Jonny Baker Coming to Oklahoma

Check this out, it is really exciting. November 6-8, 2008 the Oklahoma United Methodist Young Adult Council will be bringing Jonny Baker to Oklahoma to lead a worship workshop. He will lead those who attend in workshops, conversation, and the hands-on creation of an alternative worship experience. Even more exciting, this experience will be opened to the public in Bricktown in Oklahoma City on that Friday night. This is terrific news, and I expect this to be a huge event. So, mark your calendars, and I’ll try to get more information out as it comes.

Walk to Emmaus

I had an incredible time at the Walk to Emmaus this weekend. It was really interesting going back as an Assistant Spiritual Director on something that had such an incredible impact on my life several years ago. Believe it or not, I think this retreat really has some important connections with the sensibilities of the emerging movement. It is ecumenical, eucharistically focused, and embedded in faithful practices such as prayer. It also features experiential worship and table fellowship. Sounds emergent to me…heck we even have lectio divina. Perhaps these central practices and one of the reasons it has such a profound impact on the men and women who participate.

So, you might ask, after such a spiritually challenging and renewing weekend, what am I doing now? Working on Charge Conference stuff for my churches! Oh well, didn’t Jesus say, “The paperwork you’ll have with you always,” or something like that. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong!

Franchising United Methodist Churches?

I don’t know how comfortable I am with the franchising language used here, but I do wonder if this might be a real possibility for United Methodist congregations? Can you imagine this happening in your conference? Would people attend and grow as disciples at “Windsor Village UMC, Oklahoma City?” What about “Church of the Resurrection, Tulsa?” Is this already happening in an informal way when churches pattern themselves after these larger congregations in other conferences?

I know this might sound strange or even too “commercial,” but I’ve often heard the idea that denominations are based on the idea of “local franchises” of the mother denomination. Let me know what you think. Is this a dangerous idea? Is this catering to crass commercialism? More pragmatically, would it work? If so, what are the theological concerns we need to think about?

Off-Road Disciplines

Off-Road DisciplinesI have been on a self-imposed book buying moratorium as I wait to begin my D.Min. program. Something tells me that I’ll be buying a lot of books during my time in that program, so I should save my book money for those. However, my trips to the local libraries just aren’t enough. I guess I’m too used to ordering stuff from at the drop of a hat! So yesterday when I went to Tulsa to take my truck back for a recall, I stopped by Cokesbury and bought a new book: Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders by Earl Creps.

So far, I am very impressed with this book. When I read books, I often think of the kind of person who would really benefit the most from reading it. For me, this book is an excellent introduction to postmodern/emerging concepts for those conservative or evangelical clergypersons who might be suspicious of these movements, but are still passionate about reaching people influenced by postmodernity in a missional way.  To be honest, this book seems to be written for an older audience.  I’m pretty sure the reason this might fit those types well is related to Creps’ socio-cultural context, which I mention a bit below.

Let me offer you a few great quotes from my early reading, as I’ve found myself underlining quite a bit so far. In the first chapter, Creps talks about the need to move from a centralized model of leadership (the big, authoritarian pastor model) to a model where Christ is at the center of our lives in missional communities. Unfortunately for us, he believes this shift is often, if not always, motivated by death of our dreams and ambitions.

A missional life, then, experiences the centrality of Christ as our failures expose the illusion that we merit the center position. Failure, among other forces, reveals this illusion for what it is, crucifying it and giving us the chance to invite Christ to assume the central role in practice, instead of just in doctrine (p. 10).

He continues later in the chapter with what I believe is the biggest danger for those of us who care about reaching people for Christ in creative and culturally-sensitive ways. Emerging Church “techniques” imposed on a community can easily devolve into what he describes here,

We like to transform things technologically, thinking of ministry as an instrumentality, ourselves as the CEO, the Holy Spirit as a sort of power cell, and the church as an object we modify. In so doing, we risk creating not much more than a hipper version of irrelevance (p. 14).

He closes this chapter with a challenge that speaks to me in a way that is painfully clear,

In it all, God calls me out of the center that He alone rightfully occupies, to let go of things I treasure, to meet Him among the marginalized where He is always most at work. I will meet Him there most profoundly if the transformation of my inner life is at stake (p. 14).

I really relate to a lot of what Creps is doing in this book. He is operating out of the Assemblies of God tradition and runs the D.Min. program at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, so I imagine he has many of the same challenges as those of us in mainline denominations who are used to doing things a certain way – especially those of us with more “conservative” theological pedigrees. No doubt he has plenty of challenges unique to his setting as well. In any case, I’m looking forward to continuing my conversation with Creps through this book, and I pray that God will continue to mold me into the missional leader I am called to be.

Happy Feast of Saint Cyril of Alexandria!

St. Cyril of AlexandriaWith apologies to my Nestorian brothers and sisters out there, today is June 27th, which we all know is the feast of Saint Cyril of Alexandria! Good old Cyril, Bishop/Saint/Doctor of the Church, was born in Alexandria, Egypt. He was most famous for his battle with the Nestorians.

The Catholic Online website recounts some of this battle, “In 430 Cyril became embroiled with Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, who was preaching that Mary was not the Mother of God since Christ was Divine and not human, and consequently she should not have the word theotokos (God-bearer) applied to her.”

The article at Catholic Online continues by describing more of Cyril’s work, “During the rest of his life, Cyril wrote treatises that clarified the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation and that helped prevent Nestorianism and Pelagianism from taking long-term deep root in the Christian community.”

Perhaps it is an appropriate day to think about the teaching role of bishops. Do you think our United Methodist bishops neglect this task? I know William Willimon and Timothy Whitaker are two sterling examples of teaching bishops. What about the rest? Should this be a central or important role for our episcopal leaders?

This feast day also makes me think about the post-modern movement of the Church. It is interesting that we are concerned to recover many early Christian practices, but we don’t seem to have a huge concern about apologetics. Don’t get me wrong, I know that for many this is considred a thoroughly modernist enterprise, but maybe we need to ask why it was also part of the pre-modernist enterprise. It seems that folks as early as Justin Martyr cared about apologetics, even though you’d never think he was a modernist.  If it is a premodern Christian practice, does it have a place in the post-modern emerging Church?

Anyway…happy feast day!

Is Technology Exclusive?

My last post led me to ask this question within the comments discussion. What do you think?

Are ministries that emphasize or take advantage of technological advances exclusive (i.e. They might not include those unable to afford or understand the technologies.) or inclusive (i.e. Are we simply ministering relevantly and including those on the ‘cutting edge’ technologically?)?

Is there a more nuanced way to look at this?


I find the account of Pentecost in Acts to be very interesting. One thing I’ve noticed is the interpretive model that Peter uses. There are three responses to the dynamic outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 1.) Confusion: as seen in the folks who asked, “What’s going on?” 2.) Skepticism demonstrated by the folks who said, “They’re just drunk…don’t we all speak foreign languages when we’re drunk? Don’t we?” and 3.) Peter’s interpretive act whereby he clarifies and interprets the event through the lens of Old Testament prophecy.

What is our response to strange events in our lives? Are we too confused to look for answers, do we respond with the same old staid skepticism, or are we steeped enough in the narrative of Scripture to interpret them through the lens of God’s ongoing drama of Salvation?

I’m pretty smitten with some of the post-modern/emergent ways of thinking, and I really appreciate the emphasis on mystery and awe found in that way of being the Church. However, sometimes I think we can over-mystify things to the point that we neglect placing them in the trajectory of God’s story of salvation. This passage seems to suggest that there are times that what seems confusing or strange, even mysterious, can be interpreted when placed in the right interpretive framework.

On another note, here are some helpful thoughts on Pentecost from Dan Clendenin.

What is Truth?

“…I was talking to a 17 or 18-year-old young man two or three years ago, and he said to me “I don’t understand all that controversy about the Virgin birth.” Keep in mind; this is a devout Christian kid. When I asked what he meant, he exclaimed, “Well of course I believe in it; it’s so absolutely beautiful, it has to be true whether it happened or not.”

I heard this quote the other day and tracked it back to Phyllis Tickle via the Christianity Today website and her interview “Blowing Holes in Spiritual Formation.” I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit ever since.

In connection with that, I read this piece on creationism and science on Peter Rollins blog. He talks about the way fundamentalists and classical scientific method folks are basically two sides of the same epistemological coin. I’ll allow Rollins to explain with his usual eloquence,

This means that beliefs such as a six-day creation, a fruit tree with the power to bestow knowledge of Good and Evil upon eating from it, a snake with the ability to talk, the transfiguration and the new Jerusalem descending from heaven all exist on the same mundane natural level as a phenomena such as snow falling on a winters evening and are, in principle, able to be proved true (or false) on scientific grounds (truth here being defined as ‘actual material occurrence’, i.e. if a video camera existed at the beginning we could have recorded the snake talking to Eve).

He then goes on to point out the similarities between two camps that are typcially seen as polar opposites,

Instead then of saying that evolutionism (by employing the ‘ism’ here I am referring to those who embrace a metaphysical naturalism which claims evolution as a fact) and creationism are opposed to one another, one can say that evolutionism and creationism are intimately joined together by their belief that reality is empirical and thus in the view that the only good beliefs are those which are factual. In a sense people like Dawkins and Harris are thus profoundly religious in the fundamentalist sense and thus closer to their supposed enemies than they think.

So, back to the original quote from Phyllis Tickle. I guess I’ve still got the old scientist’s thoughts imbedded somewhere. I agree that beauty is importantly connected to truth, but I’m not sure I can agree that what is beautiful is necessarily true. I realize here, that “true” is the point of question here. Is truth necessarily corrospondence to empirical reality?

Well, I’m not sure I’d want a doctor operating on me having the view of truth expressed by that teenager! Doctor, that suture isn’t in the right place! But nurse, it’s so beautiful, it has to be true. Oh yes, I see what you mean – fine stiching Fred. OK, OK…I know that some will suggest that we’re talking about two different fields: Theology and Science. But, I don’t think we should make the mistake of segregating the world into distinct spheres. What do you think? I’m open to conversation on this point.