Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More On Gilley, The Church, The Truth

In his article, Gary Gilley comes down hard on the "emergent" church. First, let me state that some people call what we do "emergent" while others call it "micro church", some call it "home church", some "organic", some "cell", etc., etc. Our church has no name and perhaps this is part of the problem. If we had a name on a sign people could more easily put us in some type of spiritual box and then perhaps more easily dismiss us. We tell people over and over that we are not trying to do church... instead we are trying to be the church... we are truly attempting to live more as missionaries right here in America, than as "church-goers". Second, let me make it clear that I make no claims of being the mouthpiece for any of the previously mentioned groups. And third, allow me to state again that I have not "arrived". I will never again treat my faith as if it were the destination. The faith journey I am on is exactly that... a journey, and what I offer below are merely glimpses of what I've seen from the peaks and valleys of the trip.

By Gilley's description I would want to disassociate myself from anything "emergent" ASAP. At the same time I must admit that I feel he is selectively quoting the various authors (McLaren, Sweet, etc.) in an attempt to convince the reader that he has the correct interpretation of doctrine, truth, etc., etc., similar to how pastors from the modern era selectively dissect scripture in order to prove their points, promote their agendas, etc.

Gilley is dead-on when he writes, "Truth claims are held with suspicion within postmodernism..." There is no doubt that a post-modern culture rejects truth claims, but Gilley is dead-wrong when he says, "Something has to give and that something seems to be truth." (If you haven't read it yet, please read the entire article to get a better understanding of Gilley's perspective).

Like I stated in my previous post, the Christian message CAN'T change, and that message is THE Truth, and it is THE Truth that post-moderns, moderns, and non-believers throughout human history have rejected and will continue to reject.

I think that some of the confusion comes from the term "postmodern". What do we mean by that? Does Gilley mean the same thing when he writes "postmodern" that McLaren and Sweet mean? In the simplest sense of the word, postmodernism refers to what comes after modernism. It's like saying it's "post-3pm" for anything that comes after 3pm. It's a term that means everything and a term that means nothing. Someone along the way called the modern era, the "modern era". They could have simply called it the "post-medieval era." Even though it may actually be 11pm, the term "post-3pm" would still technically be correct due to it's catch-all nature. Postmodernism quickly became the buzzword because no term so easily defines the transition we are currently in from the modern era into a new era and until a better term comes along "postmodern" wins.

Now the trouble comes when we start applying this term "postmodern" as an adjective to modify a noun (i.e. "postmodern Christians"). If we are moving from modernism into a new era, which most everyone agrees we are (even though many will go kicking and screaming into this new era), then every Christian (good, bad, holy, sinner, sanctified, purified, backslidden, etc.) could be called "postmodern Christians", simply because that is the age in which we dwell. If by "postmodern Christian" it is meant "a Christian who has bought into postmodern thought" (i.e. the rejection of all truth) that would simply be an oxymoron. How could someone who rejects all truth claims, believe in THE Truth Claim of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection? I would imagine that if I had the chance to sit down with Dr. Gilley, we could agree on 99.9% of the core message of gospel... Christ was a real person and somehow, simultaneously he was the Son of God, he was born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, buried and somehow, miraculously rose from the grave, he sits today at the right hand of God the Father almighty and intercedes on our behalf, etc., etc., (sounds like some of the creeds our spiritual forefathers wrote as statements of their beliefs).

So the way I see it, the debate (and a necessary debate it is) is not about message, but rather comes down to methodology... If we as the Church (and the secular world around us) are entering a new era (posmodernity), would it be appropriate to adapt our methods (not our message), but our methods, in order to be salt & light to people who reject truth claims?

The method of my father used to teach me right from wrong was effective... simply put, it worked. But in the time from my childhood to that of my own children, the world under us has changed. My father never had to worry about what I might find on the Internet, simply because there was no Internet. He didn't have to worry about what my little eyes would see on 500 channels of TV, because we only had 3 channels. He didn't have to worry about me rejecting all truth claims, because it hadn't become so prevalent within our culture. His method of teaching right from wrong worked! All I need to do as a parent is modify his method to account for the changes that have occurred within the culture over the last generation. It would be foolish of me to tamper with the message, because it is still critical for my children to learn right from wrong. But I have no problem adapting the method to account for any cultural changes. And this is all we are proposing to the Church.

I believe an additional part of the confusion develops from the cultural definition of the word "church". We Americans are so accustomed to saying things like, "I'm going to church", "what church do you attend?", "I really like the pastor at the new mega church", etc. We know in our hearts that The Church is people and not structures, but our language betrays this idea. In reality, culturally speaking, the church is the building where the people gather. And unfortunately, as believers, we tend to define our faith experiences by the space in which they occur. What I and others are proposing as part of this "emerging, micro, cell, etc." phenomenon is a redefining of the word church within our greater culture. This adjustment to the word's definition would focus on the people and not the locale of their activities. Of course, to redefine a word is a near impossible task without an enormous marketing campaign, so instead of trying to convince the world that The Church is people and not structures, instead I will live that out and hopefully impact a few along the way. And as I and the thousands of others like me do just that, slowly we will impact the greater culture.

I know that all of this barely begins to scratch the surface of the debate... for some it will hopefully be something interesting to chew on... for others it may just be a waste of perfectly good blog space...

Until next time... vaya con Dios, Amigos!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Apologetics... of sorts

A few days ago I received this from a friend...


Came across this.

Trying to understand the Emerging Church Movement a little.

Any input?


This is the pastor that I grew up under. His affiliated with the same fellowship of churches that I am affiliated with.


Our gatherings are more ancient church (i.e. New Testament) than medieval (Catholic - as the article points out). We worship from house to house.

We are very concerned with method & message. I believe the method can and should change (like Paul - 1 Cor 9:19-23 NIV Message). We believe that the message CAN'T change (the author of the article hints at the fact that even the message will be flexible). Our message is that salvation is through Christ alone. Repent, be baptized, then become the hands, feet, voice, and heart of Christ wherever you are. We are about a 24/7 faith, not Sunday's & Wednesday nights.

What's interesting is that a good number of the critics of this movement (if you can call it a movement) happen to be dependent on the traditional church structure for their livelihood. I honestly feel that they may look at what we do as a threat. If what we do (and thousands of others like us) continues to grow and continues to pull people out of traditional church environments, their jobs could be at risk.

Our model has no overhead. We have no paid pastor, no mortgage, no building fund, etc. and one of the most freeing things has been the way we give our tithes & offerings. Each family prayerfully considers which ministry, missionary, poor family, evangelistic outreach, etc. that they believe God is asking them to support and then we give. 100% of the money goes. I don't believe there is another church model that can claim that. At the traditional church we left, 83% of the total money put in the plate ($2.5M annually) was spent inside the walls of the church (salaries, curriculum, programs, etc.). This left only .17¢ of every dollar for ministry outside of the church structure (community ministry, foreign missions, etc.).

I personally see this as signs of a self-centered church where people tend to be much more concerned about there own "spiritual growth" than in truly being the church in the community around them.

Please note that I have not arrived yet. In the past I have been accused of being a gnostic and of turning my back on the church. The truth is, many traditional church members and ministers don't understand what we are about. From a distance they will throw stones, but what's interesting is that when they talk to us or see us up close, they leave challenged to live a deeper faith. That alone could be reason enough for our existence... then I remember the people that are connecting to their Father in heaven and to each other and to their community through what we do and I'm reminded that we exist for many, many reasons.

I'll try and reply to more of the article later.