Bono and AntiChrist Allegations...

An article in a recent e-newsletter from Relevant Magazine discusses disillusionment with Bono of U2... and a sense of something more sinister, underlying.

Now granted, the writer, Tara Leigh Cobble clarified, "I don't think Bono is THE antichrist..." but even making such a clarification alludes to some indictment.

At a recent U2 Concert, Cobble discussed her turmoil in hearing Bono point to the Cross, the Star of David and the Crescent Moon on his bandana and repeat: “Jesus, Jew, Mohammed-all true. Jesus, Jew, Mohammed-all true.”

I can resonate with a little "discomfort" at the words "all-true," but I was more unnerved by a Christian being "devastated," as she put, at the thought that other religions might have something in common with Christianity. We may not believe in Mohammed, but we certainly worship Allah (despite the differentiation K-Love and Focus on the Family try to make - historically, He is the same God, and if you want to say the God of the Jews and the God of Islam and Christianity are all different, then so is the God of Catholics, the God of Baptists and the God of Pentecostals).

The author goes on to state that Bono is a great man, if still over-idolized. I can agree with this as well. I think our idolatry of Bono is often out of guilt - we see someone who does SO MUCH and think, "wow, I'm a real asshole." Then we go OVERBOARD on patting Bono on the back. The reality is, he works hard, but he's not hurting or suffering (beyond emotionally) for the work he does. He's lauded every day for it. A wonderful man, but there is balance needed. Bono isn't going to die on a cross like Jesus.

Jesus said we would know His disciples by their fruits, and regardless of Bono's personal theology (it's silly we Christians ever tried to claim him as "our own little evangelical icon") his life bears fruits of love and generosity - taking care of the poor, the sick, the widows and orphans. How many fundamentalist Americans are doing that? ...Ouch... myself included.

Please sound off on your thoughts! The full article is posted below:

Editors Note: Bono was recently named one of Time magazine's "Persons of the Year" for his humanitarian work and international efforts.

I’m pretty sure I won’t get much opposition if I say that U2 is the greatest rock band of all time. When I scored two great seats to one of the shows at Madison Square Garden last month, I thought my life had reached its pinnacle. It was a euphoric experience.

During the first few songs, I stood, along with the rest of the stadium, as we pumped our fists into the air and sang along with every word. The energy in the air was emotionally overwhelming. And if you’ve never been to a U2 show, let me tell you that it was everything you’d ever expect it to be. But it was also much, much more.

About five songs into their set, Bono stopped the show and strapped on a headband with writing on it. I stared up at the JumboTron to see that the handwritten lettering said: COEXIST. Coexisting sounds like a great idea. I fully support the peaceful philanthropy that Bono has encouraged, and this seemed like another way that he was trying to spread the message. GOD: Clear and Full - As I looked around the room at these people my age, it was not hard to feel connected and unified with them. Except, it started to feel like more than a political message. The “C” in “coexist” was the Islamic crescent moon, the “X” was the Star of David, and the “T” was the cross of Christ.

Bono pointed at the symbols on his headband-first to the cross, then to the star, then to the crescent moon-and he began to repeat: “Jesus, Jew, Mohammed-all true. Jesus, Jew, Mohammed-all true.”

He repeated the words like a mantra, and some people even began to repeat it with him. I suddenly wanted to crawl out of my skin. Was Bono, my supposed brother in Christ, preaching some kind of universalism? In just a few seconds, I went from agreeing with him about Christlike “coexistence” to being creeped out by the ungodly, untrue thing he was saying. What’s going on here? What if he believes that all ways are the same, and he just thinks of Christianity as his particular way? Aren’t universalism and true Christianity mutually exclusive?

I’ve heard the urban legends of amazing things Bono has said about his faith, I’ve read the books, and I’ve peered deep into everything he’s said hoping to find something that makes his beliefs clear. For years, I’ve adored him and clung to the notion that he is believer, too. After all, he identifies himself with Christianity, doesn’t he?

When he stated that lie so boldly, it devastated me. It was, without question, the most disturbing experience of my life; I felt like I’d been covered in bile. As I looked around, I saw all the people standing and chanting with him-it was disgusting and beautiful all at once. Unity can be so enticing. It made me think of the one world religion and how that will probably look benign and beautiful from the outside, too. I even started to wonder if universalism just might be poised to be that religion.

All these things were running through my head. After the show, I ran into a friend who had been sitting in the back row. “What did you think of that headband thing?” I asked. “Well, I couldn’t hear what he was saying because it was bouncing off the wall behind me, and I couldn’t read the headband, because I wasn’t near a JumboTron. But honestly, I felt like I was witnessing an antichrist.” I stood frozen as she spoke. I’d had the same feeling.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying that Bono is the Antichrist. Perhaps he’s just guilty of being overzealous about his politics. But I hope that if he is a believer, the Holy Spirit will convict him that equating Christianity with other religions is false prophecy. 2 Timothy 3 tells us to avoid people who have a form of godliness but deny the true power of God. And I believe that the most deceptive thing of all is to identify yourself with the truth and preach a lie. For a long time after the show, I couldn’t talk about it. And I still don’t know what to think because I don’t know Bono’s heart. All I know is what he said from that stage and how it shook my footing. God used that to show me something ugly in myself that needed to be fixed. It felt like He was saying, “If you’re looking to Bono, you’re looking to the wrong place.”

The reality is that Bono held too high a place in my heart. And I don’t think I’m alone there. I’ve wrongly held him up as the heroic ideal-the cool representative for Christianity; he may have been my “Christian idol,” but he was my idol nonetheless. And that’s not OK. Yes, it should bother me to think that Bono might not be a believer; but it should not bother me any more than if a random guy on the street does not believe. I pray for Bono more lately, and I pray for the hearts of the millions of people who he impacts on a daily basis. He is, without question, the most influential person in the world, and he has an unparalleled opportunity to speak the truth to the lost world. This year alone, he was nominated to be the president of the World Bank, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. And by the time the Vertigo Tour ends in April, it will have grossed twice as much as any political campaign anywhere, ever.

If Bono has a saving faith in the one true God, I can only hope that he would speak the Truth without ambiguity. I pray that the name of Jesus would grace his lips, without being equated with Judaism or Islam or any other religion. And I’m praying that God will help me to put things in the right place in my heart.

Tara Leigh Cobble

Consumerist America and the Church...

"In a look at pastoral pay, including housing, the National Association of Church Business Administration found the average annual salary to be $91,200. The low side in the survey was $13,700 a year, and the high was $249,600. A pastor's pay plus benefits was directly linked to the size -- both budget and attendance -- of the congregation." --The Washington Post

$249,600 for a pastor? I get that $91k isn't all that much in some parts of the country, but this is becoming ridiculous. I'm not carte blanche against megachurches, per se. After all, I attend one currently. But there is something seriously wrong when churches begin functioning like corporations. It's not a good thing that church success can be linked to a pastor's salary. It is the symptom of a disease... I'm afraid the disease is consumerism, and I don't know the cure. Democracy and a free economy, while empowering people, may be the key to universal Christian complacency.

I believe in a free society, above most other values, but wealth can be a faith-killer. Give me poverty and intellectual freedom over riches and free-trade.
Thanks to Matt Brown for identifying the above church photo - Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio.

No More Bridges to the Past!

I had an epiphany at our church's college group Bible study last night. This will probably have occured to everyone else already, but sometimes I'm slow in coming. I think it's going to be my battle cry for The Church and for Christianity and for my own theology in the coming years...

Ready? Brace yourself? Here it is:


I know, I know, monumental isn't it? Paradigm-shifting! Yes? Well, maybe it sounds obvious, but here's why it isn't: for the last 26 years of my life (that would be ALL of my life) I have attended churches of some kind or another in various denominations. Throughout that time, I have gone to home groups, Bible studies, even a few home churches. In every instance of every church or Christian group I have been involved with, a common underlying sentiment reigns, echoing through all that we initiate: we have to get back to the 1st Century Church. We have to reclaim an Acts-type of community!

We have so-romanticized the first Christian Church that we've come to believe that such a church was meant to be universal and unchanging. As if a First Century Jewish counter-cultural spiritual revolution under the oppression of the Roman Empire should somehow translate to every era, every context, every nation.

We have not only put God in a box, we've kept Him from manifesting or revealing Himself in new ways (forgive the male-centric pronouns). We've made the future bad and the past good. But the past wasn't so good. Countless times in Acts and throughout the New Testament we read of the faults and shortcomings of the Church. And all that caring and sharing and selling off everything that takes place for TWO CHAPTERS? It didn't last.

The church NEEDS the future. We NEED change. We need to learn to adapt. Maybe if the Church actually pushed adaptation and ecclesiological evolution forward, we wouldn't keep having these socio-spiritual crises (like post-Christian Europe). Maybe we could be paradigm shifters and cutting edge philosophers instead of sad remnants of desecrated empires.

Making Disciples - Revisiting the Commission - Jesus' Secret Plan

With Brian McLaren's new book The Secret Message of Jesus reaching stores in a few months, I've been thinking a lot about what Jesus came here to do. What was the point? I'm not sure of the exact direction Brian has taken, but I have some thoughts of my own about the nature of Jesus’ commission.

Of course we all have our Christianese answers, mass-marketed, canned or prepackaged for easy digestion. But I know we're missing something, and more and more, those of us taking part in the emergent conversation are realizing just how deep our misunderstandings have buried us.

Let's begin the long climb out...

Without being overly disparaging of the Church (as I confess I have a deep and overzealous inclination to do) I believe that Jesus' "Kingdom" was meant to be both spiritual and physical and that as a religious movement, Christianity has lost sight of its central focus – the Integral Mission of the Church.

Let me elaborate: when we talk about the Church's greatest commandment - its central purpose - its mission statement - we cite the Great Commission. “Go make disciples!”

But why? Why must we make disciples? What are they supposed to do, and what's the point of our discipling?

We talk a lot about Discipleship today in terms of "accountability partners" or personal mentors. The Shepherding Movement of the 1980s was a good example of this view of discipleship taken to an extreme. In some instances, one's personal bank account statements were reviewed to ensure "holy living." That's a whole other can of worms to be disected, but a good example of what I still tend to think of when discussing “discipleship.” Overbearing, high pressure “mentors.”

The other view of a disciple is much more passive, both in its meaning and in its manifestation among believers. Essentially, disciples are regarded no differently than "believers" who accept (i.e. mental assent...) the teachings of Jesus. Little action. Little change. Shiney happy subculture.

Back in college I used to dream of joining the Peace Corps, but I specifically remember hearing a sermon about evangelism and "realizing," with a note of self-condemnation, that nothing but salvation had value... it was sad. How typical of the church as a whole! We have so devalued the Earth and the Life God has given us that we turn our heads, close our eyes and pretend we're already in Heaven.

Alright, perhaps I'm getting off track on this discussion of discipleship - or maybe not… I believe that the practical expansion of the Kingdom of God (the Kingdom of Heaven... maybe the same, maybe slightly different... semantics...) IS the Great Commission of Jesus. The Great Commission is to make disciples, and the purpose of the disciples is to establish the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. This is both a physical and a spiritual kingdom, as we take care of the poor and the widows, and as we call on and manifest the power of the Holy Spirit.

The dictionary definition of disciple is "One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another." I think we (the Church) stopped at "One who embraces" the teachings, and forgot about “assistance.” Let's face it, even Marcus Borg said in one lecture: "Mental assent is easy - show me how your faith transforms lives and communities." He's right, even if you disagree with his theology. Borg is responding to a failure of the church to understand what the Kingdom really means and how our commission as believers fits in.

We pushed the Kingdom into the far future of dispensational eschatology so we wouldn’t have to worry about it.

"The Kingdom is God's problem. We just have to get people saved!"

But no it isn't just God's problem - and there's so much more to saving people than simply changing their worldview. There’s a deep discussion there, too: Christianity as a Worldview vs. Christianity as an Endeavor.

Jesus promised transformation and healing in the Kingdom of Heaven, but that was too tall an order for us! We dumbed it down for our own sanity (who, afterall, could imagine taking Jesus words literally?) and made Salvation into a long-term retirement plan with a small initial investment and no subsequent payments.

Does that make sense? I think the Church has failed to globally manifest the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now, on the other hand, I believe we can see glimpses of the Kingdom when the Church feeds the homeless without requiring them to sit through a sermon or recite the sinner's prayer. I think the Kingdom is visible when the church stands for justice, even outside of its own church walls, denominational lines, or religious identity (say, standing up for human rights in a Muslim nation). When the church selflessly gives itself over to blessing humanity out of love, not out of evangelistic agendas, it is truly manifesting the Kingdom of Heaven.

I think that Jesus intended for His Kingdom to be established in every facet and aspect of our lives, of our cultures, of our consciousness. No secular vs. spiritual. ALL is spiritual.

Instead, the Church has manifested the Kingdom as a Movement of Ideas, not a Movement of Movement… Meaning: less action than thought.

Without action, the Integral Mission of the Church cannot permeate politics or economies, ecological systems or communities. Historically, the church HAS made incredible contributions to the arts and the sciences. These days, instead of art we offer kitschy spiritualized knockoffs of genuine secular art (secular often because we make it so) and fight science with reactionary rhetoric coined in the 1950s.

I used to send money to a mission in San Francisco on a monthly basis. My church sent a group down several times to work with them, and I saw such practical goodness MIXED with evangelism. I wanted to help! But on the third trip I took there – three years after first visiting – I watched how care for the poor seemed a forgotten focus or a minor distraction. All the resources were aimed at "saving souls," and the disappointment and disapproval in the eyes of the street people was palpable. It tore my heart to make the decision, but I stopped giving them money.

Revealing my own kitschy-Christendom, I remember a song by Michael W. Smith entitled "Live the Life." It lists the ineffective methods of evangelism we've taken and again and again repeats: "THAT'S NO LONGER GOOD ENOUGH!"

we're passengers aboard the train, silent little lambs amidst the pain…
and when it's time to speak our faith, we use a language no-one can explain...
that's no longer good enough.

Jesus has so much more in store for us. Let us listen closely. Let us be on our way! It's time to change the world!

Thoughts on the Future...

Well, here I am, one day before my wedding. My beautiful bride-to-be is frantic, running around, trying to tie up loose ends. I'm left to my own devices, and I couple of thoughts about the future of the church have run into my brain. I thought I would share. For better-articulated thoughts on the same subjects, check out Brian McLaren's "The Church on the Other Side!"

Looking Ahead (Farther Ahead)

One of the most striking dangers I see with the church's shift from modernism to postmodernism is a tendency to want to say, "once we get there," or maybe, "good, now that we're here," or, "I'm glad that's over with. NOW we can get BACK to doing church."

The most important decision the church could make during this time of transition might be choosing to remain in transition. Once we have acclimated to postmodernism, post-colonialism, emergence, post-whatever else, will we kick up our cool retro-black-euro-boots and say, "the job is done, we made it," or do we say: "OK, what's coming next? How do we continue to prepare for more changes?" Because cultures will not stop changing and adapting, neither can we, if we hope to remain relevant.

Looking Farther Ahead involves looking beyond even postmodernism... what will post-postmodernism look like? How about after that? With a little bit of whimsy, we might ask: How do we be the church on different planets? What does the "World Church" do with Lunar Colonies?

"Looking farther ahead" is vital because it is the outlook and attitude that might protect the church from revisiting its glaring failures of irrelevance with each cultural and philosophical move.

Designing a New Apologetic is Troubling

Dan Kimball wrote a piece on the sins (and occasional benefits) of apologetics in the Josh McDowell-strain of thinking, on his Vintage Faith Blog. Kimball's main points were...
  • We use apologetics to display the clever answers that we have come up with to prove people wrong - KA-POW!
  • We use apologetics like bullets to shoot people down - BLAM!
  • We use apologetics like we are lawyers on a television episode of Law and Order - WHAP!

Kimball suggests that our old ways of thinking of apologetics and argumentation are played out... there is little appropriate use for them. He writes that the only time apologetics may be appropriate are when people actually ask for them. Obviously, in those rare occasions, we should be prepared to give an intelligently articulated account for our faith.

Kimball follows up, however, by saying that we should not see the phrase, "I don't know," as a negative, or as a weakness. Humility must be at the center of any apologetic, understanding that God is the source of truth and understanding - not human intellect.

So the notion of creating a new apologetic is very necessary in these strange transitional times, but it is a daunting task, because I don't want it to be anything like the old way of us-vs-them, intellectual battle to the death, shame-them-with-their-lack-of-knowledge-style thinking.

I suppose what I would like to see in a new style of apologetics is a renewed love for the journey - a respect and honoring of questions.

Even more difficult for some: I would love to see Christians become excited by alternative perspectives - see them as a new angle from which to observe our own perspectives, instead of attackers at the gates of our theological strongholds.

How does this look in practice? I'm not sure, but I'm guessing it involves meekness and peacemaking...

Holy Beatitudes, Bible-Man!

By the way... GETTING MARRIED!

This Saturday I'll be a husband!
She's amazing!

Ecclesiology & Ecumenical Hope...

2I just finished reading an incredible book for one of my classes (Theology & Purpose of the Church). The book is An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical & Global Perspectives by Veli-Matti Karkkainen, from Fuller Seminary.

Wow! What a breath of fresh air, even as a very academic piece. Although the coverage of many of the ecclesiologies seemed far too brief for my curiosity, the holistic image of the World Church Karkkainen paints is both vivid and inspiring.

Coming from a church background where terms like “tolerance” and “transcendence” are traditionally treated as heresies, the Ecumenical view of church unity is so attractive to me.

Most Sunday morning sermons I hear are peppered with references to both the idiocy of secular society and the silly foibles of other denominations and church bodies. The general sense is a kind of detached, spiritual egotism, reliant on both extreme personal comfort and intense social critique to sustain itself. Why am I still attending this church? I ask myself this question weekly, but something from Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s position (a feminist theologian mentioned in Karkkainen) seems to answer part of that question:

  • The question is often asked of me: “Why don’t you leave the church if you don’t agree with the church’s opinion and teaching?” In the past years, I have encountered this challenge again and again from right-wing Catholics and feminists alike. However, to seriously entertain this question already concedes the power of naming to the reactionary forces insofar as it recognizes their ownership of biblical religions.

Fiorenza’s defiance of reactionary forces inside and outside of her ecclesiology is not the only explanation for why I remain. I also stay because I see the Body of Christ at work there in spite of all my grievances, and after engaging Karkkainen’s work, I feel renewed confidence in the messy, chaotic beauty of the Kingdom of God. An Introduction to Ecclesiology is a testament to the power of unity through understanding, and I am struck by his gracious approach, all the more because of my current environment which revels in disproving or denouncing.

In wrestling with ideas of a “World Church,” Karkkainen writes of an ecclesiology “that would take the church and its sacraments out of its narrow Christian ghetto and place them boldly in the midst of creation and the world.” Statements like this always have potential for straying too close to Christian Utopianism and I find myself trying to find similar need for balance in my own life and personal theology. However, it cannot be said that Karkkainen is naïve in his idealism. On the contrary, the entire book is both a tribute to an Ecumenical dream, and a daunting reminder of the hurdles faced by endeavors toward universality.

As I continue in my theological education I often find myself discouraged by the too-frequent missteps of the historical Church, into the present and future. I’m certain I will return to An Introduction to Ecclesiology again and again to reignite the vision of Christian unity that has burned in my heart for so many years.

Seminary Ecstacy & Emergent-No...

I don't normally write posts like this... quick, random blurbs about what's on my mind, how my day has been, et cetera. I don't think there's anything wrong with it, most blogs tend to work that way, but I've always wanted my sites (this one and to evidence a little more preparedness. I want what I write to be thought out more carefully than a quick mind-dump onto the keyboard.

That said, I haven't had much of a chance to write lately as I prepare for my upcoming wedding (6 weeks away!) and enter the exciting and challenging world of masters level theological studies. I started my first classes through George Fox Seminary online several weeks ago, and came on-campus this weekend for the first classroom experience: a study of the life and writings of Dorothy Sayers (Sayers was a contemporary and friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, among other prominent British thinkers). I have to admit, I am enamored with academia! Don't worry, I love Jesus more than Seminary, but I cannot wait until next month when I come back on campus for a course taught by guest-instructor Brian McLaren!

I also keep meaning to post a follow-up to my previous write-up on the "Emergent-No" blog. As much as I like to challenge preexisting notions and ruffle theological feathers from time to time, I am a peacemaker by nature. I want to get along and be approved of. I want to approve of others. I think that dialogue between faiths, worldviews, cultures, philosphies and denominations are incredibly valuable and beneficial. I believe that the Holy Spirit often speaks to us through individuals who are not even Christian - a humbling experience if you've ever witnessed it.

Unfortunately, for all my ecumenical aspirations, I stopped pointing people toward Emergent-No some time ago, and will probably recommend very few of the writings from Emergent opposition in the coming months and years. I suppose this is where true division comes from in the first place: not feeling heard.

I want to hear the Conservative base of Evangelica. I want to pray alongside of them that we (the Holy Christian Church) do not stray from the path of truth. I need the balance they provide, but I want to be heard as well. I want to be cared for. Time and again, I have engaged in dialogue with both visitors and bloggers from Emergent-No. After hearing and affirming many of their grievences, I merely ask them for patience and compassion - for a generation that is struggling with the truths others take for granted...

They seem too angry to hear. They have their didactic schpiels and tyrades too well-prepared to leave on the altar of compassion, and so they launch into attack mode again and again.

I want the Christian church to find unity in the supernatural life of Jesus Christ, but we will never have unity without first allowing each other latitude to explore God on our own terms. YES! By all means, keep me scripturally accountable! YES! Tell me when you disagree or feel the Spirit pulling another way! But don't close your ears and hearts because my faith is messier or my questions, scarier...

Emergent-No Blog Gives Thought-Provoking Opposition...

I have recently been spending some time exploring a blog dedicated to the refutation of the Emergent Conversation. Although I don't agree with much of what is asserted there, I think it's valuable, for self analysis and growth, to examine those who disagree with us. Even within such divergences, I pray that unity can yet be found.

On that note, and after reading a wealth of responses and criticsm of Emergent, I am left with this: Could it be that perhaps traditional evangelical (or protestant) Christianity works and is fully valuable and viable for some Christians, and that the Emerging Church is permissible and even viable for those who have a different worldview? Just like there are Republican and Democrat Christians because of very differing worldviews and backgrounds, cannot theology itself manifest differently and still be "catholic," holding to the Apostle's Creed of one Holy Church... with many different brains?

I am fully entrenched in "emergence," whatever that means, and yet I am fine with calling the work done on Emergent-No "examination" or "research," as opposed to blind critique, because SOMEWHERE along the path of such work, conclusions are drawn. It would be silly and impractical to assume that one never forms assumptions or conclusions about that which someone is studying. And can the study ever really be "complete?" No. I don't think there is anything rhetorically unfair about Emergent-No, as others in our conversation have alleged. And further, I think a lot of the criticsm of EC is founded. We laud "open-mindedness," and then judge those who do not meet our standards of openness.

I'm trying to be open, but I still believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life... I just believe there is a lot more Mystery to what that looks like than the 20th century offered.I appreciate the desire here to seek truth and find answers. I hope that those opposed to emerging Christianity can avoid demonizing brothers and sisters who are doing the same thing: seeking truth and searching for answers - all in a Christian context.

I think it's very dangerous to cast stones at Emergent as detrimental or dangerous or corrosive to Christianity. As another poster on Emergent-No wrote, Luther was viewed in the same way and now we accept his protests as truth (well, at least the protests of his earlier years).

We must be patient with one another and avoid the kinds of arguments that break down more than build - that drive a wedge deeper into the Kingdom. Check out Emergent-No on the blogosphere, but be cautious not to overreact. There are very frustrated posters there - individuals who feel that their entire belief-systems are being discredited or torn apart by the Emergent Conversation. We must approach them with love and compassion and yes, even understanding. Isn't that what we pray for of them?

Our Secret War

Christian evangelism by any means?

Growing up in a Pentecostal church, I was always taught to be cautious of other religions. “Don’t be misled by the enemy,” my Sunday School teachers ominously warned.

In high school, I read a number of books on cults and the dangers of other religions. I was taught in church how to pick a weak point from another man’s theology and hold fast to it until he relented. “He will try to change the subject or side step the answer,” they cautioned, “but don’t let him trick you. Keep your focus on the weaknesses and the lies of his faith will crumble!”

But when I met people from other religions, even when they came to my front door, I found that I did not want to destroy their beliefs. I had no desire to make them look like fools. I wanted to understand the person in front of me, but the Doctrine of Holy Argumentation always won out inside of me. I could not look my fellow Christians in the face, knowing I had chances to prove other religions false and did not take them.

In the article, “Secret War: Protecting Yourself, Your Family and Your Community from Missionaries,” writer Saraji Umm Zaid warns faithful Muslims of the dangers of Christian evangelism.

Zaid identifies a “new” kind of evangelism called contextualization, where Christians pretend to be something that they are not. “The contextualized evangelist specializes in lies and half truths,” she explains. “He pretends to be something he is not, and this involves a web of lies.”

“Contextualization” refers to Christians who attempt to assimilate cultural and religious practices of a people group in hopes to appeal to their worldviews and convert them to Christianity. While this method may seem far more respectful and honorable than the Western-centric missionaries of the 19th and early 20th centuries, it is not without flaws or potential backlash. As Said writes, such “pretending” is “completely antithetical to our belief system.”
As I read the article, I see so many sins that I am guilty of. One brief statement struck me: "A contextualized evangelist is going to try as hard as he or she can to keep you locked in debate… You should keep in mind that this endless debating and confusion is the goal of pretty much any missionary."

Is that the goal of Christians? To add confusion? To hold people captive to "endless debating?"

But I know we do it. Many of us are taught such methods for use with Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims - even Catholics! Instead of the voices of truth, we become the voices of bewilderment and disorder. Said’s article leads me to ask myself: as a Christian, what is my highest command regarding other humans? If it is to love people, then will I communicate love by embodying the kind of evangelism spoken of so distrustfully in this Muslim article? Am I to confuse those of other faiths? Or is it better to lovingly represent a Truth beyond reason and religion? For there is nothing reasonable about love and nothing religious about relationship.

God help me if my friendships and acquaintances are simply marketing strategies to sell more Jesus.

Response: Is Post-Evangelicalism a Compromise?

I want to thank everyone for your insightful comments. You're all truly a blessing, and such discussion is beautiful proof of the power of online fellowship. Maybe not as good as flesh and blood, but a relevant piece of my spiritual makeup today.

To Paul and Maiken: thanks for sharing your own experiences in this shared struggle of emergence. We're not the only crazy ones out there.

To Jedidiah: thank you for being intellectually and spiritually honest. These are necessary questions we must continually ask ourselves.

Is this still good? Have we gone off course? Are we compromising the message of Christ?

My answer, for now, is: not yet. I think that for many Christians, the fear of the ominous "slippery slope" that postmodernism can lead to is enough to keep them from ever engaging important questions. For the spiritual journeys of some, that's ok. It's enough to simply believe... but those who accept such faith (I hesitate to use the term "blind faith" because by definitition FAITH must be blind in certain ways, so I would not use the term negatively) are becoming fewer and fewer.

I have a hunch that modernist or traditional evangelical Christianity is not answering the necessary questions our society is posing in any relevant way. These questions do not invoke a "better" Christianity or even a "superior" attitude toward God and scripture. They do, however, highlight inherent differences between Christian culture and 21st Century Western culture at large.

Heh heh. The word "bastardize" makes me giggle like a schoolgirl. And to whore out Christianity to the whims of pop-philosophy is, again, a valid concern.

I guess my insistence, ultimately, is not on post-evangelicalism as much as my priority is the unreached masses who cringe and hide, not from God or Jesus, but from Christendom. Tbere is a marked difference.

Yes, my immediate loyalties are probably wrapped up in a post-evangelical/post-modern worldview (Godview), but I pray for the humility to lay that all down for the sake of the human individual in front of me - for the sake of Christ.

I've been confronted recently, more than usual, with the reality that postmodernism does not speak to every individual. Plenty of Americans, even nonChristians, are steeped in a modernist worldview. Not inferior to my own, but simply different.

I think the deepest question you ask, Jed, is: "How compatable is the Christian message with post-modern constructs?" I would say it is AS compatible to postmodernism as it was to modernism. In many ways, more than any of us yet understand, we have bastardized Christianity to a modernist worldview.

If Christ's message is true and universal, then it must be applicable to any and all cultures, relevant and understandable to all, yet it will ultimately go only so far.

On a semi-side-note, I was discussing the dreaded "New Age Movement" with a good friend of mine, far more orthodox than myself (often very enviable), and I suggested: "what if, fifty years from now, it is a commonly-accepted fact that the New Age Movement saved American Christianity?" We laughed, but I continued: "What if the spirituality proliferated out of New Age, albiet generic and pluralist, saves American Culture from the humanistic, antispiritual doom of Western Europe?"

I think, at the heart of my questioning, is a hunch that New Age spirituality, or whatever else comes to the table outside of orthodox Christian spirituality, can be viewed as a help to Christian evangelism - rather than a hinderance. We tend to view other modes of belief as enemies to be conquered, rather than languages, even opportunities, to engage.

Granted, a Christian who finds Christ out of New Age culture may not "look" like the kind Christian most of us are used to, but Christ manifests in very unexpected places. Afterall, Eastern Orthodox Christians look nothing like American Pentacostals. In comparison to the ancient traditions they practice, we must look like hyper-emotional-hippie-heretics.

Did I go off track there? I'm not lauding New Age spirituality or advocating for a merger of faiths. I guess I believe that every brand of Christianity in every age becomes something of a harlot - selling itself to culture - putting on more makeup to hide imperfections (real or only perceived). The tough question, I think, is this: how do we appeal to a culture, offer it value and speak its language, without compromising the essentials of our faith? Maybe hindsight is all we have, but I'd like to think that the Holy Spirit is still able to guide us through the desert, even if it takes 40 years!

Glimpses of my Spiritual Pilgrimage

My Application Letter to George Fox Seminary: June, 2005

“Truth is the opposite of grace,” my pastor began this morning’s sermon. I jerked my head up from the church bulletin and looked around to see if anyone else seemed bothered by the statement. I must have said, “No it isn’t!” a little too loud; the woman next to me leaned in and said, “It’s really profound when you think about it. Truth keeps grace from going too far!”

Going too far? Grace? Does God want to keep grace in check? Should we make sure Jesus doesn’t extend more than is reasonable? I bit my tongue and tried to sit still. Impertinent questions rolled around in my brain all morning, and while my pastor was only trying to demonstrate the need for both in a balanced Christianity, his verbiage placed grace and truth in direct conflict with one another.

I attend the closest thing to a “megachurch” in Albany, Oregon. First Assembly of God boasts about 1,200 members and often 2,000 attendees on Sundays. The church has a state-of-the-art sound system, dynamic PowerPoint presentations, and nine full time pastors. Lately, I have left that massive building every Sunday filled with frustration, sorrow and an increasing sense of disenchantment.

By most accounts I have achieved what any church status-seeker (admittedly, me at my worst) could hope for: I am recognized by everyone in our congregation, I volunteer in a successful youth ministry, I lead drama ministries for all ages, I sing with our praise and worship team on stage each Sunday… I am popular!

But each day brings a desperation for authenticity closer to my lips. Every Sunday coaxes my frustration nearer my tongue. I’m afraid such indignation will eventually move me beyond balanced critique, toward radical rebuke. One day I’m afraid I’ll be too honest, and lose all the respect and esteem I have amassed in the last few years.

I know Jesus found little esteem in His life. And respect? His closest friends and family didn’t fully offer the honor and reverence He deserved. God, help me never come to think that I deserve respect or esteem in light of the life of Jesus Christ!

I think my journey begins and ends with more love. I guess that’s my nonviolent battle cry. I find myself getting caught up in pseudo-intellectualism and endless exegesis, and then look up from my books and notes and realize how long it’s been since I sat with old non-Christian friends over a beer and listened to the stories of their lives. How long has it been since I sat in a tight circle of young men from my church and poured out my heart, in turn receiving theirs; all of us growing and supporting and praying for one another? Sometimes it’s only been a few days. Other times, it’s been weeks, and I know I must return to more love.

Genuine community: that is where Christianity manifests this love at its best. Sharing and caring. Sadly, I often feel that Sunday mornings become the greatest enemy of authentic Christianity. It’s hard for me to get into others’ lives when their cautious response is always, “I’m fine.” Big plastic smiles, nice cars, clean homes... whitewashed refrigerators filled with non-alcoholic beverages.

Now, before I come across as overzealous or unstable (is it too late for that?) I want to talk about why I love my church and why I could manage to keep participating with the same congregation for another ten years without having a meltdown. It’s easy and it comes back to loving people: more love. I love the Body of Christ. On Wednesday nights I have the incredible privilege of leading a Bible Study for high school youth. Over the last six months we’ve been venturing through the life of Jesus in four different translations/interpretations. I’ve found that it’s not so much the profundity of newer translations that give these kids a better view of Scripture. It’s merely hearing things in a way their ears are not accustomed to. By breaking through cultural and generational walls, I’ve watched young eyes light up by wisdom and truth canonized in the Gospels. It’s exciting and validating, and it keeps me going back to church on Sundays, just so I can maintain the privilege of leading on Wednesdays.

I don’t know where my spiritual pilgrimage will take me. Sometimes I expect to find myself behind a pulpit. Other times I think the monastic life looks pretty appealing (though I would desperately miss my fiancé!). Always, I am trying to run from the extremities of fundamentalism, dodge the temptations of universalism, and reach toward the audacity of unconditional love. And I can never move from certainty that all the inherent fruits and textures of unconditional love converge, in every way, with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Garden...

Christianity is my paradigm. It's the garden my heart has been planted in. I know of many other gardens in countless other neighborhoods. We all share the same landscape, yet the flowers that bloom from our ground are often very different in color, size, beauty and shape. From a distance, most of them are beautiful to my eyes, but I am planted here. The earth I grow from is good and clean and healthy, and that is the Truth I need to stay alive and justify my plot of land.

When my garden looks sick or whithered, I don't think to uproot myself and my fellow flowers and replant them in another patch of earth. Instead, I try to tend to the other plants, where they are, watering them, fertilizing them, pruning them when necessary. Often, they do the same for me.

Some of the edges of the gardens have no defined borders, and in the wildness grow both malicious weeds that twist themselves around the other flowers, and exotic blossoms so mysterious and beautiful I think I cannot speak to give their petals justice.

Other edges are fenced in, and often some of the flowers in my garden try to grow between the lattice of those fences. Sometimes they are vicious, becoming weeds and vines that choke life from flowers in the other gardens. Sometimes, though, their own follage compliments the other gardens', revitalizes their earth and adds color and vibrancy that long-ago faded.

When flowers from other gardens begin to grow in my own plot of land, I hope they will gently compliment. It is sad when beautiful, gentle, alien flowers are choked and squeezed out as they try to blossom in my patch.

Objectively, I cannot truly know which garden is most beautiful. My vantage is not that high, and I cannot see things as they truly appear from the sky. I know that I love the one garden I am in, and am dedicated, above all, to its health and beauty. I see the disease on the leaves of my own brother and sister-flowers, and the whithered blossoms on the stalks of others. I tend where I can, and pray the Gentle Gardener lends a caring, skillful hand to revitalize our struggling plot of land.

Luther's Follies

The original link to this post became a target for spammers, so I'm reposting from 2005 (by the way - I'm amazed at the masculine-centered language I used a decade ago):

I just finished reading another biography of the great reformer, Martin Luther by aptly named scholar Martin Marty.

Whether advocate, critic or indifferent historian, it is impossible to chronicle this man's controversial life without noting both praiseworthy accomplishments and troubling inconsistencies. As Luther entered the fray of what would be emerging Evangelicalism, he was wide-eyed, idealistic and indignant toward a corrupt Roman Catholic Church. This much, most of us know. What is truly fascinating, however, is to watch the changes that took place through the progression of Luther's life.

As Luther entered his latter years (in that era, his forties) he became obsessively concerned with the extremity of the Protestant Reformation. He seemed to have expected the movement to begin and end with his indictments against church authority (vs. scriptural authority) and the selling of indulgences. But whether social inevitability or Holy Spirit movement, the changes were far from over with Luther's initial theses. Clergy and parishoners alike pushed for further reform: laity taught the Word, all shared in the bread and wine of communion, infant baptism was questioned... all of this seemed natural amidst the questions Luther, himself, brought to bear.

Were Luther's fears of "too much freedom" founded, or was the Holy Spirit to be trusted in the evolution of the Protestant Church?

Today, I and many others are suggesting certain reformations in America's churches. We desire more freedom - less scientific, clinical, critical approaches to scripture. We embrace mystery over fact - humble relationship over staunch fundamentalism.

However, it seems that in every conversation I engage, I am always met with pushback:

"Well, that may be okay to a point, but you have to make sure it doesn't go too far..."
"You must be certain to predefine what is right and wrong..."

"You can't let go of the black and white of the Gospel or such ideas will snowball..."
The worst is: "But how far is too far? You're approaching a slippery slope, and if you go down this path you may never get back. It's best not to even ask these questions..."

When can we simply trust that the Holy Spirit is qualified to guide the Christian Church? When will we truly believe that God is in control? Yes, there will always be extremists who go too far: Lutheran zealots who murdered Catholic priests. Modern Liberals who reject Biblical truth. The list of failures goes on... but these failures (theological mutations?) are not the norm. Within the church, truth must be trusted as the path the Helper of Pentecost leads us toward. Through prayer, scriptural study, open discussion and pure gut instinct, God can reveal his nature.

Reckless? So was Peter. Counter-culture? So was Paul. Scandalous? So was Jesus.

Can we let go? He promised to catch us...

Surrender the Church...

After reading "A Brief History of the Catholic Church" by Hans Kung, I am left to puzzle over modern Christianity and its formation from Catholic roots.

We share an ugly history, to say the least, but Kung says best in his introduction: "Those who deliberately step in all the puddles should not complain too loudly about how bad the road is."

Although I am sure one could write a long account of good works by Roman Catholicism, (and though I am by no means anti-Catholic) there are MANY puddles on this road. In fact, there is often more pond than path, and issues of theocracy, hierarchy and supremacy ring truest for me.

But before I go any further, it’s important to identify a key point: Catholicism and Christianity have been synonymous in the world for a far greater time than they have not. It would be wise to take any charges against the Catholic Church as charges against ourselves, the Christian Church as a universal (root word: catholic) community.

There is almost no need to list the sins and atrocities committed by Catholicism through the last two-thousand years since they are so widely known: tyrannical governments, racism and anti-Semitism, sexism, inquisition, torture, massacre, and more recently Nazism and sexual crimes. It could be argued that since the 3rd Century Church, Christianity has been on a moral downward spiral in spite of its exponential growth.

An important commonality through the Christian time line is standardization. In fact, since the governmental sanction and ultimate promotion of Christianity by Constantine in the 4th Century, Christianity has been continually striving to normalize its belief system – to place its ideologies into linear reason and rationality – essentially, to despiritualize natural spiritual movements and inclinations within the body of believers. The Catholic Church is an ultimate example of the modernist struggle, but today’s Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Protestant churches strive equally hard to normalize faith and stamp out divergences in theologies – to take away the opportunity for individual, experiential interpretation (this in spite of seemingly endless new denominations). Granted, even a Christian conscience can be perverted as personal experiences, cultures and prejudices subvert Gospel teaching. This is exemplified in many famous religious figures, notably Pope Pious XI who personally endorsed Adolph Hitler.

Kung, the author of this history, is himself an excommunicated Roman Catholic priest and professor. Since speaking out against policies of John Paul II in the 1980s, he has written much on needed reformation within Catholicism. His efforts, though noble and commendable, lead me to the following question: why keep trying?

Martin Luther’s own efforts at internal reformation are testimony enough to the impracticality of change from within. For real change to take hold, Luther’s contemporaries established a new church outside of Catholicism. So what leads men and women to be so afraid of releasing the establishments we ourselves have created, for the sake of Christ? We have the gospel and we have each other... isn’t that all we need? When something doesn’t work, throw it away and find something that does. I know it sounds harsh, but isn’t that common sense?

This is not a Catholic problem. It is not a problem of orthodoxy. It is a tendency in mankind to deify the things it creates. Even things created for God.

God is not the temple.
God is not the Jesus fish on the back of your car.
God is not the word Christian.

If these things are unnecessary stumbling blocks, can’t we let them go?

I have no desire to save the Catholic church or the Assemblies of God or the Lutherans or the Methodists. My desire is to invoke an essential, uncompromised, uncomplicated Christianity.

What do we need to give up?

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