Doves in Sheep’s Clothing

17 05 2008

In the town where I was growing up, there was a gritty, goth-flavored coffee shop on the main drag named In the Company of Wolves Cafe. Having been brought up right in the conservative evangelical tradition, I was careful to steer clear of the pierced, tattooed, androgynous X-ers who frequented that little patch of sidewalk, choosing instead to cross to the other side and hope to God I wouldn’t be taunted or teased for my religiosity. If that were to happen, I would have to defend my pride faith using whatever tools had been handed down to me by the God Police; to prove both the rightness of my religious persuasion, and the velocity with which they, on the other hand, were hurtling toward hell.

Angel PunkThe cafe has since lost its’ lease in the larger scheme to gentrify the neighborhood by pushing in franchise productions. It was replaced by a high-end antique store and a St.Arbucks popped up magically across the street. What was lost, however, was not merely a hip, independent coffee house to the inevitability of big business. On a different, more personal level, I lost the freedom inherent in discovering the raw, untamed love of a Creator-God, the beauty of truly believing that he will remain within me as I remain within him in a powerful and present way. I lost my religion to the cultural apprehension and insecurity of an American brand of Christianity that didn’t really know what to do with the street-level manifestations of a philosophical postmodern shift. Not knowing what to do, we tend to either shame the behavior of what threatens our way of life (i.e., bohemians, democrats, queer people, etc.) or shore up the credibility of our own position by circling the wagons (i.e., position statements, manifestos, articles of belief that move beyond Jesus and even Paul and into the minutiae of life – a new law to replace a messy, grace-filled spirituality).

We culturally-insecure Christians do this all the time, this getting out of rhythm with the Holy Spirit, both personally and institutionally. Here’s a key example: in his response to the recently-published Evangelical Manifesto, James Smith points out that even the idea of a manifesto is likely a thinly-guised attempt to frame evangelicalism from a uniquely American perspective.

When the world finally reaches a tipping point at which the export of American Cultural Evangelicalism no longer carries controlling interest in the narrative of Christ’s Body (I think that time has already come, by the way), how will followers of Jesus here in the US respond? Will we be wolves, or doves?

I found out later on, after the cafe had closed, that it was run by a loving Christian couple who wanted to provide a safe haven for the social misfits who, for whatever reason, didn’t fit in. Looking back, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have been welcome at my youth group (and that’s not a knock on my youth pastor, but on the social currents of cultural Christianity). I’m also pretty sure that, while I walked by that cafe from across the street, holding my breath, Jesus was inside, sharing a quadruple espresso with a mohawk-wearing punk, loving him and talking about the Way.





First Meet-Up: No Casualties

23 04 2008

I had a delightful time breaking bread and getting to know some of my fellow emerging pentecostal people from around Northern California tonight at our first meet-up.  RevTim was kind enough to record our  conversation for those of us who were there and promises to negotiate fairly with each of you before releasing highly sensitive audio files to the general public (that means you, T.T.)

All kidding aside, it was pretty cool to see ministers get together to talk about philosophy, theology and practice around a table of friendship.  Personally I feel like it was a hit and that there was a good vibe among us.  A whole bunch of ideas that were shared really stuck with me.  Thanks for being a part of it.

If you wanted to join us but had other meetings planned, or were out of the area, there will be other opportunities to get involved in this.  I would love to see local, ongoing conversations emerge out of tonight’s meal.  Please keep the rest of us informed if you’re planning something.  Can’t wait to do this again next year.





Emerging Pentecostal Meet-Up in Sacramento Apr. 22

15 04 2008

Note: This is a Re-Post, making one final push for our upcoming meet-up next week in Sacramento.  If you’re in the area, please try to make it!

Join us Tuesday, April 22 for the first meet-up of Emerging Pentecostals for Northern California and Nevada. We’ll talk about the developing relationship between emerging church and the pentecostal movement, our own stories, and developing a framework for ongoing conversation. Tell your friends and come on down.

Sacramento EP Meet Up (.pdf download-and-print flyer)

Sacramento EP Coloring Page (for the kids)

invite

Emerging Pentecostals NorCal Meet-Up

Sacramento, California

4.22.08 @ 4:55 p.m.

Strings Italian Restaurant, 9500 Micron Ave.

E-Mail RSVP by noon on day-of to:

jfohara(at)gmail.com





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.





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!





The End of Missions?

17 03 2008

Here’s a modest proposal to churches and church leaders that may jeopardize my future with one of the greatest missions sending organizations of modern Christianity:

Dismantle, board up, discontinue, end and terminate your missions programs.

Now before you turn off the sound bite machine, let me qualify my statement: if we follow Jesus, we have to be about carrying out his “great commission” of Matthew 28:19-20; and sending missionaries around the world is an effective method of doing so.  What I would like to challenge is not the value of participating in the discipleship of others by supporting missionaries, but missions as it is in its current state.

To begin with, Jesus didn’t go on a mission.  He went native: the logos of God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1).  In fact, he’s still deeply involved in this work – he told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them/us (John 14).  Such a disposition toward serving and loving can only be accurately described as incarnation, and stands in stark contrast to the idea of missions, which carries with it the connotation that there are fixed beginning and end points – we send teenagers on “missions trips,” encourage them to become “missionaries” at youth rallies, those of whom sign up splitting their time between being on “the field” and “on furlough” raising support.  

Thankfully, some folks get the nuance and realize that they’re deeply embedded in kingdom work, whether it’s  at an orphanage in Mexico or walking through a mall in Springfield.  I wasn’t one of those people growing up – my fidelity to the gospel tended to get turned up to 11 when duty called in the form of a short-term missions trip or a church-sponsored “outreach” to those poor, unsuspecting lost people who were playing with their kids at the community park on Saturday afternoons instead of handing out tracts or going to a church service like us.  The balance of my time was split between watching TV and making out with whatever girl I had just started going out with.  

I’m pretty sure my situation wasn’t rare, either.  Because for the few who really begin the hard work to incarnate Jesus into their everyday world, there are many, many more who are happy enough to just go on missions.

What would happen if we transformed our cold, predictable missions programs into white-knuckled incarnation initiatives? 

The School of Urban Missions becomes the School for Urban Incarnation.

Anglo missionaries to China become Chinese followers of Jesus, etc.

Congregations stop hinging on the church address and start hinging on their home addresses, where they’re incarnating Jesus in the neighborhood.

What if we ended missions and started incarnating Jesus?





Dogma is an Ill-Fitting Coat

15 03 2008

Three interrelated ideas are becoming clear in my mind as I reflect on the Emergent movement, our place in history, and the challenge of following Jesus with our lives:

  1. the Assemblies of God was not formed as a religious institution, but as a missions “sending” agency and a reforming influence among denominations in the area of pneumatology, or our understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in our spiritual formation and witness.
  2. As the AG has grown in numbers and status, we have developed organizational structures, financial and educational institutions which reflect our turn-of-the-20th century origins as a movement.
  3. The AG, as an institution, can be fairly characterized as a denomination which exists primarily to defend and propagate particular doctrinal positions. This is too broad a brush to paint the entire movement, and probably many pastors wrestle with fidelity to doctrine and a nuanced, intellectually honest appreciation for the complexities of orthodoxy.
Do you feel this is an accurate assessment? How does it affect our ability to build meaningful friendships with Christians outside our tent, and for that matter, pre (or post) Christians?
In what other ways does our doctrine-based affiliation color our practice as followers of Jesus, particularly when we come in contact with the Other? Do doctrinal differences preclude us from generative friendship with others?