How Do You Know?

A few days ago, I took part in a great discussion about faith. A Catholic, an Atheist, an Agnostic, and I (sounds like the beginning to a bad joke) sat around a table in the smoking section of a cafe that was really too small to go to the trouble of designating “sections.” We took turns sharing what we believed, but mostly what we didn’t believe, and we let everyone speak their mind. After that, we sat in silence while we all processed how differently each of us approach and express our spirituality. The Catholic is religious, but hardly spiritual. The Atheist is spiritual, but in a soulful, dreadlocks and hemp poncho sort of way. The Agnostic is not so much religious as superstitious. As usual, I presented myself as spiritual but not religious. When I say it that way it makes me sound like such a rebel.

After the silence, the Agnostic (appropriately) asked us, “But how do you know?”

Looking back, I’m not exactly sure what she meant by the question. I guess I wasn’t the only one guessing, though, because we each took turns answering a different version of it.

“You know a religion is right for you when it is such an influential part of your family and cultural history,” the Catholic answered. “Common sense should give you some clues,” said the Atheist, accidentally sounding snobbish. “You just know,” was the only answer I could come up with. I immediately wished I had come up with something better, you know, more evangelistic.

But then I got to thinking, how do I know? Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Way to the Father. Salvation is found only in Him, and He came that we might have real life; I believe all of this to be true. But how do I know?

I know because I have been convinced by supernatural means. I believe something that is unbelievable because something unbelievable happened to me. I know I have been born again in the same way I know I was born physically. And I know because in Christ, I am not the person I would otherwise be. I know because God has opened my eyes to the spiritual reality.

The national language differentiates between two types of knowledge. One can “know” something in the factual sense of the word. I know where the bank is, I know my phone number, and I know how to drive a car. But there is also another type of knowing, one that explains one’s relationship with the subject. This type of knowing starts with an introduction and deepens in familiarity through time and experience. I know the store keeper. I know the city.

Next time I sit down with the group of friends, that’s the word I’m going to use, and that’s what I’m going to tell them. “You know…” I’ll say, “Ever since our talk about our faith a couple weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about that question…” And that’s when I’ll tell them how I know.

Jesus, the… Liberal?

For the last few days, I’ve been reading about Jesus in the Gospels. (I got the idea from Mentanna) I’ve been thinking about how all followers of Jesus see Him through their own cultural lenses. All of them. And I’m struck by the idea that our different interpretations of Jesus can be so, well, different.

Reading just the Gospels has challenged my perspective on Jesus. If you read about Jesus without reading the rest of the Bible (not that we should…), you would likely get, well, a different Jesus. You might get a Jesus who is:

Pro-taxes (Render unto Caesar…) Matthew 22:21
Concerned about helping the needy (Especially widows and orphans) Matthew 25:40
Anti-violence/war (Turn the other cheek) Matthew 5:39
Anti-religion (Rebuked religious leaders) Mark 12:38-40
Concerned with Personal Health (Healed the sick) Mark 8:22
Against Unethical Capitalism (Money-changers in the Temple) Matthew 21:12
Remained in the Jewish tradition (His religion was Jewish, not Christian) Matthew 12:35
Made and Drank Alcohol (Cana Wedding) John 2:1-11
Grace instead of Judgement: Luke 6:36-38
Forgiveness over Justice: Luke 6:28-30
Told stories instead of preaching sermons: Matthew 13:34
Left the meaning unclear: Mark 10:4-11
Never planted a church…

This Jesus would be called a “Liberal” by some believers today.

Anyway, just an observation. I understand that we should look at all of Scripture, but I’m wonder how much of the “Christian religion” is based on the teachings of Christ.

Personality

One of the things God has been teaching our team lately is that personality matters. No, I’m not talking about the mega-churches in the United States that seem to be built entirely upon the charismatic and inspirational personality of its pastor. Strangely enough, it is just occurring to us that God may have given us our personalities on purpose.

See, I grew up in a very ministry-minded church environment. Everyone was encouraged to think of others first. To us, being a minister meant ignoring your “self” and intentionally becoming a servant; something that was not natural to any of us. We loved the idea of getting out of our comfort zones and being stretched and challenged in new ways. I’m very thankful for that church family.

I’m pretty sure Jesus had a personality. He was harsh about certain things, had compassion toward needy people, and ran away from his parents at least once (ok, so maybe what He did was nothing like the time I packed up my G.I. Joe backpack and “ran away” to the back yard when I was six, but you know what I mean). But can we say that there is a “Christian” personality?

With our practice of that good theology (“Be like Jesus”) also came a subtle, implied message: “It doesn’t matter who you are.” If you were an impulsive, gregarious person, you needed to cut it out so as to maintain self-control. Shyness was the opposite of boldness, which is something all believer must have, so the timid folks needed to get over their inhibitions. The stoic or melancholy needed to have joy, the dreamers needed to keep their feet on the ground. What we ended up with was a bunch of people who knew a lot about the fruit of the Spirit, but knew nothing about themselves. Ultimately, we couldn’t relate to lost people at all. We had worked so hard to be more like who we thought Jesus was, that we had lost our personalities. We became boring people, with no interests, hobbies, or passions. We didn’t even enjoy being around ourselves!

So now God is teaching us about personality. That it’s ok for some of us to be risk-takers and others to be cautious. We need to class-clowns to keep things interesting and the sensitive ones to feel for us. The optimists, the pessimists, the intense, the cool; they are parts of a healthy and interesting community. The outspoken are as needed as the introspective. I think our personalities are tied to our Spiritual gifts. They are all needed for diversity and balance within the body of Christ.

Maybe God made us the way we are so that we’ll have something in common with people who are like us.

I’m really interested to see how this plays out in church planting. We’re working to plant churches within existing social structures. People are drawn to others like them, and that’s where they are comfortable and have a sense of identity. But I think that’s a good thing. Churches should have distinct personalities. The intellectuals meet on Thursdays at lunchtime and pour over theology. The sensitive ones spend a lot more time in worship and prayer than the rest, and are very sensitive to the needs around them. The outgoing and outspoken do a bit more preaching and evangelism, while the social butterflies have lots and lots of fellowships. Who knows? Maybe this would be a healthy alternative to denominationalism.

What if the balance we’re so worried about maintaining is kept at the city-wide level as opposed to the local group level? While we cannot tolerate sin, heresy, or disunity, what about diversity in the ways we express our life in Christ?

The Evils of Modernism?

Even though I use them all the time, I hate post titles that end with a question mark. I guess that’s what I get for having a blog that is about asking questions…

My last post, “Adapt, Adopt, Reject,” was an outline of a paper that some friends and I came up with. I’ve had a couple of good responses. I got a few “let me chew on it and get back to you” messages, and I’m sure many of you are still trying to swallow the idea that I would have friends to work with at all.

I’m really interested in looking at Christianity from this perspective: What would our faith look like without the influence of modernism? The more I thought through the paper’s outline, the harder it was for me to come up with any modern contributions that we should adopt outright. It’s strange to think about, because we interpret everything through the modern worldview. I’m no historian, but I think we could learn a lot about being followers of Jesus in postmodernity by looking at the pre-modern expressions of Christianity.

In his book, Ancient Future Faith, Robert E. Webber gives a helpful outline of “Paradigms Of Church History.” He breaks down church history into these worldviews (paradigms):

  • Classical Christianity (100-600)
  • Medieval Era (600-1500)
  • Renaissance/Reformation (1500-1750)
  • Modernism (1750-1980)
  • Postmodernism (1980- )

As the church moved from one worldview to another, I imagine that there were many Christian leaders that warned against the dangers of the coming worldview. For example, during the rise of the modern worldview, there were probably plenty of godly folks saying things like “Buyeth not into modernism…” or something like that. What would they warn people against? Elevation of logic/human reason? Too great a focus on the individual? The limitations of linear thought?

But here we are, on the tail end of modernism, and the only expression of Christianity that we see is heavily influenced by the modern worldview. We read it into history and revelation. Our understanding of God is a modern one. We study systematic theology, we’re used to hearing propositional exposition of the scriptures. We feel this huge need to nail down the specific time and date of our salvation. We use mass-market evangelism. We look for ways to measure our holiness. This is the modern church.

In an online audio chat with Derek Webb, Donald Miller talked about how Jesus gave many different answers to people who asked Him “What must I do to be saved.” But modern Christians only have one answer to that question. Why is that?

I don’t think that the modern worldview is bad. But I’m certainly weary of anyone who asserts that it is the “Christian” one. I’m interested in discovering and recognizing the influence my worldview has on my faith.

Adapt, Adopt, Reject

During a recent training seminar, a leader in our region rhetorically asked: “Now, the real question is: can a Postmodern be a Christian?” As a believer who isn’t very modern, I wanted to ask: “Can a Modern worldview be compatible with a Christian one?” But it wasn’t until Dr. Robertson McQuilkin presented his talk on Postmodernism outlining those elements of postmodernism that we should adopt, what we can adapt, and what we must reject, that I saw a good way to discuss the issue. I’ve tried to address this before, but some friends pitched in to help this time. What we’ve come up with is more of an outline than a paper, but it is a work in process. Basically, we’d like to challenge people to stop thinking of the Modern worldview as good or even neutral in terms of it’s influence on our faith. Here’s what we’ve got so far:

MODERNISM
Modern tendencies we should ADOPT:
Seek the Source
We should read and know the scriptures and view them as authoritative, true, and beautiful.
If you want to know what someone said about something, the best place to go is to the source. This also follows a biblical means toward resolving personal conflict and sin issues.

Due Diligence
Care should be taken to be sure that no function of the church is overlooked, no member left out, and that we not repeat the mistakes of our those who have gone before us.

Critical Evaluation

The use of plain old common sense still has an important place in following Christ. Scripture tells us not to lean on our own understanding, but doesn’t prohibit us using our brains. Genuine critical analysis was deveoped in the modern era, won’t go away any time soon, and can serve us Christ-followers well.

Modern tendencies we should ADAPT:

Utter dependence on logic/reason.
Matters of faith are logical by human standards to the extent to which they “make sense” for the group/individual.
God cannot be proved, contained, or fully defined. But, since He reveals to us His character, He is knowable. We must recognize the beauty of the mystery of God.

Fight for the Faith
Modern Christians often see themselves as “Defenders of the Faith” whose task it is to hunt and expose false doctrine wherever it may be found by exposing its logical inconsistancies, ridiculing it, or personally attacking those who believe it. “Good” theology is revealed by the living and active God and is not such a fragile thing. We should, however, lovingly confront false teachings whenever they come up in our relational sphere of influence. Discipleship and mutual submission/accountability require it.

Absolute Truth
God’s truth (the only truth) is indeed absolute, but our understanding of it is always subject to the limitations of our human perspective. We will never have full and complete knowledge of truth this side of heaven, and we must always recognize that our interpretations are from a limited perspective.

Truth is knowable as a person. Jesus is God revealed to humanity in history, and He continues to be active today.

Labels are helpful. While labels tend to be negative and prone to gross generalizations, they are indespensible for meaningful conversation. If we cannot define what we mean, we cannot communicate anything.

Modern tendencies we should REJECT:

Radical Dichotomies
Faith/Science: Faith should not/does not come into play only at the limitations of science. Science is good for helping humanity learn about the ourselves and our environment. This shoud allow us to be better stewards of the resources God blesses us with.

Christian/NonChristian: The (now global) Christian subculture is an example of the people of God withdrawing from the world and creating their own “safer,” “better,” “God-pleasing” version of it. It is neither “safer” nor “better,” and only serves to remove us from the mission God has commissioned us to.

Good/Evil: The Enemy is not God’s opposite. Fear has no place in the Christian Life. God’s good has/will overcome evil in the world. C.S. Lewis said that “Even the devil is God’s devil.” This leaves a lot for us to work out (i.e.: the problem of evil), but is a more Biblical perspective.

That Faith Requires Religion
Jesus rejected the religious requirements of the Pharisees every time He came across them. Yet moderns tend to replace the child-like faith Jesus talked about with religious traditions. While faith necessarily brings with it good works, Jesus did not come to start a new world religion. The first “Christians” continued to identify with and continue in the Jewish religion. We must recognize that as we mature in Christ there are a) certain things we are compelled to do, b) certain things we are compelled to avoid, and c) things we should continue to do, but with a new, Christian motivation.
Mimicking the World’s Systems
The Church is not a business. To manage it as such is to subjugate it to the world’s standards of success, performance, and relationship. This affects the way we “hire” and “fire” personnel, manage interpersional conflict, and approach the lost people around us.

The Gospel is not just information. There is more to the Good News than the propositional message. The Christian task is more than dissemination of information; it is contextualization, translation, and lifestyle support of the Truest Message of All.

Missions must not be viewed as a finite task, but as an ongoing act of obedience. Years of “what’s it gonna take?” mentality has perpetuated a human-centered, militaristic, utilitarian interpretation of the Great Commission that effectually keeps us one step ahead id the Holy Spirit.
Institutionalization
To many modern thinkers, the church IS the institution we see around us. The goal of the whole Great Commission exercise is to build a better institution which does a better job of getting to gospel out (or of discipling, or raising money, or whatever). Postmoderns would simply rather do these things themselves, organically or in affinity-related groups.

The distance between the scripture and my life is actually quite short: I read the scripture and I obey it. All the better if I can obey it with some others who are willing, like-heearted and (hopefully) fun. There is no reason to make this distance unnecessarily greater by requiring that we build instituions to obey scripture.

Some things work better in instituions: car manufacturing, delivery of gas, electricity and other commodities, surgery (!) all require infrastructure or a controlled environments which necessitates institution.

Relational things, heartfelt things, passionate things don’t institutionalize well. We shouldn’t try.

The “Silver Bullet” mentality
This mentality, rampant in modern thinking and in churches, assumes that when the right formula, combination of factors, leadership or Tipping Point is discovered, success will inevitably result. This thinking, an outworking of modern mechanization, simply deosn’t work in God’s economy. He’s much more concerned about our obedience and our heart for Him than in us finding and practicing the right formula. The only Silver Bullet in following Christ is…well, following Him.

Well, what do you think?

Be True To Your School

In my last post, I wrote about the resolution to “Develop an exit strategy from public schools” that is being proposed to the Southern Baptist Convention. Since we’re trying to put together an effective entrance strategy here in Western Europe (doing the opposite of what the resolution calls for), I’ve decided to put myself in the shoes of someone back in the states and give some suggestions for engaging our communities through the public school system:

They aren’t well-paid. They work long hours, and they are “on call” 24 hours a day. Their impact is great, but they receive little recognition. They share their testimonies and beliefs every chance they get, thought they often deal with strict regulations against openly sharing their faith. I’m not talking about missionaries to far-off places, here; this is the life of your average Christian public school teacher. Which brings me to my first point:

1. Local churches need to start treating public school teachers as missionaries. I mean it. A commissioning service, full prayer support, maybe even some financial assistance. They are doing missions by sharing life with people in natural ways. Everything they teach, every opinion they give is heavily influenced by their relationship with Jesus. We see it so clearly in foreign lands- missionaries in China teaching English classes- but for some reason we put teachers in a different category. They go through culture shock. They have to learn a “foreign” language. They have to be creative, patient, and culturally relevant. It’s time we recognize that.

What if, instead of pulling out of the public school system, we pushed our way into it? What if the public school system was flooded with Christian students, teachers, and administrators?

2. We need to start sending teachers into the system. Whenever a young person asks me about becoming a missionary, I always encourage them to look for ways outside the professional missionary system. Having the title “Missionary” brings with it more barriers and obstacles than we often realize. What if we started recruiting, training, and sending young people into the public school system as missionaries to their communities? We send short-term semester and summer missionaries to rough, inner-city areas to minister, why not send qualified teachers into those schools that are desperate for teachers anyway?

3. We need to be intentional about training and sending our children to public schools. What if we trained them, even the young ones, to study the culture of their class at school? What if we prepared them to face the dangers of their particular mission field and helped them get spiritually ready to face each day in that context?

4. Parents must get involved. The public school system began it’s sex education program in the fourth grade when I was in public school. My mom went and previewed the films and curriculum, and then made me read a James Dobson book to supplement what was being taught. Ok, so I don’t recommend giving kids a James Dobson book, but I think she had the right idea. If parents know what’s being taught to their kids, they can counter those worldly things with truth. This way, kids know what the world says, and learn to contrast that with what the Bible says.

But parents aren’t only limited to reviewing curriculum. They can join the PTA, be a “Class Mom,” or a Teacher’s Aid. They can get on all those committees, boosters, clubs, and organizations that actually decide what the public school does. At our local school, there was a PTA committee that decided whether or not a church plant could meet on the campus on Sundays. Parents can even substitute teach. This would extend the parent’s influence to reach not only their own kids, but other kids in the community as well.

5. To affect change, service is the answer. We have “work days” at church, why don’t local churches organize and sponsor work days at the local public schools? The administrators are always looking for ways to save money. What if some Christians came in and raked leaves or repainted the lockers? Schools always need recess monitors and traffic controllers and crossing guards. A Bible Study group could supply refreshments for the School Board meetings. Doing these things, without expecting special favors in return and without any strings attached, would affect the local public schools for the better. What if the school administrators didn’t have to see Christians as their enemies? Wouldn’t it be something if, when faced with a need, the principal felt he could call the local church for help?

So I guess what I’m proposing here is that we develop an “entry and engagement strategy” for the public schools. Not so we can make them “Christian,” but so we can make to most of this great opportunity we have to interact with and serve our communities. Our involvement is what will help our children. It is being salt and light.

In Western Europe, missionaries develop and implement these sorts of strategies in order to engage their communities and plant churches. We would start here and go even further, looking for those existing entry points into the community and making the most of them. What if the churches that send us were doing the same back home?

A Package Deal

Lately I’ve been accused (and by “I,” I mean someone else entirely, but with whom I mostly agree) of wanting to “pick and choose” from contradictory “systems” of belief. The accusation sounded a little bit like this:

“Your concern for social justice is clearly “Social Gospel.”
Your anti-death penalty stance is taken from the Liberal’s political agenda.
Your references to God’s sovereignty in salvation sounds very Calvinistic.
You talk about postmodernism as though you’ve really bought into all of it.
You quote R-rated movies like someone who is well acquainted with worldly things.
Your environmental concerns put you in the company of hippies and tree-huggers…”

Ok, I’m sure you get the point, but it goes on.

“And all of the above sounds just like that Blue Like Jazz guy, so you’re one of those.”

Or, even better (worse?):

“You may not recognize it, but I’ve seen all this before. It’s just the same old liberalism dressed up in new, trendy clothes.”

Where do we get the idea that everything comes as part of a package? (Ok, so I’m pretty sure I know where we get it, I’m asking for the sake of discussion.) Why do we have to put everything in neat little categories? Even more importantly, why do we assume that belief in one aspect of a system means adherence to the whole thing?

I’m really into the idea of redemption lately. I’ve seen God take things that were clearly not God-pleasing and turn them into beautiful instruments of praise. To me, that should be our standard for picking and choosing. Environmentalism is good stewardship of creation. I that’s a redeeming quality, whether the “issue” is associated with nature-worshippers or not.

Just for fun, here are some more things I believe in. I am:

-Pro-life because I believe that life is sacred. (Not just criminally innocent lives, but all life.)
-Pro-peace, because I am pro-life, and because peace is evidence of the Spirit.
-For engagement of culture, because Jesus’ incarnation modeled that for us.
-For immigration, because the places people come from aren’t always good places for them to live.
-For church/state separation, because it might not always be “us” in charge.
-For freedom of expression, for the same reason.

Just Asking

I recently attended a conference workshop where the speaker asked a lot of questions. She was talking about postmodernism (yeah, we still have to have the “Postmodernism” talk every time we get together), and sharing from her experience with a postmodern European guy. She presented their interaction as a case study, to illustrate the challenge of cultural translation of the good news. After she told her story she, for the sake of discussion, asked her audience: “So what would you do if you were in my shoes and ministering to this postmodern European guy?”

And then it began.

Instead of taking the speaker’s question (she is an excellent communicator, by the way) as a conversation-starter, they heard her asking for advice on how to handle the situation. Never mind the fact that the speaker was asked to speak because of her wisdom and experience in ministry to postmoderns. Never mind that she had already been ministering to this individual for some time. People actually raised their hands and offered their answers to her “problem!”

“Have you tried confronting him about his sin?”
“You should give him a copy of ‘Evidence That Demands A Verdict.’”
“I’d move him to the back burner and look for someone more open to the gospel.”

I’ll admit that I was secretly comforted by the response the speaker received. I’ve often found myself in the same situation; asking questions to inspire discussion but met with words of advice from an oblivious audience. Until now, I thought it was me.

Now, please don’t hear me say that I don’t want or need the wisdom of others. I, of all of us, certainly do. But there’s something disheartening about interactive discussion being shut down by a know-it-all. More than the answers, I think it’s the attitude that ruins things. It’s the “I’ve already got these things figured out. I’ll go to the trouble of sharing the solutions with you, but I won’t venture to honestly revisit the question.” You can almost hear them saying: “Look, I gave you the answer. I solved your problem. If you spend any more time talking about it, you’re a fool.”

But what that says to people like me (as if there were more than just me) is that the know-it-alls don’t really have it figured out at all. They have a working “solution,” and either for fear, laziness, or ignorance, won’t suffer questioning it again. I never want to be that guy. But for some reason, our subculture often seems to hold “that guy” up as the leader.

I am encouraged, though. It’s been a long time since “that guy” has been invited to lead a workshop.

I say, let’s ask questions. Even the ones we answered a long time ago. Especially the ones that are scary to ask. Let’s, for the sake of discussion, re-ask questions about God and His people from the perspective of know-nothings. I think there’s a lot to be learned by asking questions. Don’t you?

For My Modern Brethren

I’ve been thinking about some comments posted by Jeff and Tim back on my post: I’d Like to Make a Toast. They expressed their concern as to my ability to adequately express myself in a coherent manner which would allow for meaningful discussion with modern thinkers. The following are my concerns about their suggestions:

I read many blogs. (Actually, my news aggregator reads many blogs, and delivers the new stuff to my home page.) One thing I come across time and again is how tied we as believers are to the modern debate technique known as “rhetoric;” which is a worldy and impersonal approach to communication that hinders Christian discussion. Many of us have worked to rid our vocabulary of meaningless Christian jargon, (and by meaningless, I mean “religious” words for which we have no common definition even amongst ourselves, and are completely unknown outside our subculture.) but we have yet to develop a better way to communicate. Our dependence on the rhetorical debate technique is preventing us from having meaningful discussion.

For example: On the alcohol post, Tim voiced his opinion that abstaining from alcohol was, in fact a biblical position. He gave support for his opinion in the form of quotes. He then challenged me to refute his sources. In the past, this would have been a great way to discuss the issue of missionaries drinking on the field. But the days of debate being the only recognized form of “thoughtful discourse” amogst believers are over (and if they weren’t before I typed that last line, I hereby declare them to be over).

Any form of communication that necessitates pitting one against the other is a bad start. I don’t see why we would advocate a system that refers to the person with whom we are speaking as an “opponent,” or “critic,” or “adversary.” If we instead take part in a discussion between “friends,” “brothers and sisters,” and “fellow seekers,” the conversation can be unifying, encouraging, and edifying. Sure it’s ok to disagree. Sometimes, we must do it strongly even. You might think it’s a question of semantics, but the moment we start to think of the person we’re talking to as our rival, we’ve begun to play by the world’s rules.

We label every person and every person’s every thought. Without even really listening to someone, we assume we know what they’re saying and why. “Oh, you’re Amyraldian.” “You’re arguing infralapsarianism, and that’s been proven wrong.” How does this help a conversation? I’m not saying we should limit ourselves to rehashing past arguments. We should learn from the discussions that wiser men and women have had before us. But do we really need to boil everyone down to one of two camps on every issue? Liberal or Conservative? Calvinist or Arminian? Open communion, or closed? My answer, to all of these questions is yes. I’m sure there’s a label for that, too.

And don’t get me started on “hyperbole.” Exaggerating the other guy’s position just to make a point is, well, lying. But that’s what happens in every debate. Someone shares their thoughts, and we make a charicature of their statements in order to easily show the flaws in their logic. But all the while we know that the guy on the other end of the discussion isn’t really saying that homosexuality isn’t sin or that Calvinists shouldn’t participate in evangelism. We only argue with ourselves when we put words in people’s mouths.

Along those same lines, posting a list of quotes from your research here is like bringing some upper-classmen to a playground disagreement. Sharing the sources that have convinced you is a good thing, but challenging me to refute them is the opposite of discussion. By citing outside support, you’ve stepped out of the conversation, and put dead historians and Greek scholars in your place. If you didn’t want to talk (type) it out with me, you should’ve said so.

Sarcasm is ok, though. It allows us to say things that, while true, would make us look like total jerks if we weren’t just being sarcastic. Besides, it’s usually pretty funny.

Jesus convinced people by asking questions and quoting (and paraphrasing?) scripture, not by challenging anyone to refute anything. Paul even referred to pagan religions and quoted popular philosophers. I’d prefer to participate in a conversation by asking questions (my favorite lately has been: “How’s that working out for you?”) over trying to expose logical inconsistencies in someone’s “argument.” Besides, even the most rational of us hold on to beliefs that seem to be contradictions, don’t we? Our faith requires it of us.

I guess I’m advocating a system of communication that doesn’t have rules that rule anyone out. I think we shouldn’t disqualify people from participation in the conversation because they don’t argue well enough or have enough historical support of their position. I’m tired of people thinking that using Greek is a trump card that should end all questions. I love conversation. I think the free exchange of ideas is beautiful. I am not uncomfortable with unanswered questions or apparent contradictions. Why are you?

It’s funny; as I type, I’m reminded of the classroom rules for group discussion set by my sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Ludlow. If I remember correctly, they went something like this:
1. There are no stupid questions.
2. Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion.
3. We can disagree, but we must do so politely.
4. Always tell the truth.
5. Don’t betray confidences.
6. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

I think there was another one about waiting to speak until you were called on. Anyway, I don’t expect that any of us would stop using the rhetorical method any time soon. In fact, we’re so modern, there may be some conversations we are incapable of having outside of a debate. I think it would be cool to explore those.

Church in a Box

We’re always looking for churches that are interested in partnering with us as we plant churches here in Western Europe. God has been good to provide us with mission-minded churches that participate sacrificially in what God is doing around the world. Sometimes we go looking for partner churches. Every once in a while, one comes looking for us.

Recently, we were contacted by a well-known megachurch in the Convention that was looking for opportunities to plant “postmodern” churches in Western Europe. For us, that’s a pretty big deal. It’s like landing a big account, picking up a high-profile client, closing a big deal. Or some other corporate term that means “good for us.” Having big and rich partner churches means an unlimited volunteer pool, round-the-clock prayer support, and a few items crossed off the unfunded needs list. Immediately we started planning vision trips and prayer materials for our new partners. It wasn’t until we met with the church leadership back in the States that we realized things we’re going to work out.

Their idea of church planting was to reproduce their successful stateside model in other countries. They explained to me that they had been hard at work putting together resources that would make it easy to implement their strategy. All I had to do was join their church planting network, and for $250 US per year they would send me recordings of their pastor’s sermons and some study materials. My membership also qualified me to shop in their church planting network resources store, where I could buy a state-of the-art sound system, a video projector, and padded seats in one of three tasteful colors. That’s right, they wanted to sell me church in a box.

Picture it: a mini-megachurch in the heart of Western Europe. Weekly sermons, already translated into national languages, ready to be shown on the big screen. A video of inspirational, seeker-sensitive worship music, complete with a powerpoint presentation of the lyrics. The package even included advertising materials, such as professional-quality brochures, vinyl banners, and pre-recorded radio spots.

When I told the church leaders that we were trying to start churches that would be a little more indigenous, they stared blankly. When I asked if we could try something that was a little more culturally appropriate, they offered to take a hundred dollars off the cost of my membership to their church planter’s network. When I outlined our strategy, they laughed. “We’re not going to get involved in anything that won’t let our people see immediate results,” they said. “Our model has been proven to work here in the U.S., and we’re just looking for someone to do it overseas.”

Looking back, the whole interaction sounds silly.