Evangelicals and the City

Of course we realize that, these may be complicated questions: evangelicals concerned with “urban ministry” may tend to think of the city as a “field ripe unto harvest” for evangelism. But in doing so, might they also generally consider the city as little more than a container for many, many “souls”? We are interested in how evangelicals think about urban social arrangements. Is it possible that evangelicals who are zealous about urban ministry might, in fact, tend to have very negative views about “the city...”

(Click the title for the full paper)

Mars Hill


Exploring a Narrative Epistemology

SVS 2011 Plenary #3: James K. A. Smith from Society of Vineyard Scholars on Vimeo.

I heard a story once of a dancer who was asked what her dance 'meant,' what was the meaning she was trying to convey through her dancing on stage. She responded, "If I could say it in words, then I wouldn't have had to dance it."


Review: Beyond Belief pt VI

6) Assumed Veracity (Falsity?) of All Texts

She never addresses the validity of any of the texts she is discussing, rather she simply asserts their assertions as though all historical texts are on the same footing. She compares Thomas and John, without any regard for their respective dates, languages, cultures, proximity to the life of Jesus, or any other (in)validation. (disregarding dates, cultures, etc.)

It is as though she assumes they are all correct (without attempting to harmonize their contradictions) or rather, that she assumes that they are all false (and so has no need), or perhaps (what seems most likely) she believes that the historical question is irrelevant. As though it is unimportant what Jesus actually said or did, or whether he existed at all; the only important issue is what is said and believed about Jesus, not what is true about him.


Against Individualism

"It does kingdom theology great injustice when we use it to justify the individualism that is characteristic of our Western culture. Properly imagined, kingdom theology is, from all angles, against individualism."

"In it (Ubuntu philosophy), engaging different voices is not just a good practice. It is a prerequisite for progress."

"Such a conversation, when properly carried out enriches the entire global theological tradition."

These are taken from Harvey Kwiyani's paper: "Kingdom Theology from an African Perspective" at the Society of Vineyard Scholars conference...


Women in Church Leadership

Pastor Rose was the host of the Society of Vineyard Scholars conference in Seattle. She is a really neat lady that I had the good fortune to meet while at the conference last month.

This is an issue that can be quite divisive in certain corners of the church, but the Vineyard movement had resolved this issue before I even knew what a Vineyard church was... local Vineyard Churches have the authority to ordain/license anyone they wish, male or female. This means an individual local Vineyard Church could be either complementarian (a euphemism for men wielding the power) or egalitarian, but the national body is functionally giving support to the ordination of women.

Generosity is Victory

"...to give away money is to win a victory over the dark powers that oppress."

Thanks Linda

A christian is committed to the truth of Jesus words. He said, "it is better to give than to receive." These are not nice, but naive, sentiments. They are true wisdom.

Christians should be the biggest tippers, the ones who share our possessions most freely, the ones who spend our time on people who have nothing to offer us in return, we should be the ones who give away our best things to bless others; not giving out of our abundance, but giving sacrificially...


The Irreducibility of the Communal Narrative pt III

If the community of God's people is the medium for communicating the message of God's good news, then many of the behavioral prescriptions of the New Testament are actually just as important in terms of their communicative properties as they are in terms of their ethical properties.  What we do is important because God wants us to act a certain way, but it is just as important because of what it says about God's Kingdom...

In other words, we are commanded to behave in certain ways because God wants us to behave in those ways, but also because God wants our lifestyle to communicate certain things about the gospel.  This is true in all NT commands but we will here discuss one in particular, and for two reasons.  Firstly, the New Testament authors (Paul in particular) make it clear just how important this commandment is and are explicit about its communicative properties, and secondly, it is a particular shortcoming of the contemporary church.

I am speaking of the calling of the church to be the united, newly created, people of God, called out from among every ethnic group, every social class, every cultural group, and every language, into allegiance to Jesus.


John 17:20-26

John quotes Jesus' prayer for his followers, including those in the future (you and I).  Jesus' prayer makes it clear that the unity of the church will communicate the veracity of the gospel to the world.  In other words, when the world comes upon a community of people who have nothing in common (a community that crosses political, racial, language, class, educational, sexual boundaries) they will be forced to wonder just what it is that binds us together.  Contrariwise, when the church ghettoizes itself along denominational, racial, political and socio-economic lines, we damage the proclamation of the gospel message.

Romans 10:9-13

"I am saved by faith, therefore____________"

The typical evangelical fill-in-the-blank answer to this is "I am not saved by effort," but this is not the scriptural answer!  In every single place in the NT where justification by faith is brought up, it is tied directly to the unity of the Church across social divides.  We have been blinded to the words of scripture, and have failed at our exegetical task, by the history of Protestant anti-Pelagianism.  The Scriptural argument is "I am saved by faith, therefore there is no longer a division between Jew and Gentile, slave or free..."

Galatians 2:11-21

Paul gets in Peter's face over this!  This is not a peripheral issue.  Paul essentially tells Peter he is denying the gospel when he refuses to eat with people of another race!  This is a gospel issue for Paul, and should be for us too.  Why are our communities of faith divided?  Why do white Christians and Black Christians, English speaking believers and Spanish speaking ones, rich brothers and poor brothers, eat at separate tables?  And even more importantly, why aren't we getting in anyone's face about this issue?


In short, you are not a committed disciple of Christ unless you are committed to work through your biases, and actively engaging in deep, formative, and submissive relationships with people who do not share your racial, economic, educational, political, or even theological, heritage.


Elbow Grease

"Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work."
Peter Drucker (1909-2005)


Look and see...

look and see
a way of life
and those that stand apart

the sweating crowd of non-conformists
a faceless mass of uniformity
the men of the west

a common gleam in every eye, a common fire in every breast
from each hand is formed a clenched symbol of our resolve
we will not be governed
we will not be taught
we will not be led

an anthem rises on every tongue
with a single voice we roar

For those with ears to hear
a wisp of truth
only just beyond the grip of rebellious fists

a whisper that nears the paean of the crowd
yet could not be further from it
a revolt within


The Irreducibility of the Communal Narrative pt II

Another way of making Smith's case is the phrase, 'the medium is the message.'  Smith is arguing, not exactly that this is true, but that the medium is an important part of the message, and that the message is fundamentally different if the medium is changed.  With respect to narrative knowledge, if we change the medium of the message from a story to a set of propositional statements, something is lost; that something is precisely knowledge.

So... if the medium is indispensable to the message, then we must pay at least as much attention to the medium we use to communicate with as to the message itself.  And here we come to my main point:

If the message is the gospel story, then the medium is the community itself!

The gospel story is itself irreducible to propositions, but even more so, it is irreducible to merely a story.  In order for the gospel to be fully communicated, a community is required.  And not just any community...

It is this very thing that causes Paul to be so up in arms about the inclusion of the Gentiles...


The Irreducibility of the Communal Narrative pt I

Last week I attended the Society of Vineyard Scholars second annual conference.  It was wonderful!

One of the many things I heard there that got caught in the gray matter on its way through my head was this:

James K. A. Smith made the explicit point that there are forms of knowledge that are not reducible to the level of deductive discourse; specifically, stories.  A story is not simply a collection of facts, the narrative framework itself is a part of the knowledge gained by learning the story. When we understand someone's personal story, or the story of how a particular event unfolded in someone's life, or even the story of a historical period or people, we are gaining knowledge that can only be gained by learning the story.

We know this implicitly, but have been blinded to it by centuries of cultural adherence to enlightenment dogma.*  We become friends with people, not by reading their medical history, or genealogical tree (although those bits of data aren't irrelevant), but by hearing the story of how they became who they are, and where that trajectory is taking them.  The same with organizations; we don't want to simply read their financial statements, and get bullet points of their goals, we need to know who they are and that requires their story.  The facts aren't unimportant, quite the opposite, rather the facts are the bricks the story gives larger form to; building a wall, or a house, or a shed, or a silo, or a bank, or a school, or a...

...the larger building gives significance to the individual bricks that they don't have in isolation; so to, the story gives significance (knowledge and meaning) to the facts that they simply don't have as isolated bits of data.  This is what James K. A. Smith called the 'irreducibility of narrative knowledge.'  In our next post, we will extrapolate from Smith to what I am calling the 'irreducibility of the communal narrative.'


*This ties in interestingly with the 'Ubuntu' post.  After Smith's lecture my friend Harvey, who is from Malawi, said to me something along the lines of, "that is great, but if he would have just talked to someone from Africa he would have known all of this already."  He essentially seemed to be faulting the entire Western, rational, Enlightenment project as flawed from the very beginning!  (Harvey, if you are reading this you can correct me!)  I suppose I must agree that some of the flaws within Western culture are directly linked to our fundamentally individualistic epistemology.

CCDA Conference with John Perkins

Go to the City Vision web site to register for the conference.


Response to Open Theism

Here is my response to Clark Pinnock's book, 'Most Moved Mover.'

So here goes with Pinnock, I actually like much of what he has to say, but have some difficulties with him as well. Although, in comparison with the wide world of theology, I have less of a bone to pick with him than I do with most. For starters, he affirms the relationality of God, and the premium He places on love and freely given submission, as opposed to law-abiding obedience. He also highlights both the authority given to humanity on the earth under God, and the desire for partnership in God's kingdom project...

The first point of disagreement is minor, I think he is unclear in what exactly he claims about God's attributes. Depending on just what he means by his terms then either he is (or is not) imbalanced in his approach to God, but the greater difficulties lie in the starting point (asking theological questions instead of asking textual questions) and in the method (systematizing scripture instead of narrating it). Finally, he has avoided engagement with many conversation partners that he must engage to show the veracity of his conceptual framework.


He affirms the terms 'omniscient and omnipotent' but denies 'sovereignty and foreknowledge.'

To me that seems a little odd. The words he affirms seem even stronger than (and inclusive of) the terms he denies. I need to hear clarification on this.


He seems (depending on what exactly he means with the previous terms) to go too far afield from what seems a balanced reading of the texts. It seems obvious that his dialogue partners are the Calvinists and that he is essentially offering a counter-point to their theology. In doing so, however, he seems to make the same mistake that they do. The Open Theistic denial of God's sovereignty (just like the Calvinist's denial of creaturely freewill) is to cut the ties between two truths that scripture seems to have bound together. I believe that the tension that comes from holding to two seemingly opposite truths is actually a healthy tension.

Starting Point:

It seems that his starting point, and methods, are a category mistake. As though God meant to give us a list of theological questions with their corresponding answers, but then accidentally gave us a collection of poems, narratives, personal letters, and ancient public health codes. (Sorry, tongue in cheek there!)

His starting point is essentially to ask questions about the nature of God. It seems rather he should be asking questions about the nature of scripture. In taking scripture seriously we would be paying more attention to the substance of the text itself; giving just as much time and effort to understanding the questions scripture is asking, as the answers it is offering. If the starting point is scripture itself, I think he would ask some different questions that would lead to some subtly different answers. Although, I must say, I see his answers as much closer to the correct ones as others who ask the same kind of questions he asks. (I think the Calvinists ask the same questions he asks, but give very different answers.)


This ties directly into the last point. Instead of approaching scripture on its own terms he takes the systematic approach. I think this is not exactly wrong-headed, and it certainly has its helpful place, but a much better approach would be the narrative one (in fact, at the end of the day, I think the narrative approach gives us much of the same picture of God and faith that he offers without some of the difficulties that arise from his book.)

Intentional Polarization:

This ties in to the first point. He has really only engaged with the Calvinists, which allows no real nuance to be developed in his thought. He needs to engage with Orthodox and Roman Catholic thought, Kingdom theology, the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition, and then he will be forced to clarify...

CCDA in Buffalo


First Person, Plural, Possessive...

This week I heard a friend (Jason Clark a UK Vineyard pastor) discuss how important the move is from 'your church,' to 'my church' in the language of church members.  He talked about the importance of that shift in language, and how rare it often is.  He went on, however, to talk about how much more rare, and even more important, is the shift from 'my church' to 'our church.'

I couldn't agree more...


(Click on the title for a link to the wikipedia entry on Ubuntu, it is worth it.)

(and thanks to Harvey for getting me thinking about this.)


"COGITO ERGO SUM. (I think therefore I am.)"
-Rene Descartes

"UBUNTU. (I am what I am because of who we all are.)"

"A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed."
-Bishop Desmond Tutu


Descartes' words have been often called the bedrock assumption upon which modern Western thought is based; radical skepticism forming a basis upon which we can build our conceptual framework, and ultimately our lives, without fear that we are building a house of cards on nothing but air. We start with only that of which we are absolutely certain and build from there; it is a fundamental tenet of Western rationality.

...yet, there is a cost (perhaps more than one, but here we discuss one) the starting point for this line of reasoning is fundamentally individualistic. In pursuing this line of rationality we deny our own communal and relational nature. In fact, some might argue that we even deny what is basic to our humanity.

I will close with more of Bishop Tutu's words on the subject:

"One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity."


Share YOUR Story...

Check out this link, Jason Clark is a friend of mine, and this is a worthy project.