10 Predictions for 2008

OK, these aren’t really that serious, but I thought I’d have a go… 10 predictions for things that might just happen in 2008. Some are more plausible than others; none of them should be used to elevate me to a position of sage or futurologist (unless they all come true!)

  1. The American presidential election race will comprise at least 50% of all international news on TV and radio in the UK this year.
  2. This will be despite the fact that violent political instability will continue in Kenya, Pakistan, Burma (Myanmar) and (eventually) Zimbabwe…
  3. Gordon Brown (UK Prime Minister) will look increasingly incompetent and will continue to wobble precariously in the poles, especially as his collection of neophytes cabinet ministers will continue to be inexperienced, anonymous and ignorant of basic law (like data protection).
  4. The Conservatives will capitalise on this instability, without ever actually looking electable (never mind a plausible alternative government). Dave Cameron will continue in cheeky-chapy status; no one will know who the other guy is…
  5. An utterly disproportionate amount of media attention will be given to every product released by a small California-based technology firm named after a piece of fruit. Carla Harding will blog about her lusting for each new item.
  6. Capitalising on the moves of mobile phone companies towards IP-based infrastructure, the mighty Google will continue its move towards total control of the whole world by releasing a mobile phone that can operate across all networks simultaneously. Everyone will want one.
  7. Technology pundits and Google staffers will say that this finally “[makes] the mobile internet work properly for the first time
  8. The Anglican Church worldwide will spend the whole year talking about gay bishops (ok, occasionally about women bishops), continuing to reinforce the media’s perception that Christians are totally obsessed with sex. They will end the 2008 Lambeth Conference by utterly failing to resolve the issue, proving yet again that their greatest weakness is their greatest strength*.
  9. The phrase Emerging Church will only be used by people who are attacking it, allowing the good work of individual churches to continue under the radar, while really confusing irate Reformed Evangelicals.
  10. Towards the end of the year, I will finally get round to buying a laptop, after talking about doing so for more than 2 years. It will probably have a piece of fruit on the front…

* They never actually make a decision on divisive issues, meaning that people with utterly opposing opinions can (somewhat) successfully coexist.

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Space to grow

Emerging Grace has just pointed towards this great post from author and emerging congregation leader Rick McKinley. I’d not heard of Rick before, but his post is balanced and full of grace.

Rick essentially argues that we resist our impulses to theologically categorise the emerging church, giving it space to grow into maturity before we make it comply with our protestant tribalism. He argues:

“…if we insist that this young emerging church declare their college major right now, we may be killing the very thing that God is doing by putting a yoke upon them that God did not ask them to carry, but was one that we invented out of the fear of what they might become.

The whole article is worth a read; find it here.

Emerging Perspective

Wow.
Well, I seem to have been included in the Emergent Village blog round-up of the latest Mark Driscoll furore (see my post here), mainly thanks to this post of Grace’s, (which obviously got a lot more traffic than its 36 comments suggests!). I guess that brings me much more fully into the ‘emerging conversation’ than I thought I was, which probably warrants some clarification…

So far I’ve seem myself as a spectator on the whole emerging church thing; standing on the outside, looking in critically (in the positive sense of that word). I’m part of the New Church stream here in the UK, which is not exactly mainstream, but is definitely not emerging either (although I believe Andrew Jones considers the UK charismatic church as a precursor to emerging stuff over here). My upbringing is in the Anglican church.

I see the emerging conversation as broadly positive. It seems to me to be part of a wider move within the Western churches to reassess themselves and their position and purpose, which has to be a good thing. The driver for this particular movement (although I’m not sure it can be called that – movements tend to be led, and this one definitely doesn’t seem to be) is the desire to be Relevant (it does seem to need to be capitalised for some reason) to post-modern society. I don’t entirely agree with that perspective, but I that’s because I see post-modernism to be almost solely the proviso of media-savvy educated white middle class people; I’m not sure that the characteristics of post-modernism extend beyond that sector of society yet.

I can understand a desire to be Relevant, I just think that people make their own relevance when the message is challenging enough. What we need is not Relevant, but Authentic.

Like I said in my last post, I’ve not read Brian McLaren’s “Everything must Change yet, but from what I can gather I think the book is part of an honest attempt to critically re-evaluate our faith; to try and discern how the 1st Century message of Jesus translates into our 21st Century context. What would Jesus have to say to us about how we follow him, about how we express our faith to the world? I’ve not worked it out yet, but I’m pretty sure it would have a lot to do with ‘widows and orphans’.

Anything that drives us to reconsider ‘how should we then live?’ is positive, in my opinion, which is why I see the emerging conversation as positive. I’m not sure that I would always reach the same conclusions, but it is at least a genuine question: “how do we love? How do we reach out to those that don’t know Jesus? How do we minister to the poor, the rejected?”

To me, the question ringing in my ears is, if I were there, walking in 1st Century Palestine, would my current faith put me with the hungry followers of Jesus or the indignant Pharisees? I think for too many of us here in the West, if we are truthful with ourselves we would find ourselves with the religious establishment of the day decrying the radical who dared to claim he had a better understanding of God… At least within this conversation are those who are critically asking themselves this, and working out how to change direction.

Godspeed to them, I say.

Everything Must Change: Emerging, Reformed, and the lack of a Kingdom theology

[UPDATE: Scot McKnight is beginning a series on this which looks a good deal more balanced. He makes clear that the title “Everything must change” is, in context, about the gospel: Jesus’ Kingdom message is so radical it demands that everything must change to accommodate it. I await with interest the other parts in this series.]

Tim Challies has posted up a review of Brian McLaren’s new bookEverything Must Change”. It’s got me a little riled…

For those of you who haven’t come across Tim Challies, he is the writer of Challies.com, which is purportedly the most read Christian blog on the internet. Which says something terrible about Christian blogdom. Tim writes a lot of book reviews, which seem to mostly consist of giving a brief summary and then loudly declaring every theological hole he can find with a magnifying glass. Its not an approach that endears him to me.

Challies.com is not a blog I read regularly, but I do pop along now and then, simply because this is what a large proportion of Christian blog-readers are feeding on, and I think its useful to keep track of such things. Maybe I should stop.

Brian McLaren, for those who don’t know, is writer of A Generous Orthodoxy (a book with one of the longest subtitles in non-academic literature), one of the founders of Emergent, and is considered by those outside of the emerging church to be one of its foremost leaders and writers.  I’m going to confess right away that I haven’t read a Brian McLaren book yet (although I want to, just so I know what the fuss is about), so I have no way of pretending to be remotely authorities on what he thinks. So this post is going to be one of those badly-researched, ill thought out rants that the internet is famous for. Sorry.

***

According to the Tim Challies review, Everything Must Change seems to be an attempt to widen the scope of Christian thinking to include a response to the profound socio-political and economic issues of our world. It is a suggestion that maybe the message of Jesus included a response to those oppressed by political regimes, or trapped in poverty and hunger. i.e. “What are the global crises and how can Jesus provide a revolution of hope?

McLaren seems to argue a need for a new “framing story” or understanding of how our faith encounters the problems of the world. As a radical polemicist, McLaren overemphasises his new way of thinking and exaggerates the issues he sees with ‘traditional’ Christian thinking. Challies quotes a McLaren reframing of the Magnificat which shows his issues with this way of thinking:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my personal Savior, for he has been mindful of the correct saving faith of his servant. My spirit will go to heaven when my body dies for the Mighty One has provided forgiveness, assurance, and eternal security for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who have correct saving faith and orthodox articulations of belief, from generation to generation. He will overcome the damning effects of original sin with his mighty arm; he will damn to hell those who believe they can be saved through their own efforts or through any religion other than the new one He is about to form. He will condemn followers of other religions to hell but bring to heaven those with correct belief. He has filled correct believers with spiritual blessings but will send those who are not elect to hell forever. He has helped those with correct doctrinal understanding, remembering to be merciful to those who believe in the correct theories of atonement, just as our preferred theologians through history have articulated”

[Compare to the ‘original’ here]

McLaren states that the reality is:

“Mary celebrates that God is going to upset the dominance hierarchies typical of empire so that the nation of Israel can experience the fulfillment of its original promise.”

Challies deplores this approach, in fact McLaren’s whole way of thinking, writing off the entire book as a completely false gospel. I’m not going to go through all the details of this battle, but Challies’ closing remarks are telling:

“It seems increasingly clear that the new kind of Christian McLaren seeks is no kind of Christian at all. The church on the other side of his reinvention is a church devoid of the glorious gospel of Christ’s atoning death. It is a church utterly stripped of its power because it is a church stripped of the gospel message. McLaren’s new gospel is a social gospel, a liberal gospel and, in fact, no gospel at all.”

***

I want to make clear that, from the quotes I’ve read in this review, I don’t entirely agree with McLaren’s viewpoint or theology. But I can see validity to the point of the book, which is to widen our viewpoint away from the idea of a solely personal gospel. I take great umbrage to the comment “a social gospel [is] …no gospel at all”. A solely social gospel is deficient, but then so is a gospel based entirely on substitutionary atonement.

Jesus’ message was a holistic one, for all levels of community and society. It was a gospel of hope and transformation for the whole world. Yes, it was a defeat of sin and death through the cross. But it was also a radical new way of living; a reissue of the Genesis message that we are all, equally, ‘made in the image of God’; and an instigation of a community of transformation that was intended to express “God is Love” to the whole world.

I have issues with the way McLaren seems to talk here, in the same way that I have had with Steve Chalke. But those who try to push us into new ways of thinking often settle on provocative means of doing so, simply because they are the most affective in the short term. If someone gets your blood up, you at least have to ask yourself why!

Can somebody tell me, does the Reformed tradition have any understanding a Kingdom theology? Do they have any concept of what Jesus was saying (before His death and resurrection!) when he declared “the Kingdom of God is at hand!”? Do they have any answer to verses like Micah 6:8 and James 1:27?

Of course Jesus came to deal with the ‘problem of evil’. He came to ‘reconcile man to God’. But he also came to bring comfort to the poor. Read his mission statement, and tell me if, somewhere in amongst all the rhetoric, McLaren might not have a valid point.

Rant over. I’m off to find another book reviewer.

Heresy

I think we use the word Heresy too much.

Grace has posted an open conversation on yet another controversy regarding the comments of one Mark Driscoll. Mark, talking to a group of pastors in the states, uses the platform to ‘constructively criticise’ some of the more prominent US ‘emerging church ‘ voices. Mmmm…

I haven’t heard the podcast, and I haven’t even read the books of the people concerned. I’m not going to get drawn into a ‘who’s right, who’s wrong’ thing here. If you are interested in the issues, then the conversation going on in Grace’s comments stream is (relatively) balanced. My point in postsing on this, is because I disagree with the principle behind it, and this is something that is happening way too often at the moment.

The Church, globally, is big, colourful, and very, very diverse. There is a wide range of perspectives, opinions, theologies and approaches between countries, and that diversity often extends within countries as well. In the West we have many, many different churches and a celebrated history of freedom of thought and expression, that fully extends into the church. We may have burned people for believing the wrong thing a few hundred years ago, but we’ve stopped doing that now…

Except that, especially in the American Christian blogosphere, we seem to be regaining a passion for (un)healthy criticism. It seems that a section of the Western church that has issues with freedom of religious thought is getting rather vocal. I’m not going to say that Mark Driscoll is heading this up, or even a bad offender in this regard, but his actions in this talk are symptomatic. He took the stage in a public forum (its podcasted on iTunes!) and denounced some of his fellow ministers as having ‘incorrect’ beliefs.

There is such a thing as Heresy. You can’t read the New Testament and not understand that some beliefs cross the line into what becomes un-Christian. But what constitutes Heresy is things like the denial of Jesus as Christ, it’s promoting another saviour, not whether or not someone uses rabbinical sources to help them understand the bible!

We don’t get to point at people in that way and shout ‘you’re wrong!’ Our faith is bigger and more complex and more mysterious than can be fit into a systematic theology book; there has always been space for differences in approach and understanding. That’s why we have so many different churches.

It is fine to disagree, even strongly, on what constitutes the right expression of our faith. But I really don’t think it is fine to stand up in a public forum and say, effectively ‘I am righter than these other people’. It is not fine to promote and perpetuate this form of badly researched antagonistic criticism.

If Mark Driscoll has a problem with the other pastors he mentions, he should talk to them about it. If someone comes up and asks him “what do you think of X’s teaching on this” he can go “I disagree with them and see it this way”. But I really don’t think its right to stand up and say “this person has it wrong” in a public forum like that.

But then, maybe I’m just the pot calling the kettle black… 😉