Is AGMergent Toking the Jesus Bong?

12 05 2008

I suppose it was only a matter of time before I was outed.

In a recent post, Steve Knight introduces his readers to John Crowder, a clearly pentecostal/charismatic preacher who is apparently tagging himself as “postmodern,” if not wholesale emergent. Steve is tempted to label him an “emergent pentecostal,” but hesitates to do so and points out in a footnote that I may disagree with such an alignment.

Well, I do indeed; which provides a very interesting platform for me to paint a more nuanced picture of what I believe the budding relationship between the charismatic movement and the emergent conversation might actually be.

So here I am, at 11:17 p.m. PST, getting outed by Steve Knight and John Crowder as neither a cessationist (I believe in the continuation of the charismatic gifts, including speaking in tongues and prophecy) nor an unthinking, emotionally-fixated Holy Spirit junkie (I also believe that the entire counsel of Hebrew-Christian scripture has more to emphasize than those charismatic gifts alone, and that we Pentecostals would do well to balance our gifts-of-the-Spirit-diet with some of the fruit of the Spirit… particularly self-control).

My own theopraxis regarding the role of the Holy Spirit, to boil it down, is pretty straightforward:

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Just a Thought…

14 04 2008

“Here’s a quote from a Korean leader: ‘When I encounter a Buddhist priest, I meet a holy man. When I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager.’”

– 50+ year-old Church Administrative Assistant, who is considering stepping down because she’s disillusioned with the way we do church.

[HT = Jesus Manifesto]

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?
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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 »

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 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!

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, 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]

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?