Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writer's Block & Alan Hirsch

I have, yet again, been floundering for words; too busy with life to stop and process.  Ironically, the thing that takes up most of my time when I'm not at work,

I've been reading Alan Hirsch's The Forgotten Ways and literally been stuck on Chapter 1 for months.  I honestly don't like his writing style, it's stuffy and hard to get through, like he's writing a paper or thesis.  It doesn't have the polish that more mainstream, edited books might have.  But it's solid and thought-provoking as I continue to wrestle with the church.

Specifically, in chapter 1, I would read the last couple of pages and then set it down for a week or two.  Then I would read the pages again and set it down.  A couple of weeks ago I punched through the wall and kept reading.  I got to chapter 3, entitled "The Heart of it all: Jesus is Lord" and kind of rolled my eyes, thinking, yeah, yeah...but as I worked my way through it in my room one night at Barksdale Air Force Base, it really impacted me.  Hirsch is putting into words one of, if not THE, reason that church as I'm experiencing it is not working; why I feel more and more strongly that the way we 'do church' and 'see church' in the U.S. and most of the Western world is not only inefficient and bloated, but it actually makes it HARDER for disciples to be made and equipped.

To that effect, I've included some notes below, some highlights from Chapter 3 in case you don't have time to read it.  Plus, it helps me digest it better by typing it out.

The Forgotten Ways
Chapter 3 Notes
'The Heart of it all: Jesus is Lord'

1 Corinthians 8:4-6
We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.  For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth...yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

What is necessary is faith.  What is needed is the kind of faith which uniting a man to Christ, sets him on fire.  Roland Allen, The Compulsion of the Spirit

And it all starts with Israel's basic confession, called the ShemaYisrael (Hear, O Israel) based on Deuteronomy 6:4.  (See The Shaping of Things to Come, chs. 7 & 8)

(Christian movements)..."are maintained throughout by what he calls 'white hot faith' brought about by a rediscovery of the place and importance of Jesus."  (Addison, "Movement Dynamics", ch. 2)

Persecution drives the persecuted to live very close to their message - they simply cling to the gospel of Jesus and thus unlock its liberating power.  One of the "gifts" that persecution seems to confer on the persecuted is that it enables them to distill the essence of the message and thus access it in a new way.  But in order to survive in the context of persecution, they also have to jettison all unnecessary impediments, including that of a predominantly institutional conception of ecclesia...they have to condense and purify their core message that keeps them both faithful and hopeful...something else is unleashed in the recovery of simplicity, namely, the capacity to rapidly transfer the message along relational lines...but in order to distill the message in our context, we need to once again appreciate its core, namely, that of the primary theme of the Bible: God's redemptive claim over our lives.  (*This is precisely how Paul can plant a church in a week and then say that they have no need for any further instruction because they received the gospel in its fullness (Acts 17:1-9; 1 & 2 Thess., Acts 16:11-40)

The belief that God is One lies at the heart of both the biblical faith and that of the remarkable Jesus movements of history.

(as opposed to a polytheistic worldview)...Rather, Yahweh is the ONE God who rules over every aspect of life and the world.

"When God invades man's consciousness, man's reliance on 'peace and security' vanishes from every nook of his existence.  His life as a single whole becomes vulnerable.  Broken down are the bulkheads between the chambers which confine explosions to one compartment.  When God chooses man, He invests him with full responsibility for total obedience to an absolute demand."  (Minear, "Eyes of Faith"

It is thus (the Shema) a call to covenant loyalty, rather than being a statement of theological ontology (nature of being).  (Ontology is the philosophical concern with the nature of "being" (ontos).  In the hands of the Christendom church, influenced as it was by the Hellenistic/Platonic thinking, theology is more concerned with metaphsyics (the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time and space) rather than with physics and is therefore highly speculative by nature.  Ontological theology, therefore, focused on God in his eternal Being - his innate nature - rather than on his existential claim on our lives.  It is almost impossible to find anything of its kind in the whole of scripture, and yet it became, and still is, the chief concern of theologians in the Western tradition.)

The sole sovereignty of God is realized only by stern struggle with other gods, with all the forces that oppose his will...Christian belief does not consist in merely saying, "There is One God."  The Devil knows that.  Christians respond to God by faith in his deeds, trust in his power, hope in his promise, and passionate abandonment of self to do his will.  Only within the context of such a passionate vocation does a knowledge of the one Lord live.  And this knowledge necessitates rather than eliminates the struggle with the devil and all his works.  Only in unconditional obedience, spurred by infinite passion, infinite resignation, infinite enthusiasm is such "monotheism" wholly manifested in human existence, as for example, in Jesus.  -Minear, Eyes of Faith

God will simply not share us with false gods.  But it is because idolatry will damage and fracture us, not because God "feels jealous."  

God is ONE and the task of our lives is to bring every aspect of our lives, communal and individual, under this one God, Yahweh.

All of life belongs to God, and true holiness means bringing all the spheres of our life under God.  This is what constitutes biblical worship - this is what it means to love God with all our heart, mind and strength.

See "Rethinking God", a section in N. T. Wright's "Paul: Fresh Perspectives."

 At its very heart, Christianity is therefore a messianic movement, one that seeks to consistently embody the life, spirituality, and mission of its Founder.  We have made it so many other things, but this is its utter simplicity.  Discipleship, becoming like Jesus our Lord and Founder, lies at the epicenter of the church's task.

I use this as an example simply to highlight how deeply dualism, including as it does the idea of the sacred/secular divide, penetrates our understanding, and how biblical monotheism helps us to develop an all-of-life perspective.  Dualism distorts our experience of God, his people, and his world.  People involved in dualistic spiritual paradigms experience God as a church-based deity, and religion as a largely private affair.  Church is largely conceived as a sacred space: the architecture, the music, the liturgies, the language and culture, all collaborate to make this a sacred event not experienced elsewhere in life in quite the same way.  In other words, we go to church to experience God, and in truth God is there (he is everywhere and particularly loves to abide with his people), but the way this is done can tend to create a perception that is very difficult to break - that God is really encountered only in such places and that it requires an elaborate priestly/ministry paraphernalia to mediate this experience (John 4:20-24).  This dualistic spirituality has been called a number of things, but perhaps the idea of the Sunday-Monday disconnect brings the experience to the fore.  We experience a certain type of God on Sunday, but Monday is another matter - "this is 'the real world,' and things work differently here."  How many times have we professional ministers heard variations of that phrase?  "You don't really understand.  It's just not as easy for me as it is for you.  You work in the church with Christians," etc.  The two "spheres of life," the sacred and the secular, are conceived as being infinitely different and heading in opposite directions.  It is left to the believer to live in one way in the sacred sphere and to have to live otherwise in the secular.  It is the actual way we do church that communicates this nonverbal message of dualism.  (Emphasis mine)  The medium is the message, after all.  And it sets people up to see things in an essentially distorted way, where God is limited to the religious sphere.  This creates a vacuum that is filled by idols and false, or incomplete, worship.

If we fail to do this (embrace an all-of-life perspective to faith and committing all of our lives under Jesus) then whilst we might be confessing monotheists, we might end up practicing polytheists.  Dualistic expressions of faith always result in practical polytheism.

All this results from a failure to respond truly to the One God.  This failure can be addressed only by a discipleship that responds by offering all the disparate elements of our lives back to God, thus unifying our lives under his lordship.

Syncretism effectively dilutes the claim of the biblical God and creates a religion that merely diminishes the tension of living under the claim of Jesus and ends up merely affirming the religious prejudices of the host culture.

What does all this practically mean for those seeking to recover Apostolic Genius in the life of the community of God?  For one, it will involve (re)engaging directly the central confession of "Jesus is Lord" and attempting to reorient the church around this life-orienting claim.  It will also mean simplifying our core messages, uncluttering our overly complex theologies, and thoroughly evaluating the traditional templates that so shape our behaviors and dominate our consciousnesses.

Is the real Jesus really Lord in my community?

In order to recover Apostolic Genius we must learn what it means to recalibrate, to go back to the basic "formula" of the church.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


We work hard. We toil. We sweat. We pull weeds. We rake. We burn the branches that don't produce. We water. We pray. We wait. We rely on an understanding that any growth or fruit happens because of this amazing nature imbued in Creation; set in motion with amazing design beyond comprehension and understanding. It is beautiful.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

When the Church Stops Praying

What Happens When the Church Stops Praying?
Outreach recently spoke with Mark Batterson to discuss a wide assortment of issues, including the challenges of taking the Gospel into the culture of Washington D.C., the lessons he's learned about prayer from his most recent book, The Circle Maker, and what it means to be a "current" church in our ever-changing culture. Here's a glimpse into the conversation. Check out more from our Nov/Dec issue here

What are the most important ministry lessons you’ve learned this year?
We’re not trying to grow a church, we’re trying to bless a city, and when you bless a city then God grows His church. And I think that’s gotten into our DNA over the last year.
You know how you can read a verse in the Bible a thousand times, but then one day the full force of it hits you and it’s like this revelation. This little statement Jesus made, “I will build my church”… I’ve heard that a thousand times, but I think it hit me this year.
My job is not to build the church.
It’s a little thing, but it’s been big for me. I’ve shared that in some settings with pastors and I think it’s been real freeing. We need to remind ourselves, it’s His church—He’s the one who will build it, and if we can stay out of the way, then some great things are going to happen.
Prayer has also played a big part.

I feel like prayer is the difference between the best you can do and the best God can do.
So if we’re not praying, then the best we can do is the best we can do, and that’s not good enough. When we get on our knees, the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting. Prayer creates the culture and gives people a heart for evangelism, because when you get into God’s presence, you start to get His heartbeat.
That’s been the game-changer for us this year.
In your recent book, The Circle Maker, you talk about the important transformation of becoming a praying church. What does that look like for National Community?
You can delegate a lot of things, but you can’t delegate prayer. The Lord convicted me out of Acts 6—when the church leaders were delegating stuff so they could be in the Word and in prayer.
I love conferences. I’m a conference junkie, but I’d rather have one God-idea than a thousand good ideas. You can go to conferences and get a good idea, but you’re not going to get a God-idea there—you get that by being in the presence of God and getting into prayer.
When The Circle Maker came out, I had this thriving personal prayer life, but I realized I hadn’t led the church corporately into that. So we started doing these 7:14 a.m. prayer meetings (based on 2 Chronicles 7:14), and I realized it was changing things.
I don’t know if it took me writing a book on prayer to realize how far short I had fallen—to kind of wake up to the reality. I felt a sense of responsibility that I better make sure I’m not just leading the way in my personal prayer life—I better be leading the way corporately. 
What happens if National Community Church stops praying?
Wow! I think the very first thing that comes to mind is we would get bored. Soren Kirkegaard said boredom is kind of the ultimate sin.
I don’t think you can live a Spirit-led life and be bored at the same time. So when you stop praying it takes the supernatural element out of what we’re doing and the church becomes a club.
There’s no conviction of the Holy Spirit, no miracles—then the church stops being a movement and becomes a museum to what God has done in the past.
If you want God to do something new, you can’t keep doing the same old thing. You have to do something different, and I think prayer is the difference between you fighting for God and God fighting for you.
So if we stop praying, we’re on our own and I don’t think we’re going to get very far.
When you start praying it begins to create some of that momentum you can’t manufacture—it’s God beginning to move.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Not Why

How is it then that we've come to imagine that Christianity consists primarily in what we do for God?  How has this come to be the good news of Jesus?  Is the kingdom that He proclaimed to be nothing more than a community of men and women who go to church on Sunday, take an annual retreat, read their Bibles every now and then, vigorously oppose abortion, don't watch x-rated movies, never use vulgar language, smile a lot, hold doors open for people, root for the favorite team, and get along with everybody?  Is that why Jesus went through the bleak and bloody horror of Calvary?  Is that why He emerged in shattering glory from the tomb?  Is that why He poured out His Holy Spirit on the church?  To make nicer men and women with better morals?

The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creations.  Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love.  This, my friends, is what it really means to be a Christian.  Our religion never begins with what we do for God.  It always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wondrous things that God dreamed of and achieved for us in Christ Jesus.

-from Brennan Manning's 'the furious longing of God', pages 124-126.