Reflections on Evangelicalism Part I

Reflection on the State of Evangelicalism

At Fuller we obviously talk a lot about American Culture, fundamentalism’s effects on American Evangelicalism and American Politics and the plight of Christianity in general. These tend to be radically diverse conversations, represented by a variety of voices within the student body. What I have typically loved about Fuller, though sometimes I forget this, is the wide range of beliefs represented. There are those who would be considered fundamentalists, those who are more conservative Evangelicals, some are more middle of the road moderates, and there are those who might be considered liberals. Of course categories never work all that well, but this works for generalizations. Of course There are those who aren’t even Evangelical, those who, like myself identify with Radical Reformation Christianity: Quakers, Anabaptists, Church of the Brethren and other random folk outside the mainstream of American Christianity.

Continue reading Reflections on Evangelicalism Part I

quakers, sacraments and practices

AJ Schwanz has once again written a thoughtful post about Quakers ideas of the sacraments. She’s been reading Bolger’s book and this of course brings up many questions about the use of sacraments for old and new faith communities. Many Emerging Churches do away with the wafer and grape juice for a more authentic communion of breaking bread together in the form of community meals.

Quakers have, since the time of George Fox and Robert Barclay had a very unique, and ingenius, understanding of the sacraments that was founded on the apocalyptic understanding of Christ’s Spirit within the creation. This meant that for Fox and the early Quakers they saw all of life as holding the possibility of being sacramental. This is the positive side of their doctrine, the negative side is that they did not do the eucharist during their church services. This latter fact has always puzzled non-Quakers.

What the Friends have lost over time is the original intention of Fox and Barclay, it wasn’t to do away with “the sacraments” but to enrich the Christian community’s understanding of them. Elton Trueblood, 20th Century Quaker philosopher/theologian has written extensively on the idea that Christians are to live “sacramentally.” In other words we should not limit our understanding of the sacraments to the seven the Catholics practice, or the two (Baptism, Eucharist) that the majority of the Protestant church use. All of life, everything we do can be “a symbol that reflects the reality of the Lord.” Quakers over time have sometimes done well, sometimes failed at living sacramentally.

What is most important is that we do well at the original intention of the Lord’s Supper as instituted by Jesus himself. I agree with John Howard Yoder’s interpretation in “Body Politics” of what this is, the original intention of the breaking of bread, was a common meal of fellowship where all were welcome and fed. Jesus broke the exclusive “table practices” of the day, by welcoming sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and even his own betrayer to his dining table. In those days, who you ate with were understood to be the people you associated with. Not only was Jesus’ practice radical by who ate with him, but it was also radical because he made one of the primary practices of all people (eating) intricately linked to the practice of the church “whenever you do this.” 

Further, not only is the church a welcoming group of people who practice an “open table” and feed those who are in need, giving them their daily bread, but we are promised that when we do these things we are participating with Christ’s Spirit. The life and crucifixion of Jesus is the content and reason for why we gather together. When we break the bread and drink the wine with one another, the outcasts of the world, and as the people of the Holy Spirit, we share in the work of Jesus, until he comes again.

For the Friends Church, as with the Emerging Church it is important that we don’t settle with the routine practices of partaking wafers and grape juice and suppose that we are really fulfilling the whole “sacrament” of eating together. These ways only mirror what Christ has really called us to do. We must finds ways to live sacramentally, enriching our faith by following the subversive practices of Jesus.

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the media, culture and the past year #1

Well I must say I’ve been happy to see all the commenting and interest into the things that have been written about as of late, and I encourage the discussions and comments to continue until things are seen more clearly. I make myself available as a resource for questions but I am now putting the responsibility on the locals who are concerned to continue to press the matter with the XFBA.
Media and Other Thoughts on Music, TV, Movies and Books

Lately my wife and I have been finding our time when we are not working and doing the normal routines of life that we are watching and listening to a lot of media. For the first couple years of our marriage it was a rare thing to catch the two of us watching TV. We’ve never paid for cable, and probably never will, but even back then we didn’t have much interest in what was going on in TV-Land. Since we’ve moved to california things have changed (now what role California’s media saturated culture is involved in all of this I am not yet sure but I suspect its more than we realize). In any case we’ve gotten at least more interested in TV shows.

A Bit About Media
In“The (Magic) Kingdom of God: Christianity and Global Culture Industries” Michael Budde he talks about the “old art of TV bashing” and quite frankly his tv-bashing is pretty good – because what he points out is the impossibility to cultivate kingdom practices within a community of faith when so much time is spent in front of the television. One of his main arguments is that if there was more time spent practicing the ways of Jesus there would be less time being influenced by the TV. I can’t agree more with his thesis or his conclusions. Much of the bad theology, hypocritical actions and ignorance within the church is due to our own lack of creating and cultivating good disciples. This takes time and TV (among other things) takes time away. This means we would have to stop doing or at least be much more stingy about the way we spend our time if we are to “cultivate” our faith better.

The trouble is, is that this view on its own is some what dissatisfactory to me. I have always tried to stay out of both the left and right categories of life, theology and politics. I don’t want to be on the side that withdraws completely from culture, the media, and those things that are not exclusively Christian produced (in fact I rarely find Christian productions done all that well). Nor do I wish to go the other way and accept everything uncritically. The majority of Christianity could be put into the exclusive or inclusive camps. This is true even within our own Quaker tradition. Where we tend to fall on the too conservative or the too liberal side of things. So I write this post as one coming from neither position – I am neither wholly accepting nor wholly bashing the things of the media. In fact in a coming post I’ll explain what I’ve liked lately when it comes to music, movies, books, and television.

For me this is an exercise in theological reflection, as well as a way to look back over the year and consider what things have influenced my thought, transformed it, or even sidetracked it.

The media is not neutral. I know many people believe that we can “turn off” our minds when we turn on the IPod, TV, or open a book, and there are those who argue that these things have little to no effect over us. But everything that is written, every story told, every song sung, every pixel captured, and every movie filmed, has ideas, influences and reasons for which it has been made. Take this ol’ blog as a perfect example. This is media. And it is formed by every interaction I have with those around, with the culture, with the Scriptures, and with the Spirit. I write as one who has had particular life experiences, with particular ideas, and interpretation of events. My ideas are subjective, they are true in so far as they are how I have experienced them, but they may not be “wholly true.” In fact I believe in very little objective truth, God’s own truth is the exception (but our interpretation of this truth is and always will be subjective). One of the main purposes of media is to create a desire or need – so that people keep coming back.

This is why churches and every Christian must be careful with the intake of what kinds of things we allow to influence us. Many of us have been formed not only in the consumerist culture of American but also in the “consumerist” culture of our churches – we’ve learned how to consume spiritual life in the same way that we consume any other product that is sold to us.

In “Emerging Churches Ryan Bolger states, “When churches decide to make entertainment their main focus, they create a continued expectation and desire for more. Marketing is not neutral; it fosters human desire as must as it satiates (137).”

“Consumer churches present a relationship with Jesus as the answer to widespread feelings of angst. Thus, Jesus is turned into a product that satisfies needs. The problem is that Jesus won’t satisfy individual needs, for the gospel is primarily about God’s agenda, not ours. For true satisfaction to take place, needs must be reformed and transformed to correspond with the gospel (138).”

“Consumer churches promote self-interested exchange and thus violate an inherent part of the gospel, that of the gift. They want satisfied customers who will return the next week (139).”

Though Bolger’s work is aimed at the practices of Emerging Churches what he says here is important in discussing the impact that the consumer market has on us.

Some Queries that arise from what has been said for reflection:

A. What do we desire – and what encourages those desires? Of those desires which are caused by “needs” created by the TV, movies, advertisements and which are created by a desire for the Kingdom of God?
B. How would my own faith look differently given less time consuming and more time in discipleship? How can faith be fostered apart from the crutch of media? Can faith be fostered through reflection on music, movies, TV, etc? If so what ways can we foster it?

C. What ways do we become more Christ-like in the way we consume? In the way we understand needs? In the way we start and end with God’s agenda and not our own? How do we use this to understand and filter what we consume?

D. How do I reject consumerism and instead become a giver instead of a taker? How do we subvert the lie that we never have enough?

From a Jewish Sedar “Dayenu”

Dayenu! That Would Have Been Enough – Passover with Aish:
“Dayenu” — Therefore, how much more so do we owe abundant thanks to God for all the manifold good He bestows upon us. He brought us out of Egypt, He executed justice upon the Egyptians and their gods. He slew their first born. He gave to us their wealth. He split the sea for us, led us through it on dry land and drowned our oppressors in it. He provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years and fed us the Manna. He gave us Shabbat, led us to Mount Sinai and gave us the Torah. He brought us into the Land of Israel and built for us the Temple to atone for all our mistakes. (Passover Haggadah)

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Silence II

So I have to consider that I am at times hard on myself, while at other times way too easy. But in either case my last post about silence might have been a bit modernistic. It was as though to say that reading, listening to music, and participating in other daily routines are not in themselves spiritual possibilities, even sacraments – depending on what they are and why they are done.

And so I found a picture of winter and silence. I read a book. I listened to Dylan. I rode my Bike. I typed a blog. I sipped a cup of tea. I sat quickly and thought about the world at Christmas time. I spent some time with friends.

It really easy to find God in “that thing over there!” It is as though I say to myself “That one thing I cannot do and so I am excused from the kind of life that requires obedience, don’t you know. So Leave me alone with these expectations.”

Avoidance can be a really good excuse when it comes to spirituality. And so can the “lack of time” that so many of us seem to experience. But then after thinking about this more we have to come to grips with the reality that life only seems to perpetuate this lack of space for God. If this is so we have to main goals for a life of the Spirit.1. We need to make space for those activities that only can be done within the community of faith, or can only be done with God in the stillness of a quiet room. 

2. We also need to get creative and figure out how we can make those everyday things – things that are meaningful. How we can make art out of something mundane – art not just for art’s sake (though this is meaningful also) but for the sake of finding the creator through doing activties of participatory worship, sacrmental living, etc. Thus we have the “church of art” below.
Flickr Photo

The church has for a long time lacked creativity, I must say that Quakers have even further to go before they catch up with the already-far-behind Protestants. To attack one’s own spiritual life because it doesn’t fit into certain molds of piety is not the way to go about finding in roads to God.

Rather we need to be schooled again in creativity – we need to find God in the novels, the movies, indie and folk music (all other types are must be void), the riding to and fro, the listening, and the silence.

There is a balance of both. We have gone too far to the one side. It is either “do it this way or don’t do it at all.” This is no longer a fight to be battled in the postmodern world, which blends all worlds together, in hopes of finding something meaningful in the process. The journey becomes important, the doing, not so much the goal. The “purpose”is only second to the “life” that is apparent. Life, love, discoveries, courage, creativity, and longsuffering become important virtues for today’s humanity.

And so this is where we are at, the middle of two crossroads searching for a discovery of God.

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Why Blog?

Its funny that there tends to be the need to do an apology for blogging; this fact is evidence that we are still a part of something that is very new – something that hasn’t become widely understood or accepted. Not that its not acceptable to blog, but just that for some peopel there seems to be”little use.”
I’ve found that blogging for me takes on more than just journaling, in fact I try to do very little of that, at least in the sense of the old “dear diary” kind of journaling. On the other hand, writing out my thoughts, whether they are theological, personal, critical or just making observations, I am logging what’s happening in my life and in the lives of those around me. Further this is what makes blogging important – it tracks the changes, the misunderstandings, and the interpretations of real people in change and in encounters with others.

It is also a conversation, or this is how I see it. Not only do I have to deal with every word I put onto the blog editor as a real part of my own thinking, but I also have to be willing to allow those thoughts to be formed, challenged, and/or encouraged by those who have for one reason or another decided to be a part of my online community. It gives me the opportunity to test and/or work out ideas.

Another aspect of blogging is that it is undercutting journalism – this is the central premise to the book called “blog” by Hugh Hewitt. Blogging gives way to news being dispensed much quicker, from multiple perspectives and from the “front line.” It is interesting how much NPR has begun to cite different bloggers during their various news shows also.

For more thorough ideas see JR’s Blog below.

Other blogs on blogging:
1. JR Rozko

2. NPR on Blogs creating networks

3. Why Blog

4. To Blog or Not to Blog

I welcome anyone else to chime in and add to possible reasons, resources, or disagreements.