Review: Beyond Belief pt II

I was simply disappointed with this book. I was hoping for a coherent and plausible worldview to be explained and advocated; an argument for gnosticism, or an explanation of why it is a plausible worldview, or even an explanation of historical gnosticism. I would have settled for an intelligent polemic against orthodox Christianity. What I read was largely a statement about contemporary gnostic beliefs, with a veneer of historical and scholarly language laminated over the top of it...

Pagels certainly references history, historical personages, and historical documents. She is herself a scholar, and she does reference scholarly opinion. But nothing she says actually links her contemporary gnostic worldview with either historical gnosticism, or the life of Jesus himself. She simply doesn't seem to care where her views come from. But of course, this is exactly what she is advocating: a spirituality unmoored from statements of truth about the world around us, a worldview that has no need to answer clunky questions about science or history.

The book progresses from a brief survey of literature about Jesus from the first three Centuries, to a bald assertion that there was virtually no consensus about the historical Jesus, and finally to another bald assertion that orthodoxy is the result of political pressures from the 4th Century. She uses this to conclude that Christians today should ignore Christianity (and more specifically, orthodox pictures of the life, work, and teachings of Jesus) and instead decide for themselves whatever they want to think, believe, value, and trust. It is as though she feels no need to connect the worldview she advocates with either the historical Jesus, or any particular historical gnostic community or document.

Instead of a book dealing with history and historical texts (which is what the subtitle of the book, and the constant references to history and scholarship suggests) we have a statement about Elaine Pagels personal spirituality, which is unmoored from any larger reality than Pagels' own personal navel gazing.

In my next post I will look at some of the historical claims she makes, and the overall historical framework she assumes. After that we will look at the spirituality she is advocating and compare that to what we do know of the historical Jesus and the spiritual life He offers us. Finally, we will look at some possible lessons the church can learn from Pagels' ideas.

Epistemology of Love

"Love is a way of knowing that transcends the objective/subjective divide."


NT on Art

While I liked all of this video, I was particularly intrigued by his comments on the role of artists in communicating truth...

Sunday's Coming

Zion & Babylon

Oh great mammon of form and function
Careless consumerist consumption
Dangerous dysfunction
Described as expensive taste
I’m a people disgraced
By what I claim I need
And what I want to waste
I take no account for nothing
If it’s not mine
It’s a misappropriation of funds
Protect my ninety percent with my guns
Whose side am I on?
Well who’s winning?
My kingdom’s built with the blood of slaves
Orphans, widows, and homeless graves
I sold their souls just to build my private mansion
Some people say that my time is coming
Kingdom come is the justice running
Down, down, down on me
I’m a poor child, I’m a lost son
I refuse to give my love to anyone,
Fight for the truth,
Or help the weaker ones
Because I love my Babylon
I am a slave, I was never free
I betrayed you for blood money
Oh I bought the world, all is vanity
Oh my Lord I’m your enemy
Come to me, and find your life
Children sing, Zion’s in sight
I said don’t trade your name for a serial number
Priceless lives were born from under graves
Where I found you
Say, my name ain’t yours and yours is not mine
Mine is the Lord, and yours is my child
That’s how it’s always been
Time to make a change
Leave your home
Give to the poor all that you own
Lose your life, so that you could find it
First will be last when the true world comes
Livin’ like a humble fool to overcome
The upside-down wisdom
Of a dying world
Zion’s not built with hands
And in this place God will dwell with man
Sick be healed and cripples stand
Sing Allelu
My kingdom’s built with the blood of my son
Selfless sacrifice for everyone
Faith, hope, love, and harmony
I said let this world know me by your love
By your love
Oh my child, daughters and sons
I made you in love to overcome
Free as a bird, my flowers in the sun
On your way to Mount Zion
All you slaves, be set free
Come on out child and come on home to me
We will dance, we will rejoice
If you can hear me then follow my voice


Thank You for This!

Review: Beyond Belief pt I

I will address some of her specific points in later posts, but thought it best to start with some generalizations:

Pagels portrays orthodox Christianity as largely concerned with static doctrinal purity. Conversely, gnosticism, as she describes it, is entirely concerned with a perpetual quest for meaning. Pagels claims that the orthodox understanding of truth is largely in terms of propositional statements, and in the conviction that those propositional truth claims are absolute. Gnosticism, however, is open to other, intuitive and emotive, ways of knowing. Pagels implies often throughout the book that the orthodox position, far from holding to truth, actually prevents people from pursuing truth; we are more concerned with political correctness than with truth. I must confess, Pagels description here of the Church, while painful, is generally accurate.

This was, however, the only strength of the book in my opinion.

We have often set aside the pursuit of God, and the seeking of truth, for the sake of a sense of assuredness. We want to 'know the truth' but when we discover that the truth is complicated or even, at times, ineffable we settle for 'knowing doctrine.'


...a friend wants to know God more deeply, he is a Christian and a member of a local church, but the leaders of the church simply parrot creeds and doctrines at him. He doesn't know what questions to ask, but there is a sense of dissatisfaction with the answers they give him. They are frustrated that he won't just 'get with the program' but he simply wants to know the truth. (I thought that was the program!)


We have become more concerned with correctly pronouncing our theological shibboleth's while ignoring the content of our theology and our lives. How someone answers the question of Christology, or homosexuality, or ____________, is more important to us that whether someone prays regularly, loves deeply, lives intimately, or obeys readily. We are unwilling to question, or to allow (much less encourage) others to question, out of fear. I know of Christian pastor's and professors who have explicitly stated, "I don't want my students to learn to think critically, I just want them to believe the correct statements of fact and doctrine."

Gnosticism, of course, runs to the other end of the spectrum here! There is no real concern for truth, as such. Rather, whatever I discover within myself is truth. This is Pagel's real agenda behind her scholarship; yet another ringing endorsement of the Enlightenment agenda, the unshackling of individualism and hedonism.

The contemporary gnostic says, 'Look deep within yourself, and then be true to whatever you find there.'

As one who has looked deep within myself and been horrified, I find these sentiments naive at best, evil at worst, and obviously spoken by someone who has no intention of looking 'deep within' in any honest sense of those words...


The Long Saturday

Rewriting History, or Correcting It?

"During the time of persecution of Christians, the church fathers constructed the canon, creed and hierarchy, suppressing many of its spiritual resources in the process, in order to avoid conflict with Roman law and religion."

Here is the link to where the quote came from.

It is a review of the Elaine Pagels book I am currently reading, Beyond Belief. I will have some thoughts and a review of sorts posted here shortly...

Fascinating stuff that makes me grateful for my intellectual superiors who have done their homework before me, and allowed me to look over their shoulders all the while!

Society of Vineyard Scholars: Second Annual Convention

Introducing Society of Vineyard Scholars from societyofvineyardscholars on Vimeo.

So it's off to Seattle.

In another month and a half I get to head across the states for the second round of SVS. Last year was a blast (although I felt a little like the emperor with no clothes, waiting at every turn for someone to ask about my 'scholarly' credentials!), and I look forward to this year.

Last year was my first time attending a scholarly conference, and my first time presenting a paper in such a setting. This year have a little more knowledge of what to expect!

Let me know if you wanna join me!


Like A Seed and Like Yeast

"Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end."

Isaiah 9:7 speaking prophetically about the Messiah, tells us that 'the rule of God is ever increasing in scope, in fact the increase will never end.' Its not just the government that has no end, the increase will never end...

Jesus likens the government of God to a seed and to yeast. (Matthew 13:31-33)

A small seed that is insignificant when planted, that is unseen during germination, and breaks the ground with a tremulous shoot, but soon enough grows into something significant and fruitful.

A small bit of yeast that is kneaded into the dough, but soon begins to take on a life of its own, spreading throughout the whole, causing it to take on entirely new properties, flavors, and smells...


Our first moment of faith is the faintest submission to the rule of God, perhaps only in word.

...but the seed is in the ground!
...the yeast is in the dough!

And now comes God's part!

of the increase of His kingdom, there will be no end!

Perhaps we only acknowledged we believe, but had no intention of obeying, or perhaps we only became willing to obey out of desperation; it matters not to God, He will work with any soil, or any dough. The Holy Spirit continues to haunt us, and soon the faintest acknowledgement of the Lordship of Christ has grown to include more of our lives, fostered by fellowship and word, service and worship, the seed is germinating, sprouting, growing, and producing fruit... fruit that contains seed to be planted in other soils...


"Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end."


Grace is God's Favor on the Broken

Here is the link to the video and lyrics to Michael Guglielmucci's now infamous song 'Healer.'

The story behind the song is a sad one, yet it is a contemporary parable about human brokenness and God's illimitable grace.


Michael is the son of a pastor.

He is also a pastor.

He writes songs glorifying God. Wonderful, powerful songs, sung by masses of devoted Christians; blessing the Church and blessing God with his songwriting.

Michael was diagnosed with cancer.

He wrote the song 'Healer' as an anthem testifying to God's power to heal, and His strength in troublesome times. He would perform the song on stage sitting down, with the oxygen tubes hooking him to the supply that his weak body desperately needed...

It was a powerful reminder that God's grace is available in the midst of human brokenness.


It was, of course, a huge deception; Michael was lying about the cancer.

He had never been diagnosed with cancer, and was in fact perfectly physically healthy. There was, however, something desperately wrong with Michael.

He had been telling people he had cancer to cover the fact that he had been compulsively looking at pornography for 16 years. He was ashamed and afraid; he was defeated.

Upon this revelation, many of us in the wider Christian community were appalled at this hypocrisy. The world of course, was overjoyed at the opportunity to point to yet another disgraced figure on the stage of global Christianity. I have heard many Christians talk about how the song has been ruined for them, now that they have heard the whole story. The situation was, in all respects, a colossal failure...

...or perhaps not.

Perhaps Michael's hypocrisy is a contemporary parable. Perhaps we can learn from the ugliness and the deception. Perhaps by digging into the open wound, painful though it might be, we can root out the cause of the of the injury...

In short, that image of Michael on the stage, lying to everyone about his own holiness, singing of God's goodness while deceiving the worldwide church, a sinner hiding in plain sight, is not a reason to throw away Michael, or the song he wrote, rather it is a powerful reminder that God's grace is available in the midst of human brokenness.

It is for this reason that I continue to be blessed by this powerful song. The story behind it far from detracts from the power of the song, rather it increases its potency as a reminder of God's glory. It speaks to me of God's glorious grace, that I am never so far away, that He cannot reach me...


One Small Candle...

"One small candle, may light thousands of others..."

Governor Bradford

"A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out..."

Matthew 12

God can use even the simplest, smallest, and most abused of us as a vessel for His power, glory, and majesty in the lives of multitudes.


A Recipe from my Neighbor Laila

I have absolutely no intention of baking these cookies!  However, she wanted me to give it to someone who would make them, so here is to you!  Make some cookies, let me know how they taste!

Fig Cookies

Filling: (Make 2-3 days ahead)
1 ½ lbs. figs
½ lb. raisings
½ lb. dates
1 orange
2 oz. whiskey
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. black pepper
½ lb. brown sugar
6 oz. bottle maraschino cherries

Boil figs and raisins with brown sugar and add 2 cups of water for 10 minutes (save water).  Grind figs, dates, and raisins with whole orange.  Add cinnamon, pepper, and whiskey, salt and cut up cherries.  Add liquid from fruit into the filling.

12 cups flour
3 Tbsp. baking powder
1 ½ tbsp. vanilla
9 eggs
1 lb. lard melted
1 lb. sugar (2 cups)
1 or 2 grated orange rinds
¼ cup orange juice

Mix all dry ingredients.  Add melted lard and beaten eggs and orange rind.  Mix in.  Roll out dough, not too thin.  Cut long strips, about 1 ½ to 2 inches wide with a knife.  Put filling down center of strip of dough in a long line.  Fold both sides of the dough over filling.  Slice small pieces diagonally with a knife.  Place individual cookies on cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees.  About 25 minutes.  Time varies.  Bottom should be lightly browned.  Cool and frost.

Combine 1 ¼ boxes powder sugar and orange juice and milk.  Frost cookies and dip upside down into sprinkles or decorations.


Worship Changes Us

St. Paul writes the following in the twelfth chapter of his epistle to the Roman Church:

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Here Paul is instructing us that true worship involves our total humanity.  A living sacrifice that continually presents itself, not merely in song, but in its physical entirety.  Our thoughts, emotions, actions, and lifestyle are included in our worship, not merely words.

In worshipping God in this way we are honoring Him according to His proper worth; we are giving Him something.  We are also, however, giving God access to us; He is giving us something in return.  By acknowledging God for who He truly is, and by doing so whole-heartedly, we are receiving a renewed self.  A self that begins to look more and more like Him.  Our whole being is being conformed to His as we worship Him.

We are made in His image, designed to reflect His glory into the world around us.  Like a mirror turning towards the source of light, in order to reflect it; we turn towards God in worship to do the same.  In proclaiming the majesty, beauty, and power of the Creator through worship, our reflection of Him becomes cleaner, clearer, and brighter.  It is then that we are able to truly understand, discern, and perform His will.

In my own life this has been true.  Decisions I had made for evil, destructive patterns of thought I had settled into, bitterness I had held onto, lies I had believed; all melted away in moments of worship.  Almost without notice these things came to pass; there was no conscious renouncing of these evils but only an embracing of God.  After such an embrace, I discovered that those evils had been let go of almost against my will, they had been crowded out of my soul.  As if there was not room for bitterness or envy within a soul filled with thoughts of God.

In idolatry our humanity is perverted and our godliness polluted.  In worship of our Creator, we become more fully human and more godly as well...

Rough Draft Pt IX

Students of a Heavenly Kingdom not a Consumer One

Discipleship in the 21st Century necessitates a commitment to a deep intimacy between women and men of all cultures.  A disciple must embrace community, but even more a community of diverse people.  Where that diversity, or community is not present a disciple must work to create it.  Discipleship in the 21st Century must produce disciples who tirelessly confront the powers of injustice at work in the world around us, and who abandon themselves to life among the world’s marginalized.  Discipleship in the 21st Century requires a resolute rejection of materialism, consumerism, and individualism; in short, we must reject the Church Growth movement, and the toxic way it has infected our Kingdom imagination by playing to consumer desires.

The Vineyard’s relationship to Evangelicalism is a point for much conversation.  However, for our purposes here it is not necessary to clarify the degree to which we should be differentiated from other Evangelical streams.  When it comes to a theological commitment to the Church Growth paradigm, the Vineyard has historically given unquestioned assent.  Much of our material for church planters is focused primarily around gathering crowds; John Wimber himself was heavily influenced (and was in fact an influencer!) by the Church Growth mindset.  Leaving aside questions of decades past, Church leaders today must constantly assess their own sense of worth in the unholy tension between meeting consumer demands and faithfulness to the King.  What in the past may have been good, or simply unintentionally bad, is now unquestionably bad.  We must turn from it.
My prayer is that we turn to the City.  The wondrous diversity of cultures and classes is enough to woo any missionary.  The inherent community is enough to endear anyone who loves people.  The brokenness will induce compassion for people, and the systemic nature of it induce defiance in the face of the powers, in any Spirit-filled disciple.  The sheer ingenuity of immigrants and the unique economic realities of urban markets should excite any creative businesspeople. The urban centers of America are filled with opportunity for the Church to rediscover Herself.  Here we can seek again to set our face towards a Kingdom dream, and invite others to join us as we labor under Jesus to forward that dream.
We must be clear, this is not a critique of suburban missions, but rather those who end up there for the wrong reasons.  Those lonely, isolated souls in the suburbs are crying out to be liberated from bondage to material wealth and fulfilled consumer desires by Kingdom agents sent there with power from on high; just as the poor, broken, disadvantaged, and oppressed of the cities must be liberated.  This is not a call to abandon one mission field for another, but rather a refocusing on the goals of the mission in both fields; we must rethink our commitment to suburbia only because it so often results from a commitment to Church Growth.  Our calling must be to reject the powers and kingdoms of this earth, and conform instead to that heavenly Kingdom that will one day replace these others.  No longer can we acquiesce to a culture that enshrines unrestrained desire and comfort.  As St Paul says:

18For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Philippians 3:18-21


Rough Draft Pt VIII

Our Master has established by clear example and plain teaching that we are to “take up our cross and follow Him.”39 Jesus did not shy away from the coming crucifixion, but simply asked for God’s will to be done.  Even in simpler matters, Jesus did not pursue a life of comfort, but rather suffered the hardships of life amongst the poor, manual labor, even homelessness; not to mention the constant interruption by crowds, the annoying and constant pestering of the authorities, and the heartache of identifying with the broken.  As it imitated His example, the early Church was also well acquainted with suffering and persecution, poverty and discomfort.

Life in the suburbs is certainly not without problems, but the suburbs exist as a monument to the Western quest to eradicate discomfort.  It is in the pursuit of the consumerist vision of a better life that we have left the Cities to build strip malls and sub-divisions.  Individually our fear of poverty and violence, and our discomfort with laborious cross-cultural exchange, has pushed us out of the neighborhoods where we might encounter them.  Corporately our desire for Church Growth has led us to endorse these cultural trends as a way of welcoming larger numbers of people into our buildings; we are offering them the upwardly mobile life they are seeking.
The unfortunate situation in the Evangelical Church today is that many have seen the upward mobility of suburban culture as something to imitate, and the church has often baptized such a mindset.  Our Master, on the other hand, modeled for us a downward mobility that we were intended to imitate; a life in close proximity and service amongst the least and lost; living in intimate community with those suffering, fatherless, divorced, diseased, addicted, paroled, or simply just incompetent, ugly, smelly, stupid, and boring.  A mature Christian is one who understands this and lives accordingly.  Too often in our churches we insulate and isolate ourselves in ever bigger homes, ever safer neighborhoods, and send kids to ever better schools yet are still considered ‘mature disciples.’  This is a failure in the discipleship process.  As we learn to live under Jesus tutelage, we should find, welling up within us, an attraction to those places where we might encounter hunger, danger, injustice, addiction, oppression, or poverty.

All four of these discipleship implications could actually be summed up in St. Paul’s words, “in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”40 The above are four battlefields where the Kingdom is waging war against the demonic powers at work in Western society, and the evangelical church.  These powers have manipulated our minds, our behaviors, and even our political, economic, and social systems, to bend human action toward the pursuit of self.  A disciple of Jesus contends with that unholy trinity of materialism, consumerism, and individualism; no longer acting on the belief that accumulating stuff, fulfilling desire, or looking out for number one, are methods of gaining a blessed life.  Our ultimate aim and purpose here is not to neglect the suburbs, as we have the City, but rather to point out the radical implications for discipleship that our theology of Church Growth has brought about.  Our commitment to suburbia is simply the vehicle for discovering those implications.


Rough Draft Pt VII

Jesus consistently confronts the powers at work in politics, religion, and culture whenever they marginalize and oppress; He crosses gender and racial boundaries, He ignores social taboos and religious tradition, He confronts political leaders and the influential elite; all of this in spite of the implications for our comfort or our pocketbooks.  Returning again to the parable of the Good Samaritan: given the context of the lawyer’s question and Jesus’ closing commentary, it becomes clear that Jesus’ main point is not that we are to be nice people.  Rather Jesus is making it clear that it is simply not enough that we refrain from assaulting and robbing people on the Jericho road, rather godliness requires that we go out of our way to address the problems of others, regardless of who caused those problems.  Jesus makes it clear that when His students are confronted with the facts of hunger and AIDS on another continent, homelessness and fatherlessness on the other side of town, or loneliness and divorce on the other side of the street, they must never dismiss these as ‘not my problem.’  Jesus makes apparent by His lifestyle, and the early Church displays through imitating Him, that we are to “wrestle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”37

Suburban culture is woefully unaware of the systemic nature of justice.  The process of suburbanization is a clear example of a systemic injustice that must be confronted and yet has no individual culprit; in past decades the people with the means to leave the City did so, and with them went the jobs, the adequate housing, the leadership, and even the access to healthy food.  Generally those left behind were those without the means to leave, the orphans and widows, the foreigners, the poor.  The very existence of the suburbs is parasitic.  Without the infrastructure of the City, suburbanites could never maintain the lifestyle they have built; these communities exist because of their proximity to an urban environment that they do not have to take responsibility for.

The Western consumer culture that is so prevalent in American suburbs takes for granted the ability to drive to a big-box-store and purchase affordable goods, rarely questioning the realities of child exploitation, environmental degradation, or corporate heavy-handedness that provides that ability.  Our global economic system incentivizes corporate greed and consumer waste; third world parents must chose between bathing their children in runoff wastes, or subsisting in extreme poverty; third world husbands must chose between starving their families, or being absent from them.  Western purchasing power is tearing the world apart, and we are largely ignorant of it.  We believe our wealth, our upward mobility, our education, our social network, and even our work ethic, are a product of our own moral effort, when in reality they are inculcated to us by the system we live in; the system tilts in our favor, and so we never really look too closely at the details of it.

The systemic nature of justice, however, becomes readily apparent in an urban context.  Generational poverty, illiteracy, addiction, and dependency are widespread.  A child raised by a mother who cannot read, and a father who occasionally shows up to collect money to support his addiction; who attends a classroom with two dozen other children in similar circumstances; whose role models are dealers and thugs; and whose whole circle of relationships consist of people who have never left the City, nor worked consistently, nor gone to college; such a child will almost surely live in such a way as to perpetuate that brokenness to his own children.  When confronted by such an environment, it becomes obvious that individual choice is largely overridden by forces of impotence and despair; something like a system wide failure is taking place.

When we pursue the Church Growth dream in a suburban community we blind ourselves to the plight of our neighbor.  We become guilty of walking past the bloody man on the side of the Jericho road.  We are unwilling to do the difficult work of teaching broken people how to work hard, be responsible, and be self-confident, because we understand that it will cost us time, effort, and ultimately a building full of smiling people once a week.  We are unwilling to confront the realities of a global economy, or acknowledge that our purchasing dollars may well fund injustice.  We may appease our conscience with charitable giving, but not at the cost of our place of cultural privilege.
To be a disciple of Jesus is to set ones face against the cultural, economic, and political forces at work in the world.  A disciple of Jesus will go beyond mere charity and labor to see justice come; as St Augustine says, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”38 If we are His students then we will listen to His voice regardless of the cost.  It is not a matter of profits and losses, but rather of obedience.  Charity is the easy way out, to our shame we often give, but rarely confront the systemic injustice.  This reveals a serious problem in our discipleship process; how is it possible to call someone a maturing disciple of Jesus who is unconcerned at the way wealth, comfort, safety and security have been siphoned off of the world’s poor and poured out in his lap? 


Rough Draft Pt VI

Jesus commanded His students that our love for each other should be our defining trait.33 He modeled a life of community for us; living daily in close proximity to His friends and followers.  The early church imitated this communal life; as Luke says, “they devoted themselves to fellowship.”34 Our regular feasting together at the Lord’s Table is a constant reminder that our union to Christ is also a union to each other.  It is a unity that we need not build or earn, as St Paul tells us, it must only be kept; we already possess it by virtue of our baptism into the family of God.35

It would be a mistake to think of suburban culture as lacking nothing.  There is a form of poverty present in suburbia.  The consumerism and individualism rampant within suburban culture has wrought a tremendous isolation.  What Mother Teresa called, “that most terrible form of poverty: loneliness.”36 Our pursuit of the good life has us spending hours in traffic, and overcommitted to circles of relationship that rarely overlap; our work-life, home-life, church-life, play-life, and family-life are almost totally compartmentalized.  It is with herculean effort that suburban Churches are able to promote any degree of community, most, however, simply do not make the effort; it is often enough the anonymity of the crowd that draws people to the successful suburban Church.

The urban neighborhood, on the other hand, has community in abundance.  Most urban dwellers spend the bulk of their lives within blocks of their residence, this means a constant stream of daily encounters with neighbors.   Not to imply that this community is necessarily healthy (it is often severely unhealthy); but it is hard to escape!  People know each other, and know each other’s business; the neighborhood is interconnected by a constant stream of conversation.
When the Church pursues the cultural prestige, and economic prosperity of suburban missions it looses this rich opportunity to exist within a cohesive community.  Too often we fall into the cultural patterns of suburban individualism.  We must force church members to contradict the very impulses that informed their decision to live in the suburbs in the first place.  By seeking to go with the cultural grain we are able to gain attendees, but lose out on the opportunity to obey the command of Jesus.  Simply put, the communal life Jesus expects of a disciple is a much more attainable reality in the City.

To be a disciple of Christ is to live in intimate connection with other disciples.  It is a travesty that discipleship could in any way be devoid of such community.  And yet, so many of our ‘discipleship classes’ are means of conveying information, nothing more and nothing less.  This constitutes a serious failure to disciple women and men into the full life of Jesus.


Rough Draft Pt V

Where is Jesus?

Well I heard Jesus Christ was there, He had a car that’s bullet-proof
And that way everyone was safe from the Man who tells the truth11
A disciple is one who is consistently placing herself under the influence of Jesus for the purpose of learning how to obey Him, and ultimately to be like Him.  A fully-formed disciple will think like Jesus, act like Jesus, reason like Jesus, love what He loves, and hate what He hates; this is true for theology and personal finances, prayer and sexuality, spiritual gifts and relationships; but it is also true regarding ethnicity, poverty, and systems of power.  Whenever we set aside the values of Jesus to pursue Church Growth, we do serious violence to the discipleship process for ourselves and for others.  We are providing incentive for ourselves to love what Jesus hates and to hate what He loves.
There are four specific areas where our enactment of the Kingdom creates serious deficiencies in the discipleship process.  Diversity: by chasing a narrowly defined success in the suburbs we have missed out on the glorious calling to be the “one new humanity out of the two;”12 the unique people of God called out from all nations, tribes and tongues.  Community: in pursuing suburbia we have missed out on the natural network of relationships that arises when people live, work, and play, in close proximity.  Systems: we have blinded ourselves to the powers at work in our world; systems of power that often promote our own well-being at the expense of others.  Brokenness: finally, in ignoring the urban call, we have missed out on the opportunity to embrace the Cross of Christ in our own poverty and the poverty of others.

From Genesis13 to Isaiah,14 and Psalms15 to Revelation,16 the Scriptural tradition is replete with hopes and promises of a multi-cultural paradise.  While Jesus was primarily focused on the nation of Israel, He nevertheless gave clear indication that the Kingdom was for the whole world.  All four gospel-writers record some version of His Great Commission,18 19 20 21 and His action in the Temple was in some way motivated by this multicultural vision;23 24 Jesus even makes the hero of one of His best-known parables a repugnant, half-breed, foreigner.25  Jesus regularly violated the boundaries that divide groups of people, gender,26 religion,27 morality,28 and class,29 as well as ethnicity.30

The very birth of the Church was the beginning of this vision.  As Peter preached the good sermon, the Holy Spirit fell and peoples of all nations became disciples.  It was the first fruits of the coming Kingdom; “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”31 It is this promise of the blessing of all nations, spoken first to Abram, that St. Paul fought so hard to defend, even to the point of castigating Peter when he would not share a table with the Gentiles.32
While not all suburban neighborhoods are homogenous, and not all urban neighborhoods heterogeneous, the general trend remains; urban neighborhoods are vastly more diverse than suburban ones.   The future is more of the same: the cultural trend in most major US Cities is an increase in languages spoken, countries of origin, and ethnic makeup.  If the church is to go to the nations, then we do not have very far to go, for the nations have always come to American Cities.
Unfortunately our desire for numerical growth has forced us to abandon what is clearly so important to God; it is a rare Evangelical Church that makes multiculturalism an explicit goal.  On the contrary, the explicit goals of the Evangelical Church usually have numbers attached to them.  Our theology has compelled us to leave diverse neighborhoods in pursuit of greener pastures.  Even were this not the case, our theological framework still gives us an incentive to maintain the status quo of de facto segregation; we must do whatever it takes to get as many people in the door, and people do not want to do the unsettling work of cultural integration and the sharing of power that it necessitates.  We will do nothing to rock the boat if it hurts the Church Growth bottom line.
To be a disciple, however, must be to work towards this Scriptural vision, where we join with women and men of all cultures, backgrounds, and classes to live in harmony and glorify our King.  When someone can be declared a mature disciple of Jesus without any real commitment to a multi-cultural lifestyle, we have a serious problem with our discipleship process.  As it stands the majority of Evangelical Churches would never even think to place cross-cultural engagement on the radar screen as a mandatory character issue for Christian discipleship.  This is a glaring deficiency in discipleship.