Jun 222010
 

In that amazing way that only seems to come through a sense of God at work by the Spirit, there was a consistent theme running through much of the activity and challenge on the recent trip to Geneva. (Although I suspect that the lecturers who organised the trip would like to claim that that was its intention all along). That theme can probably best be described by paraphrasing (my excuse for poorly translating) the main sermon point from the French service in the Cathedral St Pierre on the Sunday morning:

Unity does not mean uniformity; diversity does not mean division.

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May 202010
 

I’ve been catching up on some reading recently (I’ve not long finished The Mystery of Christ by Robert Farrar Capon and Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell) and currently working my way through The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. When I’m not banging on about Emerging Church, one of my soapboxes is the need for Christians (especially Christian leaders) to be the ‘prophetic voice’ within society – pointing out its failings and pointing to a better way. This is at the heart of Brueggemann’s book and I came across a passage worth quoting:

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. Thus I suggest that prophetic ministry has to do not primarily with addressing specific public crises but with addressing, in season and out of season, the dominant crisis that is enduring and resilient, of having our alternative vocation co-opted and domesticated.

The italics are Brueggemann’s and state the hypothesis for  the book. The extract, I believe, succinctly states the mission and problem for the church. The church needs to be counter-cultural. And that doesn’t mean that it decries culture, rather it should always be asking if this is the ‘best’ we can achieve. And by ‘best’, I would suggest that that means being more ‘Christ-like’; being fully human and fully spiritual creatures, living life in its fullest measure without fear of discrimination, oppression and injustice.

But the extract also highlights the biggest danger the church faces – becoming ‘co-opted and domesticated’. (The phrase, “Aslan is not a tame lion” has just sprung to mind). My biggest fear of Emerging Church is that the Christian distinctives get subsumed by a desire to be ‘relevant’ – faith and worship are co-opted to suit a context, rather than that happening the other way round. Domestication comes when the church is no longer proactive but reactive and is ‘used’ to provide social services or a place where religious-types can go on a Sunday morning. Or perhaps domestication has come through the church becoming a useful branch of Historic Scotland responsible for the upkeep of a bunch of old buildings. I’m sure there are many ways in which we have become ‘co-opted and domesticated’.

How easy is it though to rediscover our revolutionary voice?

Mar 262010
 

My recent musings on Emerging Church have also been getting me thinking about some of the theological underpinnings of EC and, to a degree, traditional church. At the moment I’m still trying to get them straight in my head and one mechanism for me to do that is to do a bit of a brain-dump on here. That’s really just to serve as a warning that this particular blog post is probably going to be even more incoherent than usual and will almost certainly present a point of view which is far from fixed and will need considerable refinement.

It has also been prompted by a couple of questions from Scott, and in particular his most recent question about some of the underlying assumptions we make when ‘doing mission’. So, in no particular order, some thoughts on theology (and more to follow in subsequent posts).

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Feb 082010
 

I’ve not blogged much recently simply because I’ve been pretty busy. I know I owe Scott a post about my own theological stance but that’s going to have to wait a bit longer as well.

I finally got the first of my research essays handed in last week. Late, but accepted, after a slight misunderstanding over due dates (and how ‘fixed’ they were). A week past Sunday I was preaching and Sunday past I was taking the entire service. So I’ve had little time to focus on reflection and even less to blog my thoughts.

I’m also in the middle of preparing the devotional slot for Wednesday’s MTN and was exceedingly grateful for the distraction of Dorothy’s blog post here which fitted very nicely with where my thoughts were headed.

But I didn’t want to witter on about how busy I am and go for the sympathy vote. I wanted to blog something that is more of a reminder to myself than a full-on, warts-and-all description and reflection.

Yesterday evening was the monthly evening service in my placement church and the theme for the evening was “Sing a new song”. It was an opportunity to learn a few new songs which would be getting done over Lent and Easter. It was in part my fault. Whenever I send a list of suggestions for hymns each week, invariably there are a few (many) which aren’t known. So it was decided that it would be a good time to expand the repertoire a little.

Let’s just say that reactions were mixed (but generally favourable) but the way the service was done was a masterclass in the art of the  ‘ gracious and gentle rebuke’. Sort of like being pummelled by a giant, soft pillow, but one that weighed a ton so that you knew when it landed on on you.

I know that hymns can be an especially emotive subject with people and I do sympathise. I have ranted about it before (can’t remember if I’ve ever blogged about it though). Communal singing is one of the few times when the congregation gets to participate directly and actively in worship and I get very annoyed when that opportunity is compromised through inaccessible hymn tunes and words or overly complex arrangements which only the trained choir can do justice to.

But anyway, there will be a few new tunes over Lent and Easter, and we may even do them several times just to be sure they stick.

Jan 122010
 

I’ve been working through some reading for my first research essay and it’s starting to take shape in my head. Just need it to start taking shape on paper now. Anyway, it’s part of my overall investigations into the theology of emerging church (my research direction wandered off at a tangent and is now heading in a somewhat different direction from its original intent). This initial research subject is about ‘unity’. Its direction is somewhat set by having to consider the topic with more than a passing nod to Barth (as I opted to do the Barth course for credit rather than audit it). But that’s not a problem. Barth has more than enough to say on the subject of church unity.

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Nov 252009
 

The last ‘proper’ Barth class was today and, whilst the readings have often been heavy going, their challenge to faith and theology is very clear. There have been many quotable parts, but my particular favourite came with the readings for today. From Church Dogmatics IV/3, the context is Barth challenging how the church (or more accurately, the faith community) sees itself in the world. He has already challenged the notion that the faith community must hold itself apart from the world. Rather is must be utterly ‘for’ the world whilst holding on to its distinctiveness (holiness). Anyway, on the back of that comes an enormously challenging section on what being ‘for’ the world, and having solidarity with the world, means. He says:

Solidarity with the world means that those who are genuinely pious approach the children of the world as such, that those who are genuinely righteous are not ashamed to sit down with the unrighteous as friends, that those who are genuinely wise do not hesitate to seem to be fools among fools, and that those who are genuinely holy are not too good or irreproachable to go down “into hell” in a very secular fashion.

Barth CD IV/3, p774

Nov 122009
 

Not Simpson (Though him as well), but Karl Barth. I’m even beginning to regret avoiding his theology for my four years as an undergrad (although the truth is that at New College, it’s impossible to avoid Barth if you do any systematics courses). Why do I like him? Because when he writes, you get the impression he’s still working stuff out and it’s the act of getting it on paper that helps it coalesce.

Today’s class was a starter on Barth’s ecclesiology and it focused on the creedal statement, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” That was interesting enough and, in fact, inspired my likely essay for the course. But what was fascinating was a section on who was a ‘true’ Christian. There was the very thorough consideration of all the possible ‘marks’ of a true Christian and ultimately Barth’s deliberations seemed to come down to – “we don’t know”. And his advice? Get on with being a ‘true’ Christian yourself and just assume everyone else you’re concerned about is as well.

He had pretty much the same to say about church disunity. Having utterly savaged the ‘scandal’ of church division he concludes, pretty much, the same sort of thing. As a community of believers, get on with being just that and worry more about your witness to non-believers than trying to get other churches ‘back on track’.

Barth obviously used considerably more words to say that than I have, but it was his way of covering all the possible ‘get-out’ clauses and excuses. It’s fascinating to read a theologian who almost seems happy to stop at the ‘I don’t know’ place and to practically hear his thoughts as he struggles with the implications of where his ideas are going.

Aug 202009
 

Yesterday (Wednesday), I was visiting the university town of Leuven to grab some books from Peeter’s bookshop. I also took the opportunity to have a wander round the historic place and see some of the sights. It was, in many respects, not unlike many of the other historic towns or cities in Belgium and has the Grote Markt as its focal point. There was the usual Stadhuis and loads of cafes and bars. Continue reading »

Aug 042009
 

One of the things you notice when you visit people is that you will often hear the same stories on subsequent visits. With many people you’ll get a ‘but I’ve told you this before’ comment, but what happens when it’s someone whose memory isn’t what it once was? My supervisor asked me the question a while ago about whether such visits continue to have value or whether there is better use of a minister’s time. It’s especially pertinent when the person visited has little or no recollection of you even having visited previously. It may sound a little callous but it’s a legitimate question (and especially when time pressures come to bear).

I’m not sure I have any kind of answer and I expect that whatever thoughts I have now will almost certainly change when the reality of ministry hits. I believe that stories are important. They define, in many ways, who we are. They are our condensed memory of an event, an experience or a relationship. They are coloured by our prejudice and edited by our ego. But they are important to us and telling them to others allows our stories (and ourselves) to have a place in a bigger story. By hearing stories we give a sense of value and worth to the teller. By bringing their story into our story we grow our own story and allow it to grow and change. And of course, by integrating our story, and the stories we hear, into the ongoing ‘narrative’ we have with God and our faith, then we also grow. And, of course, we have an example in Jesus who ‘unravelled’ people’s stories and opened them up to allow the gospel to become part of their story.

So, when we visit and hear a story, we continue to affirm the life of a person, the importance of their story and their continuing place in the broader story of the church family. When we hear the same story over and over again it may try our patience and we may doubt the use of our time, but it is a way of showing we value the person who is a loved creation of God.

All well and good, but can the reality be sustained in ‘real ministry’?