Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Emerging Civil War

Just as the mainline is catching up to the idea that there is something called the "Emerging Church", the so-called Emerging folks have been experiencing something akin to a civil war over defining the post-evangelical church.

On the one side are the Emergent folks, namely Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt (A Christianity Worth Believing).  On the other side are folks who originally identified as "Emerging" but who seem to believe that the Emergent Church movement has strayed too far from orthodoxy; the best known of these is Mark Driscoll.    Here are some decent links to read up on the argument: a noted blogger bids farewell to Emergent and Scot McKnight (author of The Blue Parakeet) calls out Brian McLaren.

What these "post-evangelicals" originally had in common was a dissatisfaction with the state of the evangelical church, which they saw as too fixated on the building of institutional megachurches, over-emphasizing salvation in the next life, lacking any real concern for the mission of Jesus to proclaim good news to the poor and the oppressed in this life.  Both retain a concern for serving the least among us.  But the central debate is about the core doctrines of Christianity.  The "Emergence Christianity" folks seem to be willing to put everything on the table doctrinally while the neo-Reformers (see The Gospel Coalition) want to retain the core doctrines of the church while rethinking how we "do" church.

It's an interesting battle.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Free Book (for two weeks)!

A quick notice that is time-sensitive: one of my favorite pastors, Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church, has a new book out that is available for two weeks (from the date of the book's release) as a free Kindle download: get "Change the World" here.

Don't own a Kindle?  Neither do I!  I have Amazon's free Kindle for PC software that allows your PC to act as a Kindle.  Better still, you can have several copies on different PCs.  Get the Kindle software here.

Catalyst West Coast

Looking for a conference to attend?  I'll be heading to Catalyst West Coast, which is conveniently timed to occur a couple of weeks after Easter (April 21-23) in Irvine, CA, which is about an hour south of L.A.  Tomorrow, Feb 18, marks the "Super Early Bird" deadline registration fee of $249.

The main Catalyst conference takes place each October in Atlanta.  It just finished its 10th year, and draws in excess of 12,000 people.  Started by Andy Stanley and his North Point Community Church, Catalyst targets younger church leaders (mostly 20-somethings).  Last year marked the first year of its West Coast version, and I enjoyed it very much.  Conducted as all-plenary sessions (no breakouts), each day is a pretty intense succession of speakers.  The setting at Mariners Church in Irvine is very comfortable (and lunch was provided by Chik-Fil-A!)

This year's lineup features Andy Stanley (always), plus such speakers as Don Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality), and Erwin McManus.  I'm looking forward to hearing Mark Driscoll, even if I expect to disagree with him a lot.  Catalyst always has at least one interesting "secular" speaker.  Last year it was Guy Kawasaki (venture capitalist and key player in the development of the Macintosh) at the West Coast conference and Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference) at the Atlanta conference.  This year's "secular" speaker is Charlene Li, author of Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, a book that sounds really interesting (and I'm sure I'll read it before heading out there).  Let me know if you're going!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shane Hipps (part 2)

To continue the discussion about Shane Hipps: just last week he spoke at an event hosted by Dallas Theological Seminary called "The Electronic Gospel."  The event was streamed online.  Unfortunately, the video streams are no longer publicly available, but the audio can be purchased for download at this link.

During the Q&A, Hipps brought an interesting perspective to the "war" that is brewing within the so-called emerging/emergent church movement.  From the outset, many evangelicals have derided people like Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell as heretics, but within the past few years, some pastors who originally associated themselves with the term "emerging church" have vociferously attacked the likes of McLaren and Pagitt.  (More on the emerging church "civil war" soon.)

Anyway, Hipps, who is now clearly cast on one side of the aforementioned "war", asserted that he doesn't see the problem as a theological one; rather, he believes the root of the problem is one of brain hemispheric difference - that is, a left-brained view of theology versus a right-brained view.  He said this as an answer to a question about the question of "heresy":

"The category called 'orthodoxy' only exists in the left hemisphere of the brain. The category of 'saved' and 'unsaved' only exists in the left hemisphere of the brain. ... The right hemisphere has no category called 'heretic'; it is purely an immersive, experiential way of being in relationship with the divine and it scares the left hemisphere tremendously."

As a very left-brained person, I agree with his conclusions: heresy is real to me, McLaren is often on the wrong side of the line (in my opinion), and the idea of doing theology in a purely "immersive" way scares me tremendously.  However, I thought that his analysis of a theological divide by looking at it in terms of brain hemispheres was intriguing.  Is the "civil war" in the emerging church a matter of left-brains versus right-brains?  Hmmm...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Shane Hipps (part 1)

Not long ago I became aware of Shane Hipps, a former advertising executive who became the pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Arizona.  Hipps is the author of Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, an interesting book that presents a new perspective on media.  Rather than being just another book about how churches can use media, Hipps presents an analysis of how visual media is shaping our faith itself.

Hipps is quite enamored of Marshall McLuhan, who he claims is "the greatest thinker you haven't heard of" - or more precisely, the greatest thinker we don't know much about, since almost all of us have heard of one thing - McLuhan's famous statement that "the medium is the message."  Hipps unpacks what that means for faith - if the medium is the message, how does the medium become the gospel?  How does the medium change the way we do theology?

What struck me as being very useful is his insight into how words work versus images.  Hipps says that words unleash the imagination.  For example, if you mention "an old man" - everyone reading those words forms a different image.  But he then tells us that images hijack the imagination.  If someone shows you a picture of an old man, now everyone has the same image in mind.

Is this good or bad?  Neither, says Hipps.  It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish.  If you want to unleash imaginations, use words.  If you want to create a shared experience, use images.  (BTW, he points out this is why the book is always better than the movie.  The movie can't live up to the different ways millions of readers imagined the book.)  Hipps challenges us to understand the inherent power in our media choices.

Hipps concludes that the very way we do theology is shifting as we move from a word-driven to an image-driven culture.  Media "repatterns our brains" according to Hipps. It's an interesting premise and one worth reading about whether or not you use media in your churches, because the media of the culture is still changing the way your parishioners think about theology.

BTW, Shane Hipps has recently announced that he is leaving Trinity Mennonite Church to become "teaching pastor" at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids.  Apparently Rob Bell will be cutting back on his preaching load.  More on Shane Hipps is forthcoming...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Did you know...

A brief morning tidbit: according to my friends at Ginghamsburg Church, the most frequently viewed page (except for the home page, of course) on a church Web site is the pastor's bio.

If you think about it, this makes sense.  They don't need directions (yet) or a full calendar of events.  They want to know whether they are interested in visiting at all.  One of the key factors is whether they feel some connection with the pastor.  In my experience, an increasing number of visitors to my church have already listened to one of my sermons online before deciding to attend.

I don't really want to get into arguments about whether this is good or bad, or whether this is an artifact of the celebrity-driven culture we live in.  It is what it is.  Think about what you want to say about you - because people will be reading it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Scouting the Divine

God has always tried to relate to us through the real world – to come down to our level and communicate with us in a way we could try to understand.  The stories of the Bible were told in terms that ordinary people could understand. 

Unfortunately, as times changed, the ordinary experiences of ancient times became the extraordinary experiences of modern times.  I’ve been reading an interesting book titled Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey by Margaret Feinberg.  Margaret decided to embark on a journey of discovering truths in the Bible that have been hidden from us by a changing culture.  She did so by seeking out and spending time with a sheep farmer,  a vintner, a beekeeper – just to learn more about sheep, wine, and honey.

She writes that her book is “an intentional search for ways to move from reading the Bible to entering stories that can be touched, tasted, heard, seen, smelled and savored.  Scripture is sweetness and sweat, bitterness and blood, tremors and tears.  Scripture is life – and we are called to live it.”

In her time with a sheep farmer, she learned what it meant to know each sheep by name, and what it meant for the sheep to know the shepherd.  She learned about the vulnerability of sheep who lack a shepherd.  She felt the softness of first-shorn wool, and the difficulty of raising an unblemished lamb.  She experienced the need to discipline a rambunctious sheep, and how necessary this was to protect the flock.  The “drawbridge lowered” (as she put it) to help her cross the chasm between her life and God.

I don't think it is intended to be a work of great theological depth (and sometimes I wonder if "depth" isn't just a polite way of saying "obscure") but I'd be surprised if you didn't get a sermon illustration or two out of it - and maybe some insight as well.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Branding Faith

Not long ago I stumbled across a Christian media guy named Phil Cooke.  He has written a couple of books, most notably Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don't (along with his most recent book: The Last TV Evangelist: Why the Next Generation Couldn't Care Less About Religious Media).  Phil speaks very persuasively about the need for churches to think about their "brand", which he defines succinctly as: "what do people think of when they think of you?"

He shares a couple of insights into branding, such as "visibility is just as important as ability" and "you can't brand a lie."  He then goes on to present the idea that branding is simply a matter of telling your story - except that you need to know your story.  His four "branding questions" are:

1.  What's the point?  (Why are you doing this?)
2.  Who exactly are you?
3.  What are your gifts and talents?
4.  What makes you different?

I think the last question is one that we often overlook.  In most densely-populated areas there are actually an incredible number of churches (my town of 28,000 has 60+ identified worshiping communities of various faiths and we're in the secular Northeast), yet very few churches spend time distinguishing themselves from one another.  I don't view distinctiveness as the enemy of unity; rather, distinctiveness is the basis of diversity.  The body of Christ is best served by communities of faith that carve out distinct niches that meet different needs.

By the way, here's a link to an example of Phil's work, a Snickers commercial that someone uploaded to YouTube.  He gave an excellent talk at the ECHO Conference in 2009, a conference for church media teams that was held in Dallas.  You can buy the DVDs of the conference here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The End of NOOMA

Over the past few years many of us have used Rob Bell's NOOMA DVDs to great effect. However, Rob has announced that the NOOMA series has come to an end. In this conversation with David Crumm, Rob mentions that the new series is scheduled to debut free and online on Easter. Elsewhere, Rob mentioned that the title of his new project is "Build Your House On That."

I'm looking forward to his new series. I have to admit that I was less than impressed with the last couple of NOOMAs (Whirlwind and Tomato come to mind) so we'll see what a fresh start looks like.

Getting Started

Well, the point of this exercise will be to share things I've been reading, watching, learning, or attending - with particular attention being paid to what seems to be working in the world of churches. Hope you'll check back.