Renovatio: Even More Emerging Pentecostals

31 03 2008

Emergent Village announced once again the development of a pentecostal stream in the ongoing conversation, this time from Brazil. People familiar with the AG are acutely aware that the pentecostal movement is growing almost exclusively outside our borders, most notably in South America. This is either great news or the canary in the coal mine, depending on one’s perception of the emerging conversation.

A Match Made in Heaven

While the sheer number of pentecostal believers in South America should cause those of us in the emerging church movement to take notice, what’s most interesting is the marriage between emergent philosophy and the pentecostal experience. I have sensed since first wading into these postmodern waters Read the rest of this entry »

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More Emerging Pentecostals

29 03 2008

I googled “emerging pentecostal” and found this excellent post about what it means to be pentecostal from an AG Pastor in North Carolina.

Just a brief and interesting reminder that ideas don’t flow from the communication hubs anymore; but from the various nodes that the hub represents.





Lion on a Kite String: The Untamed Power of Open-Source Communities

29 03 2008

Today was a dramatic turn of events for the AGMergent blog. I awoke this morning to an e-mail from a new friend, who tipped me off on our brief introduction at Emergent Village. Once confirming it for myself, I clicked back over to the hit stats and found it had already begun to skyrocket: by the end of the day we reached over 200 hits for a blog that had seen an average of 8 hits per day leading up to the posting at EV.

One interesting ripple effect of this announcement of hybrid emergent groups is the reaction of Andrew Jones at Tall Skinny Kiwi. He expressed some despair over the hyper-use of “the ‘e’ word,” likely fearing that once everything becomes emergent, nothing will be. I can understand and do agree with the argument, but also feel at the same time a need to re-state the reason I want to contribute to this conversation, even though I arrived to the dance about 15 years after the first song began to play (I haven’t even made the pilgrimage to NM… for shame).

In my mind, Emergent is a placeholder for the space between the modern church and whatever it’s becoming in a postmodern world. “E” is not the only placeholder, but a significant one in that there are actual networks in place for conversations to grow and develop. I imagine that for people who have worked very hard to carve out a tangible reality out of the broad concepts spun out of the Leadership Network, it would seem presumptuous for outsiders to claim the same flag and stand on the shoulders of giants from out of nowhere.

The fact that more people are getting turned on to emergent should stand as a testament to its’ reforming influence in the pre-existing church. Maybe these hybrid forms are post-emergent in the same way I’ve often heard people describe postmodern as “not anti-modern, but a new outcropping from the soil of modernism.” Hybridization should come as no surprise to philosophers who prize so highly the open-source nature of postmodern faith. To borrow from the heavily-appealed-to Matrix film, the tangible outcome of philosophical assertions (such as what we call things) are the spoon, and we can bend it because “there is no spoon.”

There is an inherent danger, like a lion on a kite string, to open-source communities: everybody’s an architect, and everybody is also a construction worker. There is very little holding the movement back from becoming what it will become, because embedded in the DNA of such an egalitarian experiment is the idea that people are always invited – not just to watch, but to add rooms and windows and doors as well, even if those embellishments were never part of the deal in the original blueprints.





What Emergent Isn’t: A Pentecostal Primer

28 03 2008

Momentum is building as plans begin to take shape for a first meet-up of “Emerging Pentecostals,” in Sacramento, California sometime between April 21-23, during the District Council of the Northern California Assemblies of God (whew!). Whether you’re a credentialed minister or not, I’d like to invite anybody reading this in the NorCal/Nev district area to grab every friend who has ever sat down with you over coffee or tea or sushi or whatever other stereotypically postmodern dining experience to talk about the emerging church. It should be fun, informative and if nothing else, memorable.

I was speaking with someone recently who has a lot of experience in the emergent movement, and he shared a sage piece of advice: lay out very clear disclaimers leading up to a first meeting, so as to ensure that the right people are in the right room for the right reasons. This is a tricky endeavor, because while it would seem to some that the ethos of emergent is “anything goes,” there are in fact some basic assumptions that are shared within what has been coined “the conversation.” There are also plenty of misconceptions about emergent: just like the term postmodern, it is ubiquitous and carries different connotations depending on who’s using the term. Maybe a good way to go about this, instead of attempting to describe everything that emergent is (because it is very difficult to nail down), would be to point out what it is not. I hope this is one of the few if not the only time that I write like a know-it-all, because I’m not and I don’t. So here goes:

What Emergent Isn’t: A Pentecostal Primer

Emergent isn’t a marketing strategy for reaching the millennial demographic. I read Brian McLaren recently discussing the idea that changes in methodology reflect, whether intentional or not, changes in ideology. Or to paraphrase Tony Jones in his new book, The New Christians, good practice flows out of good orthodoxy. If you’ve found yourself intrigued or caught up in alternative or ancient worship environments, this conversation will challenge you to dig deeper than the aesthetic changes and into your developing theology.

Emergent isn’t an invitation to trip down the mudslide of moral relativism. This is likely to be a big category because personal piety has played a large role in the holiness movement, of which the Assemblies of God is a tributary. Even though postmodernism is a deconstructionist philosophy, I think it has less to do with moral realitivism (although this is a potential endpoint) than with how language and context generate one’s reality. Postmodernism can’t be held solely responsible for kids having sex or doing drugs. (Guilt-based, formulaic salvation messages that alienate the struggling probably bear at least equal culpability.) In fact, approaching issues of personal conduct and societal unhealth might require us to take a step back from our moralist soapboxes and practice enough humility to listen and understand the complexities of others’ lives instead of treating them like disembodied souls that need saving.

Emergent doesn’t replace the Holy Spirit with New Age-y Pop Psychology. In fact, our expressed corporate reliance on the Holy Spirit for witness and power is in direct alignment with a major structural aspect of the emergent movement. This is related to the moral relativism question, in that the desire for friendship and conversation over and against crusades and altar call moments seems foreign at best and anti-spiritual at worst. However, when one looks through the lens of emergent sensibilities long enough, it becomes apparent that choosing to love people unconditionally, to listen instead of indoctrinate, to wrestle through the complexities and nuances of life in community instead of throwing down the gauntlet of doctrine (or the unwritten law of acceptable behavior) — these are much more risky positions to take as the body of Christ, because it places the impetus squarely on the Holy Spirit to move and reveal himself and form people into the image of Jesus in a subversive fashion. When we simply follow the great command of Jesus: to love the Lord our God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, we are fulfilling the law and the prophets. To trust the Spirit of God to do the rest, the heart work, if you will, seems to be a much more honest position for Pentecostals than the hard-sell altar calls I’ve seen in countless summer camps.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I should point out here that I still believe in the effectiveness of preaching, both in the history of the church and into the future.  The way we preach, however, can (and should, in my opinion) be reflective of the culture we’re speaking into.  Now, more than ever perhaps, this will require us to re-think what it means to preach in the first place. 

Emergent isn’t a new denomination. If anything, it’s more like the AG with respect to our “fellowship” posture and resistance to be identified in denominational terms (although some might argue that we’re on track to becoming one). Emergent crosses the span of denominations, and is influencing Jesus-followers of all doctrinal stripes, as people within the conversation try to figure out how the Gospel of Jesus, inhabited and communicated by the Body of Christ, will manifest in a postmodern world. Some even foresee the end of denominations as we know it, with the rise of open-source collaboratives like Wikipedia.org and Linnux fundamentally changing the way information (and by extension, personal formation) is collected, distributed and consumed. I’d also suggest that even the particularity of “emergent” as a thing is only the latest incarnation of how the Gospel, catalyzed by the Spirit, infects cultures as they rise and fall and morph. This is why, at least for me, it seems completely reasonable to consider how people in fellowship with the Assemblies of God can interact with the emergent conversation while retaining all the unique markings of our tribe.

As I wrap this post up, I realize there are an infinite number of possibilities for the “What it isn’t” column (Emergent isn’t a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich, etc.) but I think I hit some of the big ones. Are there any lingering questions, doubts, concerns, or (to borrow a favorite line from one of my Bible College profs) outright charges of heresy ? Be sure to show some love to the comments section!





A Table of Weights and Measures

26 03 2008

Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.
Peter Drucker

Someone wise once told me that what we measure betrays our true priorities. The same can probably be said of the ways we choose to invest our time.

I’ve been thinking about Jesus and the way people have been trying for years to domesticate him, and one of the methods recently has been to stuff his expansive and controversial person into a suit and tie and place him in a board room. The problem, of course, is that Jesus would not make a very good CEO of a corporation – not if that corporation wanted to be profitable, anyway. Or to put it another way, the Jesus revealed in the gospels seems to possess brilliant strategy, but he employs that strategy with a set of priorities that are not at all in keeping with conventional business practices. Turning the other cheek, giving your shirt to the person who demands your coat, carrying the burden for two miles when you’re only required to carry for one, loving your enemies – simply put, that’s no way to get ahead in a free market economy.

Jesus chose a ragtag group of dim-witted, blue collar hacks as his students. He said things that literally sent crowds walking in the opposite direction. His closest friends and family either disowned him or thought he was nuts. Who wants to buy stock in this kind of leader?

The strange thing is, 2000 or so years later, a whole bunch of businesses hang Roman crosses on their buildings and do exactly the opposite: selling indulgences in the form of self-improvement techniques or the promise of heaven-by-formula as churches vie for market share among people who self-identify as Christian.

I don’t think we do this out of disobedience to God, quite the opposite: the vast majority of churches that have employed a free market business model have done so out of pure motives: to grow the church and extend its’ influence in the world. The question I would like to ask is, at what cost have we adopted these practices? What do we lose in terms of our unique purpose and commissioning from Jesus when we measure our success solely in terms of attendance and tithing indexes?

What if we started measuring our significance through a different lens? What if we stopped counting the people who sit through our sermons, and instead started counting the ways our communities can respond to those sermons in meaningful service to their neighbors? What if we stopped setting goals for tithe dollars coming into the church bank account, and instead started helping our communities set goals to live a lifestyle of fiscal responsibility and generosity?

What if we stopped measuring our churches and started measuring our world? How would we see things differently?





For Every Answer, A Good Question

22 03 2008

These are thoughts in their infancy, but I thought I would throw them into this forum, to see if anybody wants to knead the proverbial dough further.  I’ll present them in the form of questions:

– How do bullet-point doctrines and position papers reflect American culture in the 20th century?  Has the rise of postmodernism and the information age created enough of a cultural shift that such doctrinal emanations, while central to the ecclesiastical identity of the Assemblies of God, may actually do more harm than good in the way we communicate with the catholic (universal) church and people outside the Christian faith?

– Are we saved by grace, or by our understanding of how grace works?

– What are the blind spots of this generation of Christians, in other words, what will be our unresolved social problem (i.e., what anti-semitism, slavery of Africans, Civil Rights for past generations) and what is the theological underpinning of that blindness?

– Is postmodernism merely ultramodernism, creating niche markets in a thinly-veiled push for better-satisfied consumers?

It’s the Saturday between the death and resurrection of Jesus, and I think it might prove to be a worthwhile practice to fill that void with humble questions instead of puffed-up certitude (of course, this post bears all the marks of the latter).





Updated: “News at Eleven” a Thing of the Past

19 03 2008

UPDATE: I was browsing my blog subscriptions and found that, today, Doug Pagitt recorded a podcast about, in his words, “changing model of news journalism and how that gives clues to what is happening in the world of church and collective Christianity.” Of course, I figured he was going to discuss this post here – but instead it was a response to an npr segment he had listened to (and takes the conversation into a wider variety of threads than here.) Still, eerily similar. Great minds _______ (fill in the blank with your favorite idiom).

Yesterday, I sent a YouTube video blog out to families in my church community, reflecting on the past week and encouraging people to get more involved in the life of our community. Today, I fiddled around with ustream.tv, musing at the potential of broadcasting team meetings for any interested party to eavesdrop into.

The ubiquity of these kinds of interactive applications on the internet sort of begs the question, how transparent will church organizations allow their operations to become? With younger staff members becoming native users of web 2.0 applications like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace and endless streams of blogs, raw information is now more than ever in the public domain. There are practical questions to consider, like privileged information and how it’s treated in a free enterprise environment. And, if there is streaming video, whether the guy on camera should wear make up.In light of this conversation about Emergent, the question also takes on a philosophical dimension. Traditionally, I’ve found that church clergy often have a paternalistic relationship with their congregations, subscribing to the belief that the (relatively) well-trained pastor knows best how to conduct the business of spiritual formation, and the job of the congregant is to stay out of the way of that process as much as possible, with the shining exception of consuming the materials, sermons, classes, workshops, etc. presented by the clergy. This clergy/laity divide, when culturally reinforced, gives a whole lot of credibility to an otherwise unfounded fear that generally, people shouldn’t know what goes on behind the door in the pastor’s office.

The best analogy I can think of to describe this shift in thinking is the news. Up until recently, information was gathered up by bureaus to one of a few large, centralized organizations, which then distributed the news via affiliates with great authority, usually through a baritone anchorman. His word was gospel, and the masses sat at the TV and ingested it. Congregations during this period in history reflected this phenomenon in their relationship with the pastor: go to church, sit in the pew, and absorb the “message.”

Today the scene has changed dramatically. The internet has given rise to the citizen reporter, each one with his or her blog or webcam, often scooping the story ahead of the lumbering behemoth news organizations. I’ve noticed local network news try to co-opt this new technology, inviting people to e-mail breaking news to the news desk. Today people have unprecedented power to fact-check, post responses, develop conversations and even make news without even touching the traditional media channels. And in the same way past cultures were shaped in part by the information delivery systems, today’s cultural natives are not buying into the monologue of pastors who sit in church offices for 40 hours per week. Their theologies are hybrids of ideas gleaned from top-40 music, Oprah, online book reviews, favorite blogs, and maybe a smattering of Joel Osteen.

Rather than wring my hands in fear of what this new information monster has wrought, I’d rather turn my attention to how faith communities might be able to “open source” the process of idea sharing, praying, working out a lifestyle of following Jesus, and dealing with the issues we all face.Of course, certain parameters must be respected (when information is given in confidence, for example). But what benefits might be waiting for the church that decides to let the sun shine in on its’ processes, the church that decides to give everybody a voice (instead of just the voting membership)?

[HT = Doug Pagitt for turning me on to ustream.tv]