Posts filed under ‘emerging church’

liberals & conservatives: a plague on both their houses!

I get really fed up with the intra-church wars that go on between liberals and conservatives! I’m sick of long, bitter and futile arguments over historicity in the bible that never get as far as probing the meaning and importance of the texts. I’m sick of evangelicals who privatise and inividualise faith so that it becomes some sort of gnostic “club”, with a tight theological “system”. They seem to think that God’s sole object in sending Jesus was to save “me” and provide me with a “salvation” that is suspiciously close to the ultimate in consumer products. I’m sick of liberals who spend all their time trying to explain why we cannot believe the things about God and Jesus that have always been fundamental to Christian faith, and why we ought to be following people like Jack Spong et al and concentrating all ourt efforts on a more “intellectually credible” faith. They cannot understand anything that smacks of a “passion for Jesus” and retreat into embarrassed silence at the suggestion that one couldn’t do better than to spend one’s life, priorities, energies and resources in service of Jesus Christ. Ironically, the Good News becomes equally parochial – appropriate only for western, “christianised” cultures! Oh – and I’m sick of the people who will read this and subject it to endless qualifications, rather than seeing it as a generalisation that nevertheless embodies some fundamental and disturning truths about the “wings” of our churches! Either the Good News of Jesus Christ embraces every possible area of human existence – public and private – or it isn’t Good News. And either it’s the very best news for a world in the grip of Bad News, and we ought to be telling everyone about it, or it isn’t, and we ought to stop pretending it is and do something more effective with our time, money and resources!

I’ve been reading Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1993, ISBN 0-687-41233-1). Let me cite him on this subject:

The subject of evangelism invites false disputes between liberals and conservatives … such [ideological] labels betray our understanding of the wholeness of life under the singleness of God’s purpose. With so-called conservatives, I agree that we must get our language right, to affirm that our evangelical language is for us realistic language, and we must not blink at the epistemological embarrassment of the gospel. With so-called liberals I agree that we must see our unembarrassed, realistic evangelical-Christological language is not isolated, specialised languange, but is public language concerned with public issues, uttered for the sake of public criticism and public possibility. Whenever liberals shrink from the epistemological scandal of the gospel and whenever conservatives shrink from the public dimension of the faithful language of the evangel, the gospel is distorted and the Bible is misread.

Way to go, Walter! Give it to ’em with both barrels! He’s right! And he goes on to be even more importantly right:

I submit that in our time, so-called conservatism is an attempt to reduce the danger of the Bible to confessional safety (I just love that phrase!!!), and so-called liberalism is an attempt to avoid the dramatic system-shattering claim of the gospel (stunning!!!). I submit that so-called conservatives and so-called liberals might well return to the shared, concrete language practice of the Bible to learn again that the utterance of the name fo God (or the name of Jesus) is endlessly subversive, polemical, risk-taking (Jesus Christ, he’s right!). Indeed, I suggest that our scholastic debates about liberalism and conservatism are simply smoke screens to protect our vested interests and to fend off the danger and threat of the gospel (O that we might learn to find the gospel “dangerous” and “threatening”). Or conversely the reduction of the gospel to our favorite (Hey, he’s American! Leave him alone!) political slogan is a refusal to let the unfettered news of God have its say. The gospel news of changed governance in all of creation is more radical, demanding, and empowering than any of us can readily imagine, embrace, or domesticate.

Isn’t this one of the most important tasks for us as churches – to rediscover that shared biblical practice, rather than struggling with everything we have to reduce the bible and the gospel – oh, and God to boot – to more manageable proportions? And when we’ve done that, it would be mighty difficult to be a church with nothing to say that engages the world.


15 August, 2006 at 12:11 pm 5 comments

postmodern churches

Have a look at Blind Beggar. There's a post entitled "Ten Distinctives of Postmodern Churches". I couldn't agree more! We've just had two courses at the Windermere Centre on and Emerging Church and Multimedia Worship. I found that the stuff in the latter that I resonated most with was the material that engaged with the tradition – the Celtic and Latin traditions, for example. Makes me glad I'm part of today's church and not that of 20 years ago!

8 March, 2006 at 11:34 pm 6 comments

uniquely jesus …

You scored as Servant Model. Your model of the church is Servant. The mission of the church is to serve others, to challenge unjust structures, and to live the preferential option for the poor. This model could be complemented by other models that focus more on the unique person of Jesus Christ.

Servant Model
Mystical Communion Model
Sacrament model
Herald Model
Institutional Model

What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with

So there it is! It's worth looking at these things every so often – mine's changed a little since last time. I'm intrigued at the suggestion that I could concentrate more on the uniqueness of Jesus. That's my presupposition. I believe that only Jesus saves – but not only Christians are saved! Jesus is unique not least because Jesus uniquely refuses the boundaries that most of us – church and world alike – create. So I'm right up with those who say that Jesus alone saves us. No one else has done or could do what Christ did on the cross. That is the means of salvation. But Jesus came, not to start a new religion or create the Church, but to transform the world into the kingdom of God.

That is not to say that Jesus alone gives us access to God or to Truth. But Jesus alone gives us access to the Life that God for us here – the Holy Spirit and involvement in God's continual mission to make this world wall that God intends. I don't usually frame the question this way, but if it's the one I was asked a week ago – "Can Buddhists be saved?" – my answer is "Yes, of course they can? Who can't be saved? But Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, genocidal maniacs, alcoholics, unborn children and whomever else are all saved because of what God has done in Jesus. No one else."

18 February, 2006 at 5:05 pm 1 comment

model of the church

This is how I scored on models of the church (thanks, stuart). A servant model. I'm intrigued by the mystical communion high score. Pleased and not surprised that church as institution is not exactly right up there at the top …

You scored as Servant Model. Your model of the church is Servant. The mission of the church is to serve others, to challenge unjust structures, and to live the preferential option for the poor. This model could be complemented by other models that focus more on the unique person of Jesus Christ.

Servant Model
Mystical Communion Model
Sacrament model
Herald Model
Institutional Model

What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with

15 September, 2005 at 8:13 pm Leave a comment

church life is also mission

I'm writing this in Cleveland, Ohio, where 4 of us from the URC are visiting the United Churches of Christ to consult on their God is Still Speaking, initiative. It's quite something! This relatively small church has done market research which shows that many people are extremely angry with the Church. They are alienated from the institutional church, rather than from God. They feel there isn't a place for them. This includes lesbians, gays and transgengered people, but also thinking people, divorcees and others whom the church feels unable to welcome. They've mounted a nation-wide sophisticated advertising campaign that extends a welcome to everyone, without suggesting they need to become "like us". The God is still speaking theme is to say that God hasn't pronounced the last word on subjects the church often appears to regard as closed. The inclusion of gay people is an obvious area. The point is that if a subject is closed, then so are the doors to the people it affects.

In one sense, it seems an innocuous enough campaign. After all, don't we all tend to say "Everyone is welcome here"? Yet people experience a different reality. As a result of the campaign, the UCC has had hundreds of thousands of people contacting them to find their nearest UCC church. The attitude is "If church is really like that, I want to be part of it!" The response has been astonishing and overwhelming. They've had independent churches wanting to affiliate to the UCC because of the campaign. The streets here are lined with banners with the campaign strap lines and the UCC logo.

My concern was that this was yet another instance of a church engaged in self-promotion. It clearly isn't! They've found a way of being unapologetically evangelical not only about the gospel but also about church (without confusing the two inappropriately) because the message of welcome is heard as Good News.

One reason for the campaign's success is that the campaign is edgy, irreverent and playful. Its message is designed with the target audience in mind, rather than the church itself. And it genuinely communicates! Have a look at and play the bouncer ad on the title page. We've heard and seen testimonies about how the simple message of genuine love, acceptance and welcome has revolutionised people's lives. It's stopped suicides. It's given hope and purpose. And it's enabled people to relate to God in Jesus Christ in new and real ways.

We were talking about the way in which we as the URC and other UK churches still have to resolve the sexuality issue. Ron Buford, the mover behind the campaign, said something that I've not heard in the various church debates on the subject and that made a deep impression. He said, "We are a covenant church. Baptism is a covenant. It promises lifelong incorporation into the body of Christ and acceptance. When we exclude people whom we've baptised, we break covenant. We say, 'Sorry. We didn't mean that this was a lifelong covenant!' Then we break covenant with God and that is desperately serious!"

Another comment that really grabbed me as true of so much of church life: "If the 1950s ever return, let me tell you: we're ready for it!" Isn't it depressingly true that we're stuck in models of the past that are passe and will never do for us now what they did in their time? Let's bring that emerging church to birth … quickly!

15 September, 2005 at 7:35 pm 5 comments

a postmodern, neo-orthodox welseyan

Well, I just took the quiz to find out what my theology's like (thanks for the tip, homileo) and discovered that I'm clearly postmodern, alienated from the institutional church, strongly neo-orthodox and pretty welseyan! Only an 18% reformed evangelical. So what am I doing with myself? Working for the United Reformed Church! Actually, I'd say my spirituality rather than my theology is wesleyan/catholic/not reformed. My theology is pretty much neo-orthodox, postmodern reformed (aren't labels fun???? NOT!). Actually, the most satisfactory label I've ever really been prepared to wear is a South African one – radical evangelical. These are people who believe in the vital importance of a personal relationship with God through Christ, and who are pretty well thorough-going liberation theologians. Here are my results:

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Neo orthodox
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
Roman Catholic
Classical Liberal
Modern Liberal
Reformed Evangelical

What's your theological worldview?
created with

31 August, 2005 at 8:54 am 3 comments

Blogging with the congregation

Long time no blog! I've been frenetically busy with courses at the Windermere Centre and having to go cold turkey as far as blogging is concerned. Have a look at the Christchurch Needham Market blog. Homileo has followed up the suggestion of using a blog to enable the congregation to have more of an input into the service. Just the sort of innovation we need to try out!

13 August, 2005 at 11:25 am Leave a comment

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