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]


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 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!

Now in Tasty Group Flavor

15 03 2008

Visit the “Emerging Pentecostals” Facebook Group

Starting Points: What Are You Reading?

10 03 2008

George Wood, through a related thread over at AG Think Tank, has helped me nail down some good opening questions for our conversation.  Let’s start with this one:

“What book(s) would you recommend as a starting point for discussion [about Emergent Pentecostalism]?”

This might be a good place for me to confess that, in the presence of guys like George P. Wood and Tony Jones, I am an intellectual pauper; a gnat.  The only post- high school certification I can lay claim to  is  a ministry diploma following two years  in a non-accredited  AG Bible College (and in my experience was a first-rate education where theopraxis is concerned) and a smattering of junior college classes.  If I can hold my own in a conversation with these or others of like stature, it’s less due to any formal education than to a voracious appetite for reading – and listening.

When I graduated from Bible College, my chief concern was professional success, measured in terms of attendance, tithe dollars, and programming edginess.  Here are a few of the books I’ve read since that time, which the Spirit of God has used in tandem with life experience to re-center my world view, or framing story, to be what I would consider more holistic and Jesus-centered:

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson – Challenged my perception of God in history

The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson –  Challenged me to follow Jesus as devoutly as I believe in him

[The Cost of] Discipleship by Deitrich Bonhoeffer – challenged me to view the church as a sacrament to the world

The Gospel of Matthew – Challenged my perception of the nature of Jesus’ kingdom

The Gospel of John – Challenged my perception of the incarnation

Off-Road Disciplines by Earl Creps – Challenged my perception of ministry in the Assemblies of God

In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen – Challenged my perception of Christian leadership

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning – Challenged my perception of God’s love and grace

Everything Must Change by Brian D. McLaren – Challenged my complicity in the “suicide machine” and my perception of redemption

There are more books, but these are some of the more influential ones.  I realize as I look over the compiled list that I probably did very little to answer the question, it’s such a broad swath of reading.  The scary thing is, there are also plenty of texts I still feel I must read in order to start to get a grasp, not only of Emergent but that holistic, Jesus-centered world view I was talking about earlier.

One book in particular, which might help center this group’s conversation, is Tony Jones’ newest release, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier.  I hope to pick it up in the next several days, and if there are others who would like to read it together through a pentecostal lens it might prove a good first exercise for this budding conversation.  Of course, that’s only my opinion.  I want to hear yours.

So what have you read that has instigated a deep shift in your thinking?  And what book(s) would you recommend as a starting point for this discussion?

Out of the Shadows

5 03 2008

Assemblies of God, meet Emergent.

Emergent, AG.

First, to dispel with some basic caricatures: Emergent is not candles and new age meditation. AG is not brainless snake-handling tongue-flappers.

With that out of the way, It’s time for us to start a conversation.

it should be stated at the outset that there are no endorsements from the Assemblies of God, or censures for that matter. My prayer is that this space becomes an open forum for followers of Jesus, particularly Assemblies of God people, to learn from each other and from people outside our tradition about living:

  • in a way that reflects God’s redemptive dream,
  • in a way that is responsive to the spiritual questions of the world around us, and
  • in a way that is faithful to the dynamics of our pentecostal distinctives.

I was reading George O. Woods’ recent booklet outlining his core values as our new Superintendent, and was greatly encouraged by his statement,

I see a lot of young people having problems with our Pentecostal distinctive because we in the older generation have focused so much on initial evidence and our young people are looking for substantial evidence of the Spirit’s work. It’s not an issue of either/or, it’s got to be both/and.

My hunch is that there’s a groundswell of movement, motivated by the Spirit of God, to bring this dynamic tension between initial evidence and substantial evidence into alignment. If it turns out that my hunch has some legs to it, I hope that this online conversation can begin to spill out into our local churches, sectional meetings, and district councils. It doesn’t mean we need to copy the people who are already engaged in conversations about neo-monasticism, emerging spirituality and missional Christianity, but I hope that it means we can learn from those conversations and have something to contribute to the greater whole.

So let’s climb out of the shadows. Let’s move forward from eavesdropping to conversation.