Richard Sennett notes in his book the Fall of Public Man that as our culture secularised, instead of looking for meaning in the transcendent realm, we looked to the immanent and the immediate. Relationships became one the main arenas to which we looked for a sense of purpose. In contemporary culture the world of relationships, of sex, friendship, family, and marriage must now provide the solace and transcendence that God and religion did in the past. Sennett writes

‘When the relations cannot bear these burdens, we conclude there is something wrong with the relationship, rather than with the unspoken expectations.’

This is one of the factors behind the contemporary high divorce rate. A spouse must be intimate best friend, provide the emotional support of a therapist, be a supplier of constant sexual fulfilment, posses the economic security of a banker, and the moral guidance of a priest, whilst allowing enough relational distance so as not to impinge on their lovers personal autonomy.

As I read Sennett I began to wonder if we had done the same thing to the Church. Do we now attend Church with unrealistic expectations? Today there is a set of expectations that float around in which Church is meant to be mind blowing, to offer us incredible worship, life changing preaching, transforming community, intimate relationships, and awe inspiring opportunities for service. Ministers and Pastors feel this pressure, and increasingly their time is taken shaping Churches which promise us the world if we only will attend. This dynamic does not fulfil the great commission to make disciples, instead it only creates fickle consumers of religious goods and services and insecure, anxious and exhausted Pastors.

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The Myth of Modernist Christians VS Postmodern Christians

For the last ten to fifteen years a great fallacy has clouded debate around the future of the Church in the West. The fallacy goes something like this. At some stage (depending on who you talk to), but most likely in the nineteen nineties the post modern era began. All of a sudden everything changed and a line was drawn in history. On one side were the postmodernists and on the other the modernists. The modernists were enslaved to a highly cerebral, hegemonic view of the world. They were obsessed with progress and holding the world at a cold calculated distance. They were beholden to technology, and if they were religious were either dogmatic fundamentalists or materialist liberals. They hated anything non-Western or from the past, and lived in Le Corbusier designed buildings where they almost suffocated on their own sense of hubris.

Then there was the postmodernists and apparently they were coming so we had to be ready, or had to become postmodern ourselves. The young were postmodern and the future was postmodern. The postmodernists were everything that the modernists were not, they loved spirituality instead of religion, were embracing of the non-West, the past, and anything experiential. They had piercings and hated objective truth. The implications were clear, soon Western culture would morph into a giant rave where we would find ourselves dancing to tribal techno with an dreadlocked Austrian backpacker/Yoga practitioner named Helga.

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‘Crap’ For Christ: The Medium is the Message

There has been a lot of discussion about the  fake Martin Luther King quote floating around the net. Sadly these quotes from the leaders of The Crossing Church in Elk River are not fake, I wish they were.

When asked about giving away free cars to those who attend their church Pastor Kelly Dykstra says,

‘I will happily draw someone into Church using a false God.’

When quizzed about his Church giving away free TV’s and electronic goods in order to encourage people to follow Christ, Pastor Eric Dykstra replied,

“I have no problem bribing people with crap in order to meet Christ,”

See the full story here

The team at The Crossing Church could learn a lot from Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan was both a believer and prophetic analyst of media, and coined the term  ‘the medium is the message’. McLuhan noticed that during the Nixon vs JFK Presidential debate, those who listened on the radio felt that Nixon had clearly won the debate hands down, his arguments and content was the strongest. Yet those who watched the debate on TV, felt that JFK had won.

When asked why, viewers felt that JFK was more youthful, tanned, good looking, and energetic. In contrast Nixon was seen as old, pasty, stressed and tired. What the watching audiences did not know was that JFK had a team of make up artists working on his image. Nixon made the crucial error of passing on the option of make up, believing that people would take him on the strength of his content. No politican makes that mistake anymore.

McLuhan noted that in the age of television, and imagery, that content cannot be separated from the carrier, that the medium is the message. Therefore it is impossible to give away cars, playstation and plasmas and then tell people to give up everything and to die to self in order to follow Christ.

In simple terms I discovered this the other day, when I told my three year old daughter that she could not have an easter egg, while I was munching on one myself. She did not buy it! My actions worked against my message. So it is the same with our outreach. We must constantly ask how our actions and communications can work against the content of the gospel.

This of course raises thousands of questions. Which I do not have time to address in a short post. I do however wholeheartedly encourage you, if you have the time, to check out Marva Dawn’s excellent book Reaching Out without Dumbing Down. Which explores this tension with incredible grace, lashings of challenge, Biblical reflection and great intelligence. The first few chapters alone are worth the price of the book. Ok…now where did my make up team go?

Understanding Where We Stand in the Story

We are exposed to stories all the time. Tonight we will be exposed to yet another, the story of a common girl, who wins the heart of a Prince. Interestingly there seems to be far more interest in the Royal Wedding outside of the UK, in places like Australia and the US, where we have a whole generation raised on the repeated tellings of the disney princess story. The reason that so many will watch the marriage of Kate and William tonight is because it is in the news, there is blanket coverage, and so on. But many will watch because it taps into a deep hidden desire. A desire communicated to us through story since childhood.

In our Western secularized world we are surrounded by stories, stories that carry with them worldviews. The unimportant man made rich and famous by a force of will, the transformation and personal enlightenment that comes through pursuing pleasure without limits, the touch of heaven on earth that we can achieve through changing our exteriors.

We may read scripture, or hear it in Church, but often is fragmented. So many of our cultures good things are the fruit of an attempt to live out of the biblical story, but as time goes by, we as a people become distant from the story of God’s creation of, and involvement with the world.

That is why I believe it is essential that leaders, regularly take your Churches, small groups, ministries, teams through the story of the bible in a macro sense. In order to again understand the plot, the pace, the turns, the twists of the biblical narrative out of which we live. Yes we need more effective and more relevant Churches and ministries, but perhaps more importantly we need the people of God to live their lives out of the Biblical story.

Here are three great tool to use to help yourself or your people reorient themselves back into God’s story for the world.

Roshan Allpress and Andrew Shamy the Insect and the Buffalo is a light, readable, and yet deep introduction to the biblical story. Great to give to someone to give them an overview of the way the story of the Bible interacts with our lives.

Sean Gladding’s The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible is a fantastic retelling of the biblical story, the way you would have heard it you were sitting around a campfire in ancient Israel hearing the story of your people, or in the early Church hearing about the coming of Christ.

Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew’s The Drama of Scripture is a great starting point to understand the overall themes of scripture and the way that those themes interact with our daily lives. Goheen and Bartholomew use six acts–creation, sin, Israel, Christ, church, and new creation to help us navigate and grasp the overarching story.

At Red Church we plan to each year take our congregation through the overarching themes, in order to continual reorient ourselves. This Sunday the whole service will be geared around a dramatic retelling of the biblical story complete with images and spoken word. It is a good idea to do for your community. If you are in Melbourne feel free to drop by to see how it is done.

Location: 310 Elgar Rd, Box Hill, Australia 3129

Sun: 4:30 pm

The Radical Act of Remembering

“When we are young we are fascinated with our future worlds. That’s natural, since when we are young we possess no past, or none worth mentioning; but we possess an endless future stretching before us. But I am no longer young. When we are old, the future vanishes from our life to become replaced with death. Accordingly we become intrigued, rather, with the past. We have the same escapist urge we had as youngsters, but it takes us back, into memory”

Adam Roberts. Yellow Blue Tibia

“When your’e young, you think everything you do is disposable. You move from now to now, crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away. You’re your own speeding car.”

Margaret Atwood. The Blind Assassin

About ten years ago I saw in a magazine a list of what experts thought were the best 100 novels of the 20th century. I have since tried to work my way through most of them. As I did, I noticed that a theme kept creeping up again and again – the theme of memory. So many of the great works of art explore the idea of of time passing, the past and the act of remembrance.  Most of the writers who explore this theme I noticed were older, writers who were younger were far more interested in the experiential, be it romance, sex, war and adventure. But it seemed that ageing sharpened the senses, helping people realise what the real issues and questions of life were. I think this is in part what Proverbs 20:29 is getting at

The glory of young men is their strength, grey hair the splendour of the old.

Popular culture with all of its obsessions with Youth only focuses on the first part of this verse. Thus we are rarely confronted with the idea of remembering, instead Pop Culture focuses on the immediate and the sensate, demanding that we view the world through a myopic lens thus leading us up a garden path when it comes to our lives and our faiths. The Bible has a very different idea, it is a narrative which encompasses the past, the present and the future. It is future orientated but it also values the radical act of remembering. Israel was commanded to practice the passover each year in order to remember. Passover was and is a deeply counter cultural act of protest. It, through a wonderful set of symbols invites the participant to remember what God did in order to save Israel, it is a reminder that the the power of God is greater than the powers of the day.

Communion acts in the same way, it is a lived symbol, a reminder of Christ’s work on the cross, his defeat of sin, the powers and principalities of this world, and of death. When we partake of communion, we place ourselves in a long spiritual linage, with millions of others throughout history, it is a reminder that we are not just rugged individuals bumping around an atomised universe. Rather we are part of the fabric of God’s redemptive purposes in history.

Therefore the empires both governmental and media, wish us to remain in the moment, to stay in the ephemeral, to focus on their promises to deliver us a glitzy, wonderful future. The radical act of remembrance, reminds us that God has acted in the past, and that is why we know he will act again in the future. It reminds us that humans are fallen, that we cannot keep making the mistake of the builders of Babel. That our hope comes from an act that occurred two thousands years ago on a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem.


Spiritual Consumption vs Production

How are out spiritual lives like failing economies? What happens when contemporary faith becomes all about consumption but not about production? Is spiritual bankruptcy the inevitable result? How can the difference between Abraham and his father Terah help us sort ourselves out of our spiritual debt crisis? Why do I keep asking so many questions in this post? Check the vid people! Plus here are the photos of Detroit’s decline that I mention in the video.

The Flaying of the Missional Church Upon The Cathedrals of the Self

During the middle ages throughout Europe cathedrals sprang up, towering above villages, casting their shadows over the cities that had begun to emerge from the chaos of the Dark Ages. In contrast to the crumbing Roman structures that spoke of the past glory of the cult of Rome, these buildings were living manifestations of Europe’s fascination with the transcendence of God.

The building of a cathedral was a matter of great civic pride, their constructions by armies of artisans were high drama (as Keith Follet has illustrated all the way to the bank). The cathedrals were three dimensional teaching tools, they were medieval multi media presentations, evangelistic tools that attempted to woo and win over converts with their liturgical and architectural campaign of shock and awe.

To the contemporary missional thinker such an approach reeks of the dreaded concept of ‘attractionalism’. Cathedrals are seen as representing the worst of high medieval thinking in which the church was at the centre of culture and all were expected to come and pay adherence. Thus we are told that we are in a post-Christendom culture, in which the cathedral now operate as a kinds of spiritual museums. They are relics, they may be beautiful, but they are relics none the less. So the alternative to the ecclesiological arrogance of the cathedral/christendom approach we are told is to be missional, to ‘go’ rather than to expect people to ‘come’, to be sending rather than missional.

This approach makes sense, its advocates point to the way in which the non-western mission field has rightly redefined our understanding of the positioning of the Church. Yet the sending/missional posture can find itself seriously compromised if it thinks that the concept of the cathedral is dead in Western culture. In fact in comparison to the middle ages in which there were thousands of cathedrals, there are millions of cathedrals being constructed daily in our culture. They are not Gothic or Romanesque in construction, they are not made of stone and wood, rather they made of flesh. Or perhaps more correctly they are constructed in the psychic space that surrounds contemporary citizens of the 21st century developed world.

The individual now operates as a kind of personal cathedral. Social media arms and aids the growing sense of entitlement in the contemporary therapeutic self. The individual creates a facade that will shock and awe. An exterior that will garner respect and acknowledgement. If the medieval cathedral was an attempt to connect with a palpable sense of the transcendent, the contemporary self attempts also attempts to create a sense of transcendence through the correct assemblage of consumer experiences.

The difference between this and the medieval vision is that the contemporary cathedral of the self is religion free, instead it seeks to eek out transcendence in what David Brooks calls a ‘low-ceilinged world’. Instead of plainchant, stained glass windows and the drama of the liturgy, the modern self attempt to find transcendence in budgets breaks on the beach in Thailand, 3D movies, killer Ipad apps, and in the torque of a SUV.

The cathedrals of the 21st century self like their medieval counterparts demand that you come to them. They demand to be taken seriously. They insist on being the only show in town. Therein lies the danger for the missional church. The missional church which attempts to incarnate, which tries to ‘go to’; can find itself shifting from an attractional mode of church, to becoming enslaved to an attractional view of the self. Incarnation can quickly degenerate into syncretism for the missional operator who is unaware of the cathedral of the self.

Many missional leaders who have critiqued the therapeutic and individualist tendencies of the contemporary church growth movement, can easily and naively find themselves serving an even more pernicious expression of the therapeutic self as Church is completely taken to and rearranged around the habits, locales, tastes and wants of the individual in the name of incarnational mission.

The church moves into the cafe, the pub, the home, and the sporting club in the name of mission and as a protest against attractional concepts of Church. Yet the individual sense of entitlement is never truly challenged, there will be much focus on the immanent Jesus who is our friend, yet little emphasis on the transcendent ‘otherness’ of God who reminds us of our falleness and cosmic smallness. The huge danger is that whilst the incarnational, missional approach rejects the idea of the medieval cathedral, the cathedral of the self is never truly dismantled.

More teens becoming ‘fake’ Christians

From must read article on CNN.

Your child is following a “mutant” form of Christianity, and you may be responsible.

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Translation: It’s a watered-down faith that portrays God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem.

Dean is a minister, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and the author of “Almost Christian,” a new book that argues that many parents and pastors are unwittingly passing on this self-serving strain of Christianity.

She says this “imposter” faith is one reason teenagers abandon churches.

“If this is the God they’re seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust,” Dean says. “Churches don’t give them enough to be passionate about.”

Read the whole piece here. (H/T Dave)


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