questions.

6 Jun

The following post may also be viewed at In A Spacious Place, written by Christopher Page, and is a response from Brian McLaren’s presentation in Victoria, BC.  May it serve the purpose of generating healthy discussion as we seek to follow The Way of Jesus.

As I think about the weekend with Brian McLaren, I am struck by a problem common to many presentations given by visiting experts who fly in from another context and present their insights relating to church or almost any area of human endeavour – it is easier to deconstruct than to construct, to criticize than to create.

Brian offers a brilliant and insightful critique of a style of Christian presentation that is based upon an unwarranted self-confidence. He rejects a tone in Christian evangelism that is arrogant, belligerent, argumentative, and fear-based. He critiques the narrow-minded literalism that declares if you don’t agree with me, you are going to burn in hell.

Instead, Brian pleads for a Christian presentation that is respectful, open, spacious, and rooted in love and compassion. Brian is not primarily interested in a rescue mission focused on securing the promise of heaven for those who sign on to the church’s designated dogmas. He is more interested in inviting all people to share in God’s healing transforming work for all of creation in the present.

The problem of course is that Brian is short on specifics. To be fair, “specifics” are only possible when they emerge from the context in which they need to be embodied. And Brian does not live on the West Coast of Canada, so should not be expected to be able to tell us exactly how to embody the principles he presents. There is a great danger when people or communities take a vision from one time or location and attempt to impose it directly upon their own situation without seriously considering the uniqueness of their own context.

It is the job of those of us who do live here and who find ourselves encouraged by the general direction of Brian’s vision to seek the guidance of God’s Spirit in finding out how we are called to embody this vision in our own time and place.

So here are some of the questions to which I need to listen after hearing Brian McLaren speak:

What are the deep questions of the heart to which people around me are genuinely seeking answers? How can I hear the real questions people have rather than imposing the questions upon them that I think they should be asking?

What makes me defensive in conversation? What do I need to do to deal with my defensiveness so that I might be able to provide a safe listening space for people who might want to enter into real conversation?

How am I being called to serve people outside the church without agenda, without demand, and without conditions?

What keeps me from being honest with people outside the church and allowing them to be as honest with me as they might like to be? How might I be placing barriers in the way of people being really honest with me about their deepest experiences of life?

What might be the differences between argument and dialogue/conversation? If there are differences between argument and dialogue/conversation, which might be the more effective approach to entering into communication with people outside the church? How do I recognize when I have moved from dialogue/conversation to argument?

What might people see in my life that might lead them to conclude that they might become worse people than they already are if they join me in the church?

“Is there a way to have faith without becoming close-minded, bigoted, anti-something?” What might this look like? Do I have to abandon all my passionately held convictions in order to avoid becoming “close-minded, bigoted, anti-something”?

What might the church look like if we put belonging before believing and viewed belonging as the way into faith rather than faith as the prerequisite to membership? How do we communicate that we are interested in making it easier for people to belong without demanding that they sign on the dotted line of every Christian doctrine first?

What behaviour in my church community might make the church an unsafe place for a person to find a sense of belonging?

“What do spiritual seekers need from us?”

How do we crate an open spacious place where people are invited to enter a conversation rather than join an institution that has something to defend and needs volunteers to keep its life going?

What quadrant does my faith community most naturally fit into: Liturgical, Social Action, Evangelical, Charismatic? How might my community be encouraged to draw in a more balanced way on the quadrants that are less instinctively comfortable?

Which of these qualities need to be developed in my community in order for us to be a more hospitable space?

1. it has a sense of humility
2. it is an integrating place
3. there is an openness to and a hunger for change
4. there is a focus on mission and spiritual formation
5. there is serious theological reflection
6. there is a growing sense of crisis, emergence and opportunity

What do I need in order to be able to “hold a high level of identity and yet maintain a high level of welcome”? What would a community look like that is characterized by “a high level of identity and yet maintain a high level of welcome”?

How do clergy as “priests to and for the church,” enable disciples to become “priests from and of the church”? How am I as a disciple called to be a priest “from and of the church” in the world?

What might we be doing in the church that causes people to feel that the gospel we present is aimed at saving them from God, rather than drawing them into a life of compassion and wisdom in which they are empowered to share with God in saving all creation from “the evil inflicted upon it by the world”?

How can the church embody God’s call to share in saving all creation from “the evil inflicted upon it by the world”?

Continue to reexamine our faith by exploring Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming The Faith. It is quite possibly the most influential book to come out in a long time, both practically and theologically.

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9 Responses to “questions.”

  1. Cara C. June 6, 2010 at 9:43 AM #

    Great questions Michael…really makes you start to think about how we can change our response and show that we really care for those we are supposed to be “fishing” for.

  2. Jerome Graber June 6, 2010 at 2:51 PM #

    Hey Michael, it’s been a while since we’ve chatted. How you been?

    Here’s the thing: I appreciate some of the specific things that McLaren has to say. I agree that we as Christians too often try to win people purely with the strength of our arguments instead of by first showing them genuine love and compassion. But I have a serious problem with his basic premise, at least as I understand it.

    I do not wish to turn my church into a gathering of people who are seeking answers to the felt needs in their life, some of whom hopefully will consider the gospel if all the other answers turn up short. I want my church to be a place where believers are equipped to take advantage of the opportunities God has placed in their lives to live out the Great Commission.

    I do not want to turn the message of my church into one of asking unregenerate people to join us in some meta-environmental movement to “save creation from the evil inflicted on it by the world.” I do want to speak crystal clear the message that all people are personally sinners, personally under God’s righteous judgment, and that God Himself has provided the way for each one who wishes to come into a personal saving relationship with Him through faith in Jesus.

    Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing wrong with social clubs, and there is nothing wrong and many things right with Christians joining groups and clubs in order to create opportunities to dialogue about spiritual matters with seekers. But that is not what the Church is, nor should it seek to turn itself into that.

    • The WayWard Follower June 6, 2010 at 11:33 PM #

      What then is the church, according not to the institutionalized tradition of men (even godly ones), but according to Jesus?

      What is the Gospel, as defined (and lived) by Jesus?

      How does your answer to these questions shape your faith and theology? Is it possible for others to have different answers to the same questions (and therefore differently defined faiths and theologies) or are they absolutely black and white?

      How would Jesus answer these questions in our current cultural context and climate?

  3. Jason June 7, 2010 at 1:40 PM #

    “What quadrant does my faith community most naturally fit into: Liturgical, Social Action, Evangelical, Charismatic? How might my community be encouraged to draw in a more balanced way on the quadrants that are less instinctively comfortable?”

    I think that this is a good question. I think a better question is: How can the strengths of my faith community benefit the other faith communities in our geographical area, and how can the weaknesses of my faith community be sharpened by the strengths of those faith communities around us? I think we, attenders of local congregations, need to grow in seeing ourselves and each other as different and equally important parts of the same body.

  4. Jerome Graber June 7, 2010 at 6:12 PM #

    //What then is the church, according not to the institutionalized tradition of men (even godly ones), but according to Jesus?//

    The Church is the Body of Christ, which by definition consists solely of the regenerate. There is only one Church.

    Now that definition of the true Church should govern our thinking about what the local congregation should be. It is, first and foremost, a congregation of BELIEVERS. A healthy congregation will be training its members to be salt and light, so that they will go out into the world and be effective witnesses for Christ. But the local church is not supposed to be one option among many for unbelievers to go to get their felt needs met.

    //What is the Gospel, as defined (and lived) by Jesus?//

    That question, as it is worded, could tend to be misleading. The four gospels were written as further instruction for the new believers who had already believed the Gospel but had not personally witnessed Jesus’ ministry.

    The Gospel message preceded the gospel of Mark (the first to be written) by at least 2 decades. And that message is both simple and clear. “Repent, and turn to God, and prove your repentance by your good works” is the way Paul put it.

    Or as Peter put it even earlier: “Therefore be assured of this, God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. [therefore} repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the promise of the Holy Spirit.” With many other words he warned them and pleaded with them, “save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

    This is what must come first.

    //How does your answer to these questions shape your faith and theology?//

    it is the basis and cornerstone of everything else. Any attempt to “live out” Christian principles without first experiencing regeneration thru repentance and faith is not just futile; according to Paul it repellent by God.

    //Is it possible for others to have different answers to the same questions (and therefore differently defined faiths and theologies) or are they absolutely black and white?//

    It depends on what you mean by this. Paul said explicitly that if anyone teaches any other Gospel than the one he taught, that person is cursed of God. There can only ever be one Gospel.

    Having said that, of course there can be more than one way to express this message. Peter preached from the OT to the Jews; while Paul made reference to Greek poets and the idol to “The Unknown God” in his preaching without so much as a mention of OT scripture. But the essence of the message was unchanged.

    //How would Jesus answer these questions in our current cultural context and climate?//

    In English, and using modern metaphors in his parables, I’m sure. But the message itself would still be the same.

  5. The WayWard Follower June 11, 2010 at 9:26 AM #

    @Jerome: I believe you and I have slightly different definitions of the terms Church and Gospel (and therefore arrive at drastically different opinions of the purpose of each).

  6. ? June 15, 2010 at 2:38 PM #

    Wow u email blast people about a new blog post. Sum 1 is full of themselves.

    • The WayWard Follower June 16, 2010 at 7:41 AM #

      If you would provide me with your name and e-mail address, I’d be more than happy to take you off the list.

    • <@:) clown hat, swirly hair, smiley face. June 29, 2010 at 2:15 PM #

      bitter much? it’s gonna be okay, just don’t read it if you are so upset. no need to be mean though.

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