I got copied on an email today from Jeff Carr, a Nazarene Pastor and C.O.O. for Sojourners that directed me to an open letter he wrote to Dr. James Dobson on beliefnet.com. The letter can be found at this link for you to read and comment on.
The letter reflects a growing sentiment of disappointment that many evangelicals, including those who are widely respected like Dr. Dobson, have lost their way by confusing the good news of the gospel with that of partisan politics.
Dr, Dobson has been a unique leader and Christian spokesman over the years because his message really seems to have come from a genuine love and concern for people, particularly families. However as his influenced grew, somewhere along the way he tied himself so close to the conservative right that the Christian message of hope he once spoke has become swallowed up with the “us” verse “them”, anti liberal and Democrat rhetoric of the Republican party.
Ironically just last night my wife and I caught an episode of “Moyers on America” called “Is God Green” that talked about how there is a growing movement of Christians who were becoming more concerned and active in taking part in environmental issues. Toward the end of the episode it was pointed out that a group of Christian leaders, including more mainstream pastors such as Rick Warren, proposed the "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action". Personally, I applaud this kind of effort, but regardless of your view on our Christian responsibility for stewardship of God’s creation I was shocked by Dr. Dobson’s response to it.
Moyars program played a clip of Dobson saying that he believes that this action “divides evangelicals” and the “net effect is anti capitalistic and a hatred for America.” OK, stop for a second…..all I want to do is shout, “say what”?? The second statement Dobson says seems more fitting as political rhetoric that would come from Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. How in the world has Dobson managed to slide in among these voices as such an extreme Republican cheerleader that he would consistently use language that equates liberals and the Democratic Party with being un-American; and even worse “non Christian”?
I think the answer can be found in his first statement that expressed concern that supporting positions that typically are embraced by the Democratic Party such as environmental issues “divides evangelicals”. It most certainly does divide evangelicals in a political sense because it threatens the current monopoly on so called “Christian values” that Republicans want to keep in order to maintain a large part of their political base. I say this not to vilify the Republican Party; Democrats are just as eager to polarize issues in order to grow and maintain a loyal base and constituency. But here is the problem; Dobson’s concern seems more interested in not dividing a political base than being concerned for dividing the issues that many Christians feel they should support as disciples of Christ.
It is the buying into political partisanship that divides Christian values and issues and asks us to choose between some of the things we value over other things we value. In reality I know that real life sometimes requires us to prioritize some things over others in any given circumstances, but aligning ourselves with partisan politics asked us to do this categorically and based on an allegiance to a political party.
A well meaning Dr. Dobson has fallen into a trap that most of our evangelical brethren have fallen into in this country. We have traded our birthright to be the children of God that live the Kingdom of heaven here on earth, for a bowl of soup in the form of a few pet political issues of one political party. I am not saying we should swap bowls of soup and swear our allegiance to the Democrat’s brand; I am saying that we should not allow our values as disciples of Christ to be divided and picked through by partisan politics. Our first allegiance must be to the Kingdom of Heaven and standing out in this world as its good citizens.
I think Dr. Dobson started out wanting to love people and families in a way that reflects the gospel and the Kingdom of God. His message was about loving one another as Christ loves us and he suggested practical ways to show that love to spouses, children and our neighbors. Now his message equates Christianity with the Republican Party and Democrats with the Devil. There is no doubt that this is far off course and Christians are beginning to ask if we can turn this thing around and if not many are willing to jump ship in order to start swimming in the right direction. I do not know if Dr. Dobson himself will stop and ponder open letters that address these things like the one Jeff Carr wrote; I sure hope he does. In the mean time let us not let politics hinder us from exploring what it means to really be a disciple of Christ in today’s world.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I got copied on an email today from Jeff Carr, a Nazarene Pastor and C.O.O. for Sojourners that directed me to an open letter he wrote to Dr. James Dobson on beliefnet.com. The letter can be found at this link for you to read and comment on.
Jesse Middendorf is a General Superintendent for the Church of the Nazarene. Jon Middendorf is a pastor at Oklahoma City First CotN, specifically overseeing the Kaleo Community congregation there. They are father and son, respectively. They agreed to have an intergenerational dialogue in front of the rest of us, with Dave Curtiss, the NYI Director of the US/Canada Region.
Dave jumped right into it with the question, "Do you sense a tension between the CotN and the emergent movement?" In part of his answer to this question, Jon talked about something for which I have been craving for years - "coming to a greater understanding of words like salvation, holiness, etc." (I would add many others to this - sanctification, entire sanctification, heaven, hell, and even "Christian.") This is a need to "have conversation all over again."
As I reflect upon it, I suppose this is a great part of what drew me into the emergent conversation. In college, I really began to wrestle with my faith in light of my life. Salvation = asking Jesus to forgive my sins and Sanctification = a full commitment to not sinning and Heaven = the place I go after I die. These just didn't make sense and certainly weren't spiritually satisfying. So as I began to learn truer, fuller definitions, I learned a whole lot more about who Jesus is and what his Kingdom seeks (and that I had a lifetime of learning and discipleship ahead of me). And so as I wondered how a fifth generation Nazarene could miss out on so many of the essentials of the Kingdom, I found that I wasn't alone - either within my tradition or in other traditions.
Jess often stopped answering and gave explanation or commentary on the emergent discussion. This was his first session with us, so he may not have known who was there and the emergent exposure represented. Nonetheless, as he did this, I was encouraged to see that he did know what he was talking about and that he had wrestled with a lot of what we were wrestling with. One such statement was: "There isn’t one emergent movement. There are movements. This is important…"
Jess said, "In regards to our theology, we should be in a continual dialogue with new generations…"
Jess said, “The Church of the Nazarene is only a part of a larger church…”. I'm glad he mentioned this. It is inherent to who we are in non-essentials and is bluntly stated early in the Manual (look at pages 35-36 and then page 39). While I would re-word much of it, the implications are there. I remember a mentor of mine telling me in college that she had once read through the Manual and decided on her own that she "agreed" with what she read, so she remained a member of the CotN. I have since read the whole thing (a number of times, I imagine), and while there are some things I would have written differently (or more often, left out), and indeed some theological statements I think need complete revision, there was nothing that I couldn't subscribe myself to. See, that's part of what's important to me - authenticity. If I'm going to be a part of this tribe, I'm going to mean it (John 4:23).
There were a number of times that Jon stated this phrase in one way or another: “relationship not as a means to an end, but the means and the end.”
And one time when Jess agreed with the statement, Jon quickly interjected, "Then that means we’re going to have to re-think membership…" I almost stood up and shouted "Amen," but that would have been so un-emergent of me and very Nazarene.
Jess made a point that I think we all need to heavily consider. If we really like to talk about the universal catholic Church, then, “We can’t limit this discussion to white,
I have this quote attributed to Jon in my notes, but I really think it was his father. Either way, it was a good statement: “It would be an utter tragedy for the Church of the Nazarene to withdraw from the conversation of the emergent church. I think the dialogue is energizing us.”
A great discussion surrounded "measurements of success." (Jon at one point said “count less, party more.” That's Kingdom thinking.) Perhaps some of you were a part of or at least read the lengthy discussion at Nazarene Roundtable on a certain denominational magazine that begins with "G" and ends with "ROW". (It appears my fears are being realized that this "conference" may indeed make an appearance in that publication. In addition to many other things, I just hope it doesn't begin the Nazarenification, "boxing and shipping out" of all things emergent.) The fact that every Nazarene pastor in the US-Canada gets a free monthly reminder that their church sucks in comparison to a couple of others just doesn't seem to build the Kingdom. Not only that, but some of what is upheld within the numbers games doesn't even bring the Kingdom to fruition, but is wholly contrary to it. Statistics are useful, not prescriptive.
Jon – used the Isaiah 11 image of “lions and lambs” again and again.
I'm very glad that both Jon & Jesse were there and that they (especially Jesse) were willing to be put in the discussion.
Posted by Jeremy Scott at 12:13 PM
Susan Cox-Johnson is the District Superintendent of the Heartland North District United Methodist Church. She is also the leader of the Kansas City Emergent Cohort under the Emergent Village "umbrella."
Susan was a welcome burst full of energy at the end of a long day of sitting and listening. I honestly can't remember her "assigned" topic (or if there even was any). I was much encouraged by her presence there. While the little bit of "emergence" in me cringes at talk of individualistic church hierarchy, the fact that there are people like Susan out there in positions of leadership within denominations is encouraging. I tend to think that there are higher office leaders within the CotN as well, but the invitation to a UMC D.S. was well-placed.
I can't even remember much of her own presentation other than that it somewhat followed up on Hal Knight's discussion surrounding Wesley-Emergent parallels, but I do remember conversation that sparked after her presentation. One leader asked something to the effect of how far can/will the parallels go: Will there be room within denominationalism for the emergent in the long run (as there apparently wasn't for Methodism within the Church of England)? Susan reflects on this question at her blog (and the original questioner responded in the comments).
I asked a similar question. I said something to the effect of: "These past two days have begun and ended in an interesting way. We began with Tim Keel who doesn't have to deal with a lot of what we're talking about - he began a community devoid of a denomination. And here you are today - a leader in a high office within a denomination. While I've committed myself to a church community within my denomination, can you give some encouragement as to why those of us loving the emergent discussion should stay within the red-taping structures and systems of a denomination that so often seem to hinder much of what is great about the discussion?" I barely remember her answer, but I think it had something to do with all the things which I've already considered...and things that bring me little encouragement - "tradition, safe structure, etc."
I don't need the tradition of a denomination. Tradition of the Church? Yes, I want it. But the "tradition" of a denomination seems to so much more often be related to the traditionalism of which Pelikan writes - "dead faith of the living."
I'm very glad that Susan Cox-Johnson was invited. You can read some of her thoughts on the session at her blog.
Posted by Jeremy Scott at 11:46 AM
Sean Heston is the pastor of University Church and Faith CotN in Lawrence, KS.
Sean's session was labeled "different:church". He challenged us to conversation amongst the group more than any other presenter, which I appreciated (though I didn't say anything, I don't think). Sean was a good follow-up to Brian and briefly presented on different ways/methods/fruitions/expressions of "church."
He then asked those present to mention ways in which they see the church "happening" in pragmatic and real ways. Various things were mentioned. At first, it was mostly building-sharing, but once Sean pushed us further, other stories came about. One associate pastor in front talked about how her community decided that they were going to bring presents to strippers in local clubs (on Valentine's Day, none the less - I find it quite poetic). Sean himself talked about some of the people in his community going dumpster diving for a certain national "warm break & coffee" chain's throwaway fresh bread to bring to the regular food gathering for those who need it. The normal "we could go to bars" topic came up, and the expected Nazarene rebuttal surfaced that we need to be careful who we take and when (though it was a quiet minority in this crowd - for once).
Again, I ask myself - "Why do we have to get together to figure these things out?" We shouldn't have to, but we do have to. The regular (daily, weekly, district, and general) structures that have paralyzed us for years now just seem to too often squeeze out our ability and call to bring the essence of the Kingdom of God to fruition.
I was looking forward to Sean's time because though we ministered miles from each other while I was in Kansas, and I knew what he was doing, we never got the time to get together to talk (though we tried). Anyway, I've always been glad to hear of what Sean's doing within the CotN and I'm glad he was there last week.
Posted by Jeremy Scott at 11:05 AM
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Brian Hull is the Coordinator for Nazarene Youth Congress of Nazarene Youth International. He came to speak about "Missionary Questions: The Beginning and Future of Emerging Churches."
I honestly don't remember too much from Brian's presentation (something about being soon after lunch). I do remember thinking "this sounds a lot like Rob Bell" (not in terms of presentation, but thinking). For instance, Brian talked along the lines of "not bringing Christ to individuals" but "finding Christ where he already is." I think I do remember Brian challenging those there (not that most of us needed) it to drastically re-think current structures of evangelism. Of course, this didn't begin with Hull or Bell. The Apostle Paul (and Peter) demonstrate this to us in scripture. And then, of course, there's this guy Jesus (discussion with Samaritan woman, parable of the good neighbor).
Underlying all of this is the hard realization for evangelical followers of Christ that we don't hold a monopoly on all things Christ. The Kingdom of God is way bigger than we know it to be and ever will be able to know this side of final consummation (whatever that may look like). And as our initiator, James Diggs says, "We need to stop blocking citizens of the Kingdom from our part of the Kingdom." (It was something like that, James...)
I appreciate Brian, what he's doing, and that he is a voice in an important place for the CotN. (For his own reflections on the week, see his blog.)
Posted by Jeremy Scott at 9:46 AM
Dean Blevins is Professor of Christian Education at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. He has participated on this blog with us before. Dean came to speak about "Discipleship in a Postmodern World."
Dean used the journey of Dorothy into Oz as an image of entering into discipleship in a postmodern context.
He made note of four post-modern shifts. The first was in knowledge, from abstract propositions ("mind-think") to embodied convictions and virtues ("body-speak"). Sounds like holiness to me. The second was in process, from cognition to imagination. The third was in delivery (of knowledge, message, idea, etc.) from a didactic and reproducing format to a narrative/collaborative format (echoing so many - Keel the night before, Hauerwas years before, and I'm sure many others). The last shift was one of context from compartments and classes ("systems and structures"?) to pilgrims and communities, foreshadowing conversations to come later in the day and the next morning.
As inherent to the discussion, Dean listed the aspects of community, journey, narratives, virtues, practices, discernment, and missional engagement.
Lastly, he talked about "discipleship as journey."
In reflecting on this short session, I again most struck by how much of a return to something most of the emergent discussion is than anything new. Personally, with this realization comes the puzzling question, "Where, when, and why did we miss these things?"
I appreciate Dean's call to his denomination and his presence last week.
Posted by Jeremy Scott at 9:33 AM
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Hal Knight is Professor of Wesleyan Studies at St. Paul's School of Theology in Kansas City, MO. His most notable work is perhaps A Future for Truth: Evangelical Theology in a Postmodern World. He came to speak about the parallels and contrasts between the emergent conversation/movement and the early development of Methodism by John & Charles Wesley.
I think that I enjoyed this session the most of those on the second day. Hal simply read a paper that he had written on the subject. Since I was able to find the paper quickly through Google (you can see it here), I was able to follow along with him as he read. Even though it was not his main intent, his paper is perhaps one of the most comprehensive brief descriptions of the emergent conversation that I have read. Though there may be as many explanations of emergence as there are people exposed, I would encourage anyone especially confused to read his paper.
Regardless, in terms of the subject at hand (remember, emergent in relation to Wesley), Hal was great. I'll briefly summarize his paper and presentation (and while I strongly recommend that you all go read the short paper, I realize that links to other writings seem to die around here).
Hal is ordained in the United Methodist Church, and at the beginning of his paper, Hal writes,
"I believe Wesleyans should welcome the emerging church. I say this not because the leaders of emerging churches come from Wesleyan backgrounds—most, in fact, do not. Wesleyans should support this new movement because the purposes and values emerging churches seek to embody—their vision of discipleship, church and mission—is highly congruent with those of the Wesleyan Tradition. We have, I think, much to learn from emergent churches, and perhaps something to contribute as well."
One parallel that he highlights is the emergent emphasis on radical discipleship after the person of Jesus Christ in relation to Wesley's insistence that salvation is a "present thing" and will result in a holiness of heart and life now. Hal mentions that this aspect of emergence is not necessarily described by a "post-", but rather is a contemporary expression of an old thing (i.e.: social justice in relation to world poverty is a contemporary expression of what our forebearers did with abolition or womens' rights).
Another parallel was the emphasis on a "generous orthodoxy" by the emergent with the "catholic spirit" of Wesley.
Hal made several other parallels that I just can't summarize here since he said them so succinctly. Read the paper.
An obvious parallel might be the fact that neither the "leaders" of the emergent conversation nor the Wesleys sought to begin a new "church" or "denomination" (though we know that many within the emergent conversation have moved to begin new local churches.
I wonder how far the parallels can go - will the emergent eventually be boxed into a denomination? I don't know. I tend to think not since then it really would no longer adhere to one of the main aspects of emergence - devoidance of denominationalism. Of course...perhaps Wesley would have said the same.
Hal also made some distinctions between the two, most notably that early Methodism was characterized by a hierarchy of top-down leadership, a feature that the emergent shun.
I'm very glad that Hal was there and appreciated his presentation and support.
Posted by Jeremy Scott at 8:39 PM
Jay Akkerman, Professor of Pastoral Theology & Spiritual Formation at Northwest Nazarene University began the second day. His presentation was focused around how he and some others have begun the Table, "a missional order of faith, hope & love for the sake of all people." I had not yet heard of this community. It is self-proclaimedly not a church (my question, in my head alone, was...what do they mean by that? Of course they're a church). I appreciate their model (see their website to read about it).
The same tension arose for me in this session - "Okay, then what about the local Church of the Nazarene?" Jay and the others at the Table are pretty adamant that they are not beginning a local "church." I felt a concern to avoid interference with the regular structures already present for those involved in local churches. What's it mean to be a "member" of a community then?
I don't know, even as I type and think about this, perhaps they have a good model for transition in the Church of the Nazarene. Brian Postlewait and others are working on the Order of Saint Stephen, which doesn't appear to be the beginnings of a local church either. Can we begin by not "interfering" with long-held structures but with groups of Nazarenes doing a new thing outside of Sunday School Reporting, District Assembly adherence, and budget paying?
I appreciated seeing Jay's community and how God is forming them in Idaho. I'm glad he was invited to speak.
Posted by Jeremy Scott at 3:12 PM
I've had the chance to attend the Missional Leaders in an Emerging Culture Conversation at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, October 24-26, 2006. I will try and post separately about each session. There was a facilitator for each session. The time so far has been way more presentation than it has been "conversation," but I'm writing this at about 1:00 PM on the middle day, so perhaps there will be more opportunity for conversation and dialogue.
Tim Keel is a pastor of Jacob's Well, perhaps one of the "premiere" emergent churches in the country. He is on the Board of Directors for the Emergent Village. He was the first "facilitator" for the group.
At the beginning, it was demonstrated in a number of ways the "experience" or exposure to postmodern thought and the emergent church of the people present. There was a wide range of exposure represented, which I think is good. Nonetheless, I think this led Tim to explain much of "post-ism" that many of us had already heard. You know, this is the Neo-tian, Sweet-ish discussion around what the transition from modernity to postmodernity looks like in general culture (Western, I'd say) and then for the Church. Tim spent much time on post-modernity, post-Christendom, and post-Enlightenment.
Before I continue, let me explain a little bit as to why I even came to Kansas City for this "conversation." I didn't expect much ground-breaking discussion or fresh and new concepts. I did however, come to show support to what I think is an important conversation for the Church of the Nazarene to have. I also came to see what response is right now within the CotN. I am looking forward to tomorrow's "generational conversation" between General Superintendent Jesse Middendorf and his son Jon Middendorf, pastor of the Kaleo Community, a congregation of Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene. I also came in hope that I could see how others have at least begun transition in the local setting within the Church of the Nazarene, because it is here that I have really struggled. It's not necessarily that I haven't or don't know what to do, it's that I know that when I do it, I have been or will be subverting long-held traditions that most think "identify" the Church of the Nazarene.
That said, Tim Keel had little to offer me this night. I love the man. His community was one that began me on a certain journey when I worshipped with them last winter. When it comes down to it, there are few who have actually succeeded well with taking this whole emergent conversation and living it within a local community. But for us, he's perhaps a poor example for transition. He made no transition. Jacob's Well was begun devoid of a denomination. This is not the world in which I am living.
So I asked him after the session if he misses "denomination." I asked him, "Why should I stay where I'm at?" It really wasn't a fair question and I couldn't have expected a fair answer. Perhaps I wanted him to say, "Yes, I miss the denomination." He didn't. He told me that was a question he couldn't answer and that I would have to find that out for myself, in my local context.
Speaking of local context, I appreciated Tim's very intentional and often-repeated statement that the emergent church and specifically Jacob's Well cannot be boxed up, shipped out, and repeated anywhere. He stated that Jacob's Well has worked at West 42nd Street but that it wouldn't work at West 43rd Street. There was an underlying (and once even explicit) theme that he was not there to tell us how it's done (i.e. WC, PDC, Alpha, etc.). So his encouragement was to seek the narrative of the local community (at large and church) to find out how this all might begin to work.
I'm glad Tim was here and I appreciate NTS inviting him.
Posted by Jeremy Scott at 2:09 PM