Category Archives: The Academy
“But all this prompts a very important question: Can we really seek Jesus all by ourselves apart from the practices of the church?”
Fitch, David E.; Holsclaw, Geoff (2013-02-01). Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 3232-3233). Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition.
I have been challenged, frustrated, and mostly thrilled by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw’s new book Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier. The book picks up a conversation that has gone on for a decade or more and been brewing for about 2,000 years. You can read other posts in the Blog Tour series which began here and continued here, here, here, here, and here. It has been a great conversation already and I’m excited to join in. I was interested in the early Emergent conversation because key theological themes were actually being discussed in light of ministry today. Ancient sources were being accessed and discussed in dialogue with contemporary theologians, philosophers, and ministry leaders. It was exciting. But I lost interest in Emergent a few years ago when I stopped recognizing the Church as we find it in Scripture, history, and contemporary life in that conversation. Enter Prodigal Christianity. A book that seeks to refresh this conversation on missional terms: terms directly related to building/experiencing the Kingdom of God through the local church.
I’m a local church pastor and teacher of preachers. I find the combination inspiring. One thing I have become convinced of in the last twenty years is that worship (including preaching and the sacraments) is the key focal point for discipleship, evangelism, and mission. In fact, preaching and the sacraments are foundational to what it is to be the church. Forms and styles of worship aren’t really the issue. Worship in community feeds living the missional journey in community. The Communion Table, where we experience the Eucharist (often in response to proclaimed Word and as the culmination of worship) is the place where the Gospel collides with the Church (real people) and Grace empowers our mission. It is where we understand what God has done for us, what God offers us, and the fullness of Kingdom life, which God invites and empowers us to live. This is no place for “me and Jesus” theology or practice. We come to the Table together in obedience to Jesus’ invitation and we receive the Grace of God for mission. We are conscious of each other, our connection to believers around the world, those who have gone before us, those who will follow, and those who are not present but could be.
So for me, any conversation about the Church separated from local church practices, centered in worship, is an adventure in missing the point, to quote an early emergent author. That’s why I’m thrilled that Prodigal Christianity includes Signpost 7!
“The church is not merely the product of mission. Rather, the church is mission. In the same way that Jesus’s incarnation both proclaimed and made present the kingdom of God, so too the church proclaims and makes present the in-breaking of his kingdom. The church is nothing if not local, incarnational communities practicing the kingdom.”
Fitch, David E.; Holsclaw, Geoff (2013-02-01). Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 3257-3259). Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition.
Another key quote:
“These practices— the Lord’s Table, proclaiming the gospel, reconciliation, being “with” the least of these, being “with” children, the fivefold ministry, and kingdom prayer— have defined the church in the past. Unfortunately the church of the past has sometimes turned them into mere maintenance functions (or programs) for existing Christians. But as we hope to show, these inherently missional practices can be recaptured. In them, the kingdom becomes manifest visibly as a foretaste of the future. They shape us as Jesus’s body in the very middle of his mission.”
Fitch, David E.; Holsclaw, Geoff (2013-02-01). Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 3266-3270). Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition.
I encourage you to read this book and dialogue with the authors. More importantly, wrestle with these epic theological questions in our present age. You will not agree with everything you read so you should discern God’s leading in community as always. But the authors point us to the right questions and more sustainable answers for our missional future. There is much at stake, but so much to be gained where we faithfully live our mission together by the Grace of our Ascended Lord.
Fitch and Holsclaw seek to describe reality today in North America. One term they talk about a lot is Postmodernity. For 500 years, the West has been fascinated with science and ideas. Logic, proof, and argument have ruled the day. But somewhere along the way people began to tire of this. As I read the early part of the book my memory was jogged. I realized there had been a day I discovered postmodernism. Nobody had ever used that term in my presence. I had never read a book by anyone who knew the term. It was the Spring of 1986 and I was finishing up my freshman philosophy class at the University of Iowa. I was a religion major with vague ministry goals. My own faith was growing quickly after a detour in my middle teen years. Jesus was tremendously real to me. We had to write a final position paper for this philosophy class. Of course, I wrote mine on the “proofs” for the existence of God. I eagerly headed to the Graduate Assistant’s office to pick up my paper and receive my final grade. I was sure I had nailed the paper. Terry smiled and handed me my paper with a B- on it. I frowned. “B-? Why did you give me a B-?”
He said, “I gave you a B- because you didn’t take the other position seriously enough.”
I said, “I don’t take it that seriously because I don’t believe it. I believe God truly exists.”
He said, “Yes, but for the assignment it’s about whether that could be proved.”
“I think I did prove it,” I said. So he took the paper back and looked it over again. He told me that I did as good of a job as anyone has at defending the viewpoint but that the consensus has been that you can’t prove God’s existence. I couldn’t resist, so I asked him if he believed in God. He said, “Not really. I’m sort of an agnostic.” Snappy young fellow as I was, I asked him if his bias might be causing him to downplay my position. Maybe he wasn’t taking ME seriously enough!
Terry smiled again. He said, “I have to admit, I’ve never had a student with such a strong conviction about this before.” And then I knew that our conversation was not an accident. I looked at the clock on the wall. In exactly five minutes the parking meter was going to read: EXPIRED. I also was going to be cutting it close to make it to work on time. But something told me not to go.
Terry, said, “Tim, you have my attention. You seem to have a very deep and personal conviction about God. In the philosophy department they tell us to check our theological hats at the door. (I’ll never forget that phrase.) It’s actually refreshing. Since I haven’t met many people like you, I’d like to hear your story. How are you so certain? How is God so real to you?”
I went down the logical arguments I had covered in the paper. But for each one he was able to come up with some sort of logic that could challenge it. I realized that these answers weren’t all that satisfying to me either. Logic just wasn’t cutting it, but it was mostly what I had heard from others. My mind raced backwards. Although Terry was probably 10 years older than me, just a couple years before I also had been doubting like him. I began to tell him about how things were then.
“Nothing could get through to me for over a year. But along the way I met a girl who had a lot of spiritual questions. Frankly, I found those questions quite irritating at first. She was seeking what I was running away from. But she was so beautiful I wasn’t going anywhere… (Um, shallow, I know but I was 16) Eventually, her seeking awakened my own spiritual center. Something so pure was at work in her. And through her, something began to soften my heart. (By the way she is now my wife!) One night in February 1985, I became aware of a holy presence, something completely “other”. Whatever the past had been, this was the present. I was aware of this holy presence and my own sinful, selfish ways. This holy presence was offering me a fresh start.” I looked Terry right in the eye and said, “I had a personal confrontation with the holiness of God that required a choice.” I could see a path leading toward light if I said yes, but out into darkness if I said, no. I said, yes and my life began to change.
At this point in talking with Terry, I felt like I was on fire. I hadn’t felt so alive since the moment that I was telling him about had first happened. I was now officially late for work but I didn’t care. Terry leaned back and said, “I guess that’s what you’d have to say…”
“Terry, it’s real. Can you feel it? I feel God here just like I did that day.”
He said, “Tim, I actually believe you. Now that I understand how firmly you believe this I understand what you were saying in the paper. I’m changing your grade to a B+. But more than that you’ve affected me. I shared with you that I’m an agnostic. But I do actually wonder about God. If God is real I’d like to be able to know it like you feel you do. Whenever I get the chance to watch a sunset with my girlfriend, I take a bottle of wine and we think and talk together about ultimate things. I open my heart to the possibility of faith. I promise you that the next time I do that, I’ll be thinking of your story and considering all that you said to me.”
I told him not to wait until then, but to reflect on it anytime it came to mind. He thanked me for taking the time to share my story.
I floated back to my car… I now had two parking tickets and was already 45minutes late for work. I called and explained the odd situation. Miraculously they understood. I couldn’t believe I didn’t lose my job. I was still on fire. At age 18, I knew the purpose of the rest of my life. I also understood that the world had shifted. I wouldn’t know the word postmodern for several years. But I knew people were much more interested in my story than in logical arguments. And I loved hearing more about Terry’s story. Those were precious moments spent with him. I was transformed a bit by the process and Terry was, too. God was at work in a way I hadn’t realized before. And it was more compelling than any religious idea or argument could fully capture. Make no mistake I believe there is truth that will set you free. But from that moment on I knew the truth had to be lived and shared before I could fully know it or be completely free.
This is the cultural landscape I believe Fitch and Holsclaw are talking about in their book- Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier. This post-Christendom Far Country is logically frustrating for Christians. But we can navigate through this territory without losing our way. In fact, as Fitch says, God has already gone before us as we travel. He is already there, already at work in others’ lives. It was good to be reminded of these events as I read these compelling early chapters…
The new book by Fitch & Holsclaw is called Prodigal Christianity. It uses Luke’s Prodigal Parables (Luke 15) as a metaphor for Christian ministry in a postmodern world. I attended a conversation about the book at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. The authors presented a brief outline of the text and then took questions from those present. (Yes, I asked a question…)
The book presents 10 Signposts for the Missional Frontier and shares 7 Behaviors the church should engage in as we navigate these signposts. Certain chapters look like they will be very exciting. David Fitch has been part of the missional church conversation for a long time. Like me, he found some really good energy in the early Emergent conversations as well. However, the last several years have seen the Emergent group head off in directions which are no longer satisfying. In so many of those models, the church and the gospel seem to collapse into Postmodernism. There’s no good news and no reason for the church to gather. So Fitch has come back to the Missional term as more descriptive. He believes strongly in the church as the place where the Spirit is most active. The community formed there is God’s agent of change in our world. I couldn’t agree more. Fitch also rejects the extreme neo-reformed overreaction to Emergent and other groups. These folks have locked down the gospel so tightly, they’ve reduced it to a particular view of the atonement which is a fairly recent arrival in church history. The gospel is bigger than this. It’s more than a set of religious beliefs to be argued. It is an experience, a way of life, a vision of justice, an agent of healing, and a transforming journey. For Fitch, this is a journey into what he calls the Far Country. As best I can tell the Far Country is a metaphor for this postmodern, post-Christendom world many North Americans find ourselves in. A world where fewer and fewer people give automatic authority to the Bible, to the Church, or to Christian positions on social issues. Christians have tended to just get absorbed into the Far Country, leaving the gospel behind, or have built enclaves where we hide out from the world until Jesus shows up to beam us up.
I like how Fitch doesn’t want us to accept either one of those. Like the Prodigal God who leaves the 99 sheep, sweeps the whole house, and looks longingly for the return of his son, we can choose to “Go” like Jesus taught us to. But our “going” will look differently since we’re in the Far Country and not 1957 Churched America. I like the questions Fitch is asking at the beginning of this book. I like that Ecclesiology (what we think about the Church) is at the forefront of how he’s doing theology. It’s the lens through which he understands the gospel and how to live it out. So, preaching and the sacraments are central to his theology and missional outlook. I love great theological conversations. But this is a piece that has been absent for some time… I’m excited to dive in, with no imagination that I won’t find lots to disagree with along the way. But the Holy Spirit spoke to me at that gathering that there are some important things in this conversation which will speak directly to me and my church community as we also navigate uncharted territory in our culture…
Fitch is a CMA pastor (Wesleyan denomination similar to my own Nazarenes) teaching at a Baptist Seminary, who has Anabaptist leanings in how he views community, justice, and discernment. Now that’s a lively mix. I’m also a pastor who teaches at a Christian university and enjoys dialogue. I’m intrigued to read on…
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Just another reason we can’t hitch our faith to0 tightly the posts of archaeology or science. Last year, scientists reported that tiny neutrinos (sub-atomic particles) sent from CERN to Gran Sasso had arrived faster than the speed of light! This implied all kinds of mind-blowing possibilities about the universe. I even thought it might have some relevance toward N.T. Wright’s view of eschatology (described in Surprised by Hope) and the body of the Risen Jesus passing through walls, etc…
They presented the research, which has been peer reviewed and not duplicated. The differences have been attributed to not plugging in a cable properly. (Isn’t that always the problem?) I still think we may some day make amazing discoveries along the lines of Colossians 1:15-20 “…in Him all things hold together…” But that day will have to wait. And truth is, science is not capable of proving faith at all. A saving relationship with the divine will always require a leap of faith! To be changed, we must trust. And we can only come to trust by the Grace of a loving God empowering us to do so.
For those who haven’t already read the Press Release from this summer, I have included the text below…
Neutrinos sent from CERN to Gran Sasso respect the cosmic speed limit
At the 25th International Conference on Neutrino Physics and Astrophysics in Kyoto today, CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci presented results on the time of flight of neutrinos from CERN to the INFN Gran Sasso Laboratory on behalf of four experiments situated at Gran Sasso. The four, Borexino, ICARUS, LVD and OPERA all measure a neutrino time of flight consistent with the speed of light. This is at odds with a measurement that the OPERA collaboration put up for scrutiny last September, indicating that the original OPERA measurement can be attributed to a faulty element of the experiment’s fibre optic timing system.
“Although this result isn’t as exciting as some would have liked,” said Bertolucci, “it is what we all expected deep down. The story captured the public imagination, and has given people the opportunity to see the scientific method in action – an unexpected result was put up for scrutiny, thoroughly investigated and resolved in part thanks to collaboration between normally competing experiments. That’s how science moves forward.”
In another development reported in Kyoto, the OPERA experiment showed evidence for the appearance of a second tau-neutrino in the CERN muon-neutrino beam, this is an important step towards understanding the science of neutrino oscillations.
CERN Press Office, firstname.lastname@example.org
via CERN Press Release.
Well, the more we know the less we know. Scholars in ever widening circles are questioning the authenticity of the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ wife, which appears to be a late forgery using quotes from the Gospel of Thomas. The ethical questions abound beginning with the “owner” desiring to sell the document. I agree with those who wonder why we didn’t learn of this document while it was still in Egypt if it’s legitimate.
Karen King reveals her bias against logic when she states:
Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was unmarried, although there is no reliable historical evidence to support that, King said.
The more accurate statement is that no reliable evidence exists to suggest that Jesus was married. It’s clear some scholars want Jesus to have been married for a variety of reasons. We keep hearing of bone boxes and tiny fragments which always turn out to have little value. If Jesus was married it would have been a big deal and any children would have been celebrities of divine status. In short, we would know. Those who claim it would be a theological problem therefore it would have been covered up are wrong. If Jesus was going to be a manufactured and managed image he would look more like the Gnostic image of a god only seeming to be present on earth. The twisted logic that produces a married Jesus from a Coptic gnostic fragment boggles my mind. The biblical gospels have a fully human Jesus with a functioning body and close relationships. Even after the resurrection he eats and gives and receives touch. The early church insisted that people remember he was in a physical body and fully human. If any gospel was going to have Jesus married it would have been the canonical gospels. But he most likely wasn’t because despite mentioning all this other normal human relationship stuff, they don’t mention it. If you can accept that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, what’s the stretch to say he had children? The medieval Roman church might have had a reason to support celibate clergy through a celibate Jesus, but that was a later development. The unmarried Jesus had already been with us for centuries.
To summarize: I don’t think Jesus was married to an individual woman. I think he has always been married to his mission and to God’s people, the church. He blessed marriage and affirmed it as a celebration of the miracle of life. I don’t think I believe that because the church has something to hide. There is nothing simple about the Trinity or Christology. A married Jesus would be no more difficult to teach than many other difficult doctrines. As usual, we project our cultural dilemmas onto the ancient world and ancient texts. I don’t even think the likely forged text is actually saying Jesus had an earthly, physical wife for reasons I explained last time. One has to supply a lot of missing letters to come up with that! But gnostics had a much greater theological motive for having a celibate Jesus than orthodox believers did. Their motive simply seems to be telling the truth. He wasn’t married.
In this case, ironically, it doesn’t seem to be the church that has something to hide…
The 4 Century Coptic fragment pictured above has been in the news the last few days. Coptics are Egyptian Christians who have been known for slightly different theology than most Western and Eastern Christian Traditions. All the attention is swirling around the idea that this is representing a discovery that early Coptic Christians believed Jesus was married on earth. What amazes me is the silence on the fact that we know for sure Jesus did in fact have a wife (and still does!)
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
(Ephesians 5:25–32 NIV)
Intertwined in Paul’s discussion of husbands and wives is Christ as husband to the Church. That the two become one and Christ lays down his life for her. It’s a metaphor for the loving relationship God has not only with individuals but with the church as a whole.
These may have been Coptic Christians, but they were Christians which means they first of all valued the earliest writings of the faith. Even the Gnostic gospels essentially appear to be devotional reflections on the more authoritative accounts. So the first thought of any historian or interpreter should be to compare the language with that of the New Testament. So it would seem his mentioning of a wife and dwelling with her would be building on this biblical image of the Bride of Christ being the Church. Since this is a much later work for a unique group, I suppose anything is possible. But why not start with the most obvious connection? Maybe because you desire controversy?
And it’s not just the New Testament. The Old Testament is filled with images of Israel as the LORD’s spouse. Hosea and other prophets use this image repeatedly. So there is strong evidence to support what I’m suggesting.
It’s always fascinating and interesting to discover ancient documents. But the simplest connections and explanations are usually the best in my view… So let’s live into the reality of the church, God’s people, living as the bride of Christ. Let’s walk closely with God and live together in harmony as we work and worship and anticipate the great day of His appearing!
Sad to hear of Stephen Covey’s passing. Ironic that it’s at age 79 when he had us imagine our 80th birthday party to begin with the end in mind. His son stated that all the children were there for the last hours the way he’d always wanted. Vision realized. No small feat to maintain positive relationships with 9 children! No doubt he lived to help others fulfill their potential as few have! Complications from a fall off my bike on a steep hill in Utah at age 79? Yes, I would take that exit ramp! Thank you, Stephen, for a great book that not only didn’t conflict with Scripture, but enhanced its application in my life.
At a crucial time in life, a key ministry mentor handed me this book. Thanks, Jeren. The 7 Habits gave us all permission to pay attention to the deep Spirtual rhythms of life. Covey made the point that these enhanced productivity. In one sense, the 7 Habits are about living out the Sabbath principle in Scripture. Take time daily and a whole day each week to sharpen the saw. Productivity-Capability growth is the renewable long-term key to increased productivity. In these lean times where states and corporations are tempted to squeeze workers and cut benefits, I hope we don’t lose sight of these principles. Work people too hard and you actually reduce productivity. On the other hand, where people feel empowered to dream and grow with fair compensation, they will often work harder than you could ever get them to with a stick. Growth as a person is habit-forming. May the church always be the best environment to develop human potential. May the experiences there create more potential in work life and in the home & neighborhood.
I pray my ministry can grow great people who can be used of God to change their world!
In a not-so-stunning discovery, archaeologists found the back office of the Mayan Google Calendar! Along with beautiful paintings depicting the social position of the scribe who probably worked here, we have something like Tables and Rules for Finding the Date of Easter Day from the Book of Common Prayer. Only this is to find which moon god is ruling at a given time: jaguar, skull, or woman. Evidently, if the King leans over at his birthday feast and wants to know which moon god will be ruling when he’s 48 you’ve got to be ready to answer. This scribe was good to go. And it turns out, we are too. The calendar can span some 7,000 years into the future. So go ahead and make those Disney New Year’s plans after all. Er, unless of course the Mayans were wrong… Naaaaah. Couldn’t be, right? We only trust the dark predictions of ancient societies which caved in on themselves or terminally depressed Reformation era visionaries who never actually mention the end of the world! But Disney World does close right after the fireworks so plan accordingly.
I’m glad Jesus predicted a wonderful new world where heaven is united with a renewed earth. But he said we don’t have to wait until then to get the party started. He said the Kingdom of God was at hand, so we should repent of our worrying and believe the Good News! By worry we cannot add a single moment to ANY calendar. And by following Jesus we can live an eternal reality where the Kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as in heaven…
Special thanks to my friend Lonnie Marshall for this link. How would you like N.T. Wright commenting on your blog? That’s what happened to Jamie Smith. Click the link above to see his questionable review of Wright’s book, then scroll down to the 10th Comment. None other than N.T. “Tom” Wright responds. I had the same response to Smith’s review. It seemed to not understand the context of some of the terms Wright uses in his book. Maybe it’s not his best book overall, but his carefully nuanced point, about the Creeds never having the purpose of replacing the full Gospel accounts about Jesus’ life and ministry, is well taken. He’s not attacking the creeds. He says them daily/weekly. He also prays the Lord’s Prayer which does a nice job summarizing Jesus’ ministry emphases. Creeds plus Gospels equals very fully formed faith. Here, here, N.T.! I agree, I agree!
This isn’t just a scholarly question. It gets right down to how we make disciples. People should be reading the story and living the story as they learn the creeds and get formed in faith.
I may not agree with many of Wright’s political examples, but I agree with his theological and textual points and think he’s asking the right questions about how we worship and do spiritual formation. What do you think?