Paper Pt I

Power and Purpose in a Cross-Shaped Community:
Examining the Contradictions between Theology and Praxis

For the Society of Vineyard Scholars
The Theology and Practice of the Kingdom of God:
Justice, Power, and the Cross

The Church has a purpose. That purpose is shaped by its theology. In turn, however, Church practice also communicates a theology. A friend of mine once remarked, “the fact that ‘they were fishermen,’1 is a significant theological revelation;” in the same way, the current praxis of the Church reveals a theological vision of God, His action, and purposes. This raises the question: do we violate our theology by our praxis? Yes, we do.

We read in Philippians 2 “Jesus being in very nature God, became obedient to death on a cross.” This was not something that Jesus submitted to as a sort of unfortunate and ill-fitting garment, soon to be discarded, but rather as a central expression of His character and purpose.2 We contradict this character and purpose with our praxis. This must be said more clearly; Jesus’ death on the cross is not him setting aside His power and justice agenda, but rather the cross must be seen as the very manner in which Jesus would display power and implement justice. This forces the Church to seek power that originates in God’s action and to practice it in a manner patterned after God’s use of it; i.e. the Cross. Additionally, this requires the Church to view its purpose as flowing out of God’s creative work and restorative justice; again centered on the Cross. The Church then, must craft its praxis in light of what God has done through the crucifixion of Jesus.


Where have all the Martyrs gone?

"In Acts, chapter 17, Paul is assailed on a charge of saying that there is another king, namely, Jesus. Wouldn’t it be great to have Christians in the Western world hauled up on that same charge today?"

N.T. Wright


Thanks Bro!

"I can imagine a world without evil. A world without war. A world where people live together in harmony... and I can see us attacking that world because they'd NEVER see it coming!"

Jack Handey


Gospel Contextualization for Science Geeks

"I was praying last night and God said..."

translation: "I have established communication with extra-terrestrial intelligence from dimension X."

"I asked Jesus into my heart..."

translation: "I have become a symbiotic host for an extra-terrestrial being."


A Common Mind

"...the covenant community is not a mere human institution following an agenda but a fellowship of disciples together seeking to know, listen to, worship, love, and serve their Lord. In particular, the community we see in Acts, the Epistles, and the writings of the second century was constantly concerned to invoke, celebrate and be deeply sensitive to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit. Repeatedly, this involved fresh searchings of Scripture (for the earliest Christians, the Old Testament; for the next generation, the apostolic traditions as well) and serious prayer and fasting, waiting for a common mind to emerge."

NT Wright

A Taste pt III

The photo comes from an interesting link. A fancy meal, at a fancy restaurant, served to blind-folded diners...

...what a provocative parable!


...with that image in mind we turn to 'Postmodern' thought.

Many leaders in the Church have spoken with skepticism about the postmodern elements within our culture. They call it relativism, or 'liberalism,' and claim that it is incompatible with Christian faith. Postmodern thought looks with skepticism upon universal truth claims, and it is this attribute that leads many Church leaders to push against it. The postmodern assertion is that all truth claims are ultimately attempts to gain control over others. But the reason for the skepticism of universal truth claims is fundamentally about mistrusting the people making the claims, not so much the claims themselves. To put this in 'Christianese;' postmodern thought is saying 'human beings are fallen, and so their claims about the universe are untrustworthy.'

Postmodernism ultimately becomes a way of speaking about 'the Fall' to the arrogant way in which Modernism has approached the universe.

Postmodern thought has many strengths, primarily the emphasis on the value of individual humans, and the validity of personal experience. A friend of mine always wants to validate the stories, beliefs, and values that I hold as a Christian, while simultaneously validating those of her friend the Spiritualist. This is the great strength of postmodern thought. Personal stories are immensely valued, experiences of beauty, emotion, connection, or even leaps of intuition, are given premium. There is the sense that life is happening, and we must enjoy it; we need to experience all of the subtle flavors, delightful harmonies, powerful rhythms, and riotous hues of life in our universe. We must be sure to safeguard the sanctity of experience, and with that aim in mind, we must not threaten it with questions about the accuracy or universality of that experience.

...the emphasis on personal experience is so heavy that the ability to talk about shared experience (universal knowledge) becomes lost. The weakness of postmodern thought is the apparent lack of language to describe how personal experience might point to something beyond personal experience; postmodern thought often fails to make the connection that my experience of the world might actually give insight about the world irrespective of my experience of it...


This approach is brought directly to spiritual truth: my friend has told me that 'spiritual truth is like the taste of the apple, for you it is sweet, for me it is bitter. The same apple can taste different to different people. It is sweet, and it is bitter; they are both true. And so, for you Christianity is true, for them Spiritualism is true, and for me neither is true.'

This is a common postmodern approach to truth.

We take the journey, eat the fruit, and heed the voice, but we do not know where we are going, what we are eating, or who we are following! ...nor do we care to!


God's Plan

"There is a made-up story that describes Jesus returning to heaven after His sojourn here on earth. The angels gathered around the Lord to find out about all the things that happened on earth. Jesus explained to the angels how He lived among people, shared His teachings, expressed His love, died on the cross to atone for humanity’s sins, and was resurrected to declare that the new kingdom is at hand.

When he finished telling his story, Michael the archangel asked the Lord, “What happens now?”

Jesus answered, “I left behind a handful of faithful men and women. They will tell the story! They will express the love! They will spread the Kingdom!”

“But what if they fail?” asked Michael. “What will then be the plan?”

Jesus answered Michael by saying, “There is no other plan!”

Ours is the responsibility to be the instruments for the propagation of God’s truth. That is the task of the church."

Tony Campolo


More Training Wheels

"...the law had a temporary purpose, and when that purpose is accomplished those bits of the law can be wisely set aside, not as archaic or ill-informed restrictive practices that we’ve now outgrown, but as necessary earlier elements in a plan which has now reached a new stage at which those elements, no longer required, are rightly to be shelved. The amphibious craft switches off the propeller when it comes on shore, not because the propeller was a bad thing we shouldn’t have used in the first place but because it was a good thing which has completed its water-related job."

NT Wright



"Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in."
Alan Alda


A Prostitute's Birthday

"It was the middle of the night, but sometimes sleep just won't come. Especially if there are long plane flights and several time zone changes involved. So it must have been 2am or so when Tony finally gave up, got dressed and left the hotel for a little look around the neighborhood. His body said it was morning and was not accepting any different opinions. The hotel coffeeshop was long since closed, but he found a greasy spoon diner a block or two away that looked like it had been open forever, where he could get some of that life fluid, and a donut. The counterman poured a cup, wiped his hands on an old stained towel around his waist, lifted the lid, grabbed up a donut and dropped it on Tony's plate. Tony decided to eat it anyway..
As Tony sat there at the counter the door opened and in walked three young women, ladies of the evening they used to be called. They took the other stools at the counter and ordered coffee, too. And as they compared notes one of them said, "Did you know that tomorrow is my birthday?" What do you want from me, Agnes?," one of her friends answered. "Shall I maybe bake you a cake or throw you a party?" "I've never had a birthday party in my life, and I've never had a cake, and I don't want you to do anything. I was just making conversation." They soon finished both the coffee and conversation and went back out into the night.
The next time the counterman came by, Tony had a question. "Do those women come in here every night?" "The prostitutes? Sure, regular as clockwork, three am." "Could we have a birthday party for Agnes tomorrow night? She said it will be her birthday." The old counterman just looked at him for a moment, then called his wife from her place at the grill. "Come out here. This guy wants to throw a birthday party for Agnes here tomorrow night. What do you think?" "Let's do it," she replied, and the plot, as they say, began to thicken.
The next night, right at three am, the door opened and Agnes and her friends walked into the diner. Only it wasn't the same diner. Oh it was the same building, but there were streamers of crepe paper hanging from the ceiling. They were the same dirty walls, except one of them was covered by a pretty big sign that said 'Happy Birthday, Agnes'. It was the same counter, stools and booths, but tonight, in addition to Tony and the counterman and his wife, there were dozens of other people, too. Word had gone out and all the prostitutes in town were there, waiting to see the look on Agnes's face.

Agnes just stood there in the doorway, stunned. Finally her friends had to push her on into the room and up to the counter. There among the ketchup bottles and napkin dispensers was a birthday cake. Agnes's birthday cake. She just looked at it in silence. "Cut the cake. Let's eat," came the cry. Agnes didn't move. The counterman handed her a knife. "Cut the cake, Agnes. Let's see how it tastes." Do I have to?" "Come on Agnes, cut the cake." Raising her eyes, Agnes looked at the counterman. "It's so pretty. Do I have to cut it?" "Well, I guess not, if you don't want to."
"I've never had a birthday day cake before," Agnes said, more to herself than anyone else. "I don't want to cut it." Then to the counterman she said, to everyone's surprise, "I don't live very far from here, just a block or so. Could I take this cake home? I'll come right back." "Sure Agnes, go ahead." And Agnes picked up her birthday cake, and holding it like it was the holy grail, she waked carefully out the door, into the night.
Everyone was silent, stunned by what they had just witnessed. Finally Tony said, "Let's all say a prayer for Agnes." Everybody bowed their heads and Tony prayed aloud that God would bless Agnes and watch over her, and touch her life. "Amen."
"I didn't know you were a preacher," said the counterman, as conversation gradually began to grow. "I'm not. I'm a sociologist." "Well, what church do you belong to?" he asked. "I guess you could say I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3 o'clock in the morning.”"

Tony Campolo