, 2002

toward a post-postmodern?

Too early to speak in such a way? Read Chris Criminger's penetrating comments.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

when church is its own worst enemy

For the last decade or so, I - as many of you - have had the good fortune to move in two worlds: the corporate world and the church world. And during this time I've watched a good bit of cross-fertilization between these two spheres. Before and during the last ten years, the business world has seen an unprecedented emphasis on values and soft skills. Some of the influences on this emphasis have been religious. One could argue this began in 1982 with the publishing of Tom Peters and Robert Waterman's wonderful In Search of Excellence, that it reached what Malcolm Gladwell would call a tipping point sometime after the 1989 arrival of Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and that it has culminated today in a veritable flood of similarly themed books being published every year.

As a sometimes trainer and consultant in my company and others, I've very much appreciated the new nomenclature associated with this new emphasis. It's provided me with a rich alternative vocabulary to express what for me are values that derive from a biblical ethos.

On the church side, perhaps never before have so many church leaders intentionally incorporated business methodologies as a matter of course. The explosive growth of Willow Creek Community Church during the 80's and its similarly meteoric rise in the popular evangelical consciousness led thousands of would be megachurch pastors to assiduously apply Willow methodologies to their own church growth strategies. This is just one way the trend of applying business execution strategies has found popular expression.

I reflected on this relatively new symbiosis of business and church today at the unofficial launch of the Grace Learning Community, an organization within Grace Community Church in the Baltimore, MD suburbs. But I was sobered when it occurred to me that we are at one of the most dangerous moments of organizational life. But a brief word about what Learning Community is all about might be helpful.

Learning Community was formed as an adult education venue for Grace Community Church. Yet we also believe that the evangelical church in North America has overly relied on information transfer as the omnicompetent modality of spiritual transformation. And so we set out to craft a different kind of adult education experience. We avoid academic nomenclature, using terms like "workshops" and "facilitators" instead of "classes" and "teachers." We incorporate interactive exercises and discussions into our workshops instead of just lecture. We create a small groupesque environment in our workshops, having out-of-workshop parties and dinners or sometimes having dinner before a workshop session. Our facilitators meet one-on-one with each workshop participant at least once to consult with them on the next step of their spiritual journey. In short, we see our organization as a place where we help folks segue to other ministries, small groups, and spiritual friendships within are broad church community. We do not believe that their merely acquiring more information is the point, though we do believe that biblical information is of critical importance. We seek two conversions: a conversion to a lifelong quest for a biblical mindset and a conversion to spiritual friendship and community. And so in our workshops we strive to give our participants a taste of both.

So today our senior pastor, Mark Norman, provided our church with an extended announcement encouraging the entire body to take advantage of our very first set of workshops. And it occurred to me that we are in a dangerous spot.

I co-lead the Learning Community Leadership Team along with Mark Goodrich, Pastor of Grace's Adult Ministries. For the last 6 months or so, Mark and I have spent hours and hours in many meetings with our Leadership Team identifying our organization's core values. As we realized that our approach to adult education was going to be non-traditional, we began to consider how we might go about selecting our first crop of facilitators. Our vision was to create a facilitator's community that would begin to incarnate and reflect the non-negotiable core values we had selected. But as we considered the best way to effectively transfer whatever insights we might have about spiritual formation to others, we realized that we needed to eat our own dog food! In the leadership develoment process we also needed not just to rely on information transfer but rather model it. And so we decided that we the Leadership Team would be the first Learning Community facilitators. We adopted a "find one, make one" policy where we would identify both potential facilitators to mentor and those who are qualified today.

And so we are today at the point of execution. And there's danger because we now have the opportunity to snuff the life out of this little fledgling community we've developed through our policies and procedures.

Let me explain.

We don't see the current uneasy dance between business and church as a bad thing. We've been very influenced by Peters, Covey and also by Jim Collins, Jerry Porras, James Kouzes, Barry Posner and others. For the last six months, a critical component of our planning has been influenced by Porras and Collins' insight that the best businesses in the United States both stimulate growth and preserve core values. Similarly, these authors' emphasis on the importance of tangible mechanisms have motivated us to identify operational distinctives that we view as the practical expression of our core values.

So, in more common parlance, as we now move organizationally from determining procedures that reflect our policies to the actual execution of our procedures, we now have the opportunity of dividing our heart from our hand and thereby lies the danger.

Dallas Willard, in his Renovation
of the Heart
, puts it bluntly:

"The revolution of Jesus is in the first place and continuously a revolution of the human heart or spirit. It did not and does not proceed by means of the formation of social institutions and laws..." (p. 15).

Whenever a system of ministry is put into place, those who move and operate within that system must take extra care not to overly rely on that system as a means of spiritual transformation. When we observe spiritual transformation occurring in the midst of a system, it's easy to miss that transformations are occurring because of other dynamic factors within the system and not because of the system itself. So, for example, when we earlier spoke of many would-be megachurch pastors emulating Willow Creek, we would have more accurately spoken of many former would-be megachurch pastors who found that though they've carefully duplicated every aspect of the Willow system, there were still some critical element(s) missing that led to a lack of Willow growth.

This same limitation of system in seen in the application of the spiritual disciplines to personal transformation. Merely reading the Bible,
or serving the poor, or praying the Psalms, or fasting will not effect spiritual change (cp. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Something else is needed. Something not entirely subject to systemization. Something dynamic and living.

Over-reliance on the system, of course, is characteristic of modernity in its mistaken belief that the perfect programming will yield its perfect

So in observing the sometimes positive effect of the systemic application of ministry it is easy to confuse the system as the most efficacious component of that ministry. And it's an understandable confusion. The system is a portion of the ministry that is tangible, observable, measurable and subject to confirmation. It's the stuff of annual reports and performance reviews. But it is not enough.

What, then, is the antidote? Is it the wholesale abandonment of policies, procedures, systems, tangible mechanisms, etc? No, we believe that systems are helpful because we've been commanded to execute our lives in an efficient manner, and systems enable efficiencies. Most certainly, spiritual change and effective service can and does occur in entirely unsystemic contexts. But it would be a simple lack of stewardship to fail to take advantage of the chance to optimize resources which systemic approaches allow, when we have the opportunity to do so. Rather, the solution is to recognize the limits of system.

I, actually, am the solution. So are you.

The problem of the limits of system is defeated as I, a Workshop Facilitator, slide into a booth to have breakfast with one of my participants because the Leadership Team agreed that every Facilitator would have a one-on-one meeting with every Workshop participant at least 2x in a three month period. As he speaks I am mindful that we are in God's presence. I am aware of the fact that I am inadequate to this task but that He is strong where I am weak. I am aware that the Spirit loves this man and will work through me in his life as I am a submitted conduit of His blessing. I am present with God and present to this man. I focus on him. I realize that I am Christ's ambassador to Him, that Jesus wants to love him through me. I am in the Spirit and am open to His leading. God has allowed this moment to come with me across the table from this man. I trust God with that and listen and speak for His glory and this man's good. It is at the point of service - at the point of love incarnate - that the details of schedule and regularity and follow-up and accountability fall aside as relatively insignificant details. This is the stuff of ministry.

The limitation of policy and procedure is transcended for anyone within the system when they walk in the Spirit, being aware that the Creator of the universe loves them with an unimaginable love, and that He is with
. Being present with and present to. The chasm between system and spiritual transformation is bridged when the servant reaches out in sincere love to the other as a representative of Jesus Christ on earth.

So we are in a dangerous moment here at the beginning of life for our infant organization. And it is not even the most dangerous moment. That moment occurs when the baton is passed from the first generation of leaders to the second, or the second to the third and so on. One can argue that the history of mainline denominations and their decline in the United States is the history of how their leaders have inordinately relied on their institutions to train their new leaders instead of making it their personal responsibility.

How do we maintain the spiritual health and ensure the future vibrancy of our organizations? How do we avoid the trap of relying on our institutions and systems to self-maintain? We do this by realizing that we are the answer. The organization is nothing more than us, and our procedures and systems are literally nothing more than details. Our ministries bear their fruit in those spontaneous moments of loving focus at the breakfast table.

Friday, September 13, 2002

please still pray for Chris Temple

sent from the Temples' friend Amelia Hendricks @ 11:23 PM on Thursday 12 September:

"Chris's condition remains extremely grave. He is still experiencing a
life-threatening bleed. This bleeding is different from what he has
experienced before--before it was due to a low platelet count and a
transfusion of platelets was "all" he needed. His medical condition now is
called DIC, which is much more serious. They transfused 18 units of blood
and 24 units of plasma today. They will start this regimen again tonight
and see if it will work. If it doesn't work, they do not expect him to
live. I don't know how to suggest that we pray ... let us all pray for
Chris as the Holy Spirit leads us, in accordance with God's will.

Roberta has been up with Chris for over 36 hours. She is back at the
apartment now, with Christine and Gloria, who arrived safely about 4 pm.
Pray for Roberta to be able to sleep, and for Christine and Gloria as they
minister to Roberta. Kaitlin was able to visit tonight and see her father.
Jane arrived safely today in a rented car and is with Kaitlin in Ligonier.
The deacons and other members of the church came to the hospital and prayed
over Chris tonight."

Thursday, September 12, 2002

urgent request for Chris Temple

sent from the Temples' friend Amelia Hendricks @ 8:20 AM on Thursday 12 September:

"Chris's bleeding became life-threatening last night. Modern medicine is
doing all it can to save his life, and we are thankful for the doctors and
nurses who are caring for him. We are thankful for those blood donors who
have provided the many units of blood and plasma that have been given to
Chris during the night."

For more information on Chris Temple and his situation see this post. And there are other updates throughout this blog.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

love your enemy

jordon cooper underscores the kind of thinking that will be needed to end the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Palestinian Hanan Ashrawi, a professing Christian, expresses a view we might not read as often in the West, though one might wish wish she had condemned terrorism more vehemently.


here is new york is an amazing collection of photographs viewable online or at the Corcoran here in Washington.

From the site:

"HERE IS NEW YORK is not a conventional gallery show. It is something new, a show tailored to the nature of the event, and to the response it has elicited. The exhibition is subtitled "A Democracy of Photographs" because anyone and everyone who has taken pictures relating to the tragedy is invited to bring or ftp their images to the gallery, where they will be digitally scanned, archivally printed and displayed on the walls alongside the work of top photojournalists and other professional photographers."

The title of the work derives from EB White's Here is New York, where, incredibly, in 1949 he wrote:

"The subtlest change in New York is something people don't speak much about but that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, the black headlines of the latest edition. All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer who might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm."

Monday, September 09, 2002

johnny's site

some interesting things are appearing on johnny hax's site.

iraq peaceteam

One of the 'mappers, New Zealander Rachel Cunliffe recently forwarded this interesting note to the faithmaps discussion group. Rachel has taken a firm position herself on the matter.

Kevin J Vanhoozer's First Theology: God, Scriptures & Hermeneutics

Dan Brennan posts some interesting comments on Vanhoozer's First Theology: God, Scriptures & Hermeneutics.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

whither fideism

I was in a blue funk today. And though Bethany herself was feeling under the weather, she graciously gave me an hour's break from caring for her and Michaela, Skye and Alia to have a cup of Cafe Au Lait at Borders and read. "Please come back happy," where her words as I walked out the door. I took along Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, Jr's Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity, a wonderful comprehensive survey and interaction with the different schools of apologetic thought. I've loved working through this book, but - honestly - I wasn't expecting anything dramatic to occur @ Borders as I sat down to begin chapter 17 entitled "Fideist Apologetics: Reasons of the Heart."

I ordered a scone and some Italian coffee for my Au Lait and sat down to read. Pretty soon, I started getting excited. By the time I crossed the street in front of Borders, I felt that I'd been given a fresh perspective on the importance of consciously practicing God's presence and my blue funk started to dissipate. I was moved to worship and listened to Jennifer Knapp on my CD player on the way home with fresh ears. I probably listened to "Come to Me" 4 or 5x in the 15 minutes it took me to get back to the house.

"Come to Me, come to me
My Yoke is Easy I'll Give You Rest
Under-Wing to Breast"

Jennifer can turn a phrase.

This is what caught my attention from Boa and Bowman and put the spring back into my step. First, I'll quote a masterful paragraph-length review of their previous 392 pages up until chapter 17 that characterizes the clear lucidity of their expression. I'll intersperse my comments in [brackets].

"The three approaches to apologetics we have already considered all view truth essentially as a body of factual, propositional knowledge corresponding to reality. Where they differ is in their preferred or basic method of validating this truth and commending it to others. Thus classical apologists [e.g. B.B Warfield, Norman L. Geisler, etc.] prefer deductive, rational tests for determining truth; evidentialists [Clark H. Pinnock, John Warwick Montgomery, Richard Swiburne] prefer indicutive, empiracle methods used in the sciences and other disciplines for discovering truth; and Reformed apologists [Herman Dooyeweerd, Cornelius Van Til, Alvin Plantinga] typically appeal to the Bible as the standard of truth...."

p. 393

Chapter 17 goes on to treat another school of apologetic thought the authors label "the fideists." In this category they place Blaise Pascal, Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth and the contemporary Donald G. Bloesch. What caught my attention was the degree to which the fideists hit themes that the 'mappers have been discussing for months under the rubric of transpropostionality. And certainly, both Barth and Bloesch have come up in that conversation.

Boa and Bowman continue,

"Fideists consider these approaches to knowledge of the truth of Christianity [the classical apologists, the evidentialists, and the Reformed apologists (they place both presuppositionalists and Reformed epistemologists in this category)] inadequate for two basic reasons. First, they take a different approach, not merely to how we can know or validate the truth, but more fundamentally to what is meant by the truth. For fideists, the truth accepted by Christians is fundamentally not some body of knowledge, but Somebody to know. In other words, the truth is ultimately a person, Jesus Christ (compare John 14:6). The truth is not merely about the person of Jesus; rather, Jesus Himself is the truth. As fideists rightly insist, the essence of Christian faith is not simply knowledge about Christ but knowing Christ, that is, knowing Him personally. And it is just this aspect of Christianity that they argue renders traditional apologetics not merely inadequate but worse than useless. For if we know God personally in Christ, of what use are arguments proving His existence? If we have a personal relationship with the living Christ, will we not be offended at the suggestion that we need to provide evidence for His resurrection?

Kierkegaard, for example, compares the person who engages in the "defense of Christianity" to a person who professes to be a lover and offers "three reasons" for the greatness of his beloved.... [Kierkegaard writes:] "There is an unholy inversion in all this business of having to prove everything first. I wonder if it would ever occur to anyone really in love to prove the blessedness of love with three basic reasons? But the fact is that men no longer believe -- alas, and so they want to help themselves with the artificial legs of a little scientific scholarliness" [from Soren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers]. "

pp. 393, 394

The authors go on to quote Donald Bloesch:

"The object of faith is neither true propositions (as in rationalism) nor an experience of the ineffable (as in mysticism) but the living Word of God who is revealed as well as hidden in the mystery of his self-disclosure in biblical history.... And the object of fiath is not a propositional formula or a rational, ethical ideal but the living, redeeming God incarnate in Jesus Christ, attested nowhere more decisively than in Holy Scriptures" [from his Theology of Word and Spirit, pp. 60, 61].

p. 394

There is more worth quoting here, but I will simply commend you to the book.

The authors treatment of fideism and the themes they invoked reminded me of a discussion I had sometime ago with Brian McLaren on epistemology.

As the subtitle of their book foreshadows, Boa and Bowman favor an integrative approach, so they do not wholly subscribe to the fideist position in a way that entirely negates the contributions of the other schools of thought. And I certainly believe that theology and propositions are critically important and it also seems clear to me that the NT docs themselves speak of evidences. Nevertheless, I found their treatment of the fideists an encouragement to my own faith in the person Jesus Christ. It was a further reminder to me that my own Christianity must not be *merely* a theology, merely a code of ethics, merely a socio-cultural phenomenon; but that at its most fundamental level, my religion must be about my personal, daily, normal (sometimes!), interactive, relationship with the Triune God.

And I did arrive home happier than when I left!