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.


John’s Story

9 04 2008

This post is part of a series called “Stories of Emergence.” Tell your story here at Emerging Pentecostal by e-mailing John at jfohara(at)

This may very well be an overstatement, but I think I was emerging when I was lifted out of my mother’s womb. Before I knew the models and forms, before I could differentiate a sense of Self, before I knew the prejudice of preferences I was ever emerging. It was my natural state of being.

I didn’t realize this. It became obscured by the framing introductions of my world view and the limiting characterizations therein. I traded my emergence for identities like Read the rest of this entry »

Jonathan’s Story

5 04 2008

This post is part of a series called “Stories of Emergence.” Tell your story here at Emerging Pentecostal by e-mailing John at jfohara(at)

I passionately want to be involved in the current mission of God in the world. I don’t want to be where God was five years ago. I want to know where his heart is today.

This is a wonderful idea, and I want to be a part of it. Thus, consider this my story of emergence, or of how I came to be involved with both the pentecostal church and what is commonly called the emerging church.

I met Jesus when I was just shy of fifteen years old, and met him through what you could call a dramatic encounter that took place in an Assembly of God church in Salisbury, North Carolina. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a part of the supernatural actions of God in the world. I wanted to be close to him in tangible ways, and I wanted to bring others to be close to him as well.

As my faith developed, I began to do grow in some very specific ways that together have shaped the person I am now, almost ten years later. First, I began to seek out how I, specifically, should serve Jesus with my life. I looked into being a pastor, a missionary to an obscure country, and a number of other things, because I felt strongly that I was called to reach out to people that were far from God. Read the rest of this entry »

Stories of Emergence

4 04 2008

Sitting at the Emeryville Public Market yesterday, I was enjoying some Jamaican Jerk Chicken and conversation with two friends about emergence and common threads of concern about the encroachment of postmodern philosophy in our once-stable world views. Each of us probably represent various degrees of buy-in on the idea that the worldwide church is emerging, and whether this phenomenon is cause for alarm. And while our conversation was filled with all kinds of epistemological acrobatics, I realized, in-between sips of ginger beer and bites of beans and rice, that my affinity with Emergent has much to do with the high value placed on friendship and the context of narrative; and that a conversation about emergence within a pentecostal framework would be helped greatly if we took some time to share our stories of emergence.

So what’s your story? To borrow from the metaphor-rich world of football, what has caused the line of scrimmage to move in your world, and how has that affected the way you play the game? I’d like to reserve the next several posts at Emerging Pentecostal for Stories of Emergence, and invite anybody out there with such a story to send them to me: mp3, streaming video, your own favorite blog post, or just write it out in an e-mail… I’ll post them here as a way of introducing this growing interest group to ourselves.

Pentecost: Peace Carried on a Violent Wind

3 04 2008

It was a feast to mark the end of the harvest season. Hebrew people, having been scattered throughout the world like so much seed by the whims of political fate and fortune, had gathered in the holy city on pilgrimage to observe Pentecost, the fiftieth day of what was once newfound freedom from harsh Egyptian rule. History had filled the gaps in-between, obscuring at least in part the significance of that miraculous day from the collective memory of those chosen people. With time came the rise and fall of a Jewish dynasty, followed by one oppressive regime after another, leading ultimately to this pilgrimage, standing at the end of a long procession of feasts observed and traditions handed down, today in the shadow of the mighty Roman empire.

One favorite story passed down in the Jewish tradition was of humanity’s first hand at empire-building: the Tower of Babel. The story was told of all humanity sharing a single language and a single dream – to build a monument to itself that would scrape the foundations of heaven. Of course, everybody knows what happens next: Yahweh, in his omniscience, brings confusion and disorder to a race of humans whose highest goal was to honor itself. Who knows what terrible consequences awaited a world in which a megalomaniacal humanity held endless possibilities? And so it was a world splintered, divided, and confused that the Hebrew people walked. Along dirt roads they walked the obligatory mile, with bloodied crosses on a distant hillside casting shadows over their liberty, the chosen walked to Jerusalem, likely wondering what ever happened to the dreams of their fathers. Is this Pax Romana the only way to live?
Read the rest of this entry »

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?

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?