Sarah Bessey's blog has quickly become one of my favorites. She has a great "voice" of spirituality, transformation, challenge and (foremost) good writing that I find captivating. Last night she posted on the proliferation of conferences. I could not agree more with her assessment. It is one thing to host something that is diverse, encouraging to the whole Body of Christ and helpful in terms of how it adds to a growing conversation of major Jesus movement issues. What I find though is that EVERYBODY wants to do conferences for the sake of celebrity, book sales or to have "their" style of ministry elevated to sub-cultural prominence. Anyway, instead of posting something that has been stated better in someone else's post, here's the link for Sarah's reflections:
"It seems that there are often no churches in our cities worth joining. I say this because I see many people planting new churches rather than coming alongside churches that are already established." Seth McBee
I've been saying roughly the same thing for years. I simply don't understand why we need MORE churches unless those churches are doing something that many are NOT – that is, making disciples and encouraging personal transformation. It seems that so many "successful" churches want franchises and many of the decade old "franchises" (aka denomination) want success in a dwindling "market" of denominational adherents. I think we need a change in mind and heart about cooperative ministry in a time when SO many in the culture have NO IDEA what Church is and why the differences exist in the first place. Instead of pushing our "brand" we should be sharing Jesus…pure and simple. Now, I know that many will push back on the "purity" or "rightness" of their brand or theological persuation and how people NEED that purity/rightness. But let me tell you what most people who are not followers of Jesus think about brand or theological persuations – ZIP! Nada! Nothing! They are looking for authentic engagement with Kingdom people who LIVE as followers NOT represent an institution.
Well…I decided to post the rest of Seth's article for you to enjoy, debate with, or trash…your call! But I think it has some interesting thoughts that are essential for consideration:
"So what is empire criticism? In short – and this book is devoted to both description and evaluation of this method – if refers to developing an eye and ear for the presence of Rome and the worship of the emperor in the lines and between the lines of New Testament writings."
This study of empire has been VERY helpful in my own understanding of and applying of scripture especially as it pertains to the issue of "Lordship" and our understanding of Christology as followers of Jesus. It is absolutely refreshing and challenging to realize that every one of those early Jesus followers were subversives in their own right. They took language, symbols and imagery from the prevailing culture and "transformed" them to be utilized for the Kingdom of God. In other words, they deliberately put every other Kingdom UNDER Christ's Kingdom and, in the process, gave us a glimpse of the types of pressures and enculturated values in which they struggled. Here's another snippet,
"…to say Jesus was Lord and Savior or to say Jesus was the one who brings peace and good news is at the same time, in a covert way, to say Caesar was NOT Lord and NOT Savior, and that his good news and peace ring hollow."
Empire criticism asks us, as we read the New Testament, to keep a watchful eye out for the "look" of the empire and to keep an ear pitched to hear the sounds of empire making an impact on God's people. There are EXCELLENT introductory chapters on the Roman rule through empire building and imposition upon conquered peoples. In addition, the second chapter of the book, Anti-Imperial Rhetoric in the New Testament, which describes how the early Christian community not only dealt with but subversively reinterpreted empire language to be used to further the Jesus cause is very insightful. We cannot take for granted the importance of this particular theme not only in its impact upon the early Christian community but also how the reality of OUR OWN EMPIRE thinking influences our interpretation of the bible. To say that we are (especially in the West) a privileged people would be an understatement. To question how EMPIRES and contextualized systems of privilege and power have skewed our possible interpretation and application of the text is imperative for a honest student of the bible.
You'll find the remaining of the book interesting and helpful as well. The editors put together a collection of essays targeted at individual sections of the New Testament and the "empire implications" of each. I must admit that I found this book enlightening and challenging. I started reading about biblical study and empire criticism a few years ago. This book coalesces the "big ideas" in this "school" of biblical study and helps the reader get a good "feel" for the scope of this critical discussion. Here's the link to Amazon…enjoy!
There have been many questions as to why there is no circle in the “Three Circles” diagram that might be labeled “Behave.” Certainly any framework for discipleship and following Jesus should reflect behavioral outcomes. We should expect that becoming more like Jesus as his disciple will result in actions and attitudes (behaviors) that will distinguish us as “peculiar” kind of people. It will be our behaviors along with our attitudes that will serve as a herald of the good news that there is an alternative reign (Kingdom of God) within which I can live.
The short answer is that behavior is incorporated in the very center of the diagram under the category “Be” and “Live.” For me, behavior is merely the external or visible manifestation of one’s character and identity. Character, or identity, or “who you are” (represented by “Be” and “Live”), is what shapes ones behavior. What we “believe” should shape who we are and what we do in life. I behave the way I behave because that is what flows from the kind of person I am. (read the entire article by downloading it above).
A week or so ago, I ran into a blog post from one of the biblical scholars that I admire, Peter Enns. In his post, he alludes to a book that he has been reading regarding Ignatian Spirituality. It just so happens that I'm a "fan" of Ignatian spirituality for years ago I participated in a project where scores of people followed a "protestant annotation" of the Spiritual Exercises. After reading Peter's post, I ordered the book and am starting to thumb through it even as we "speak." What's profound to me is the following (which is most all of one of Peter's posts) where a variety of spiritual "paths" are discussed which seem to parallel or at least echo my experience with people over the years. As Peter points out, there is no ONE WAY that everybody experiences the grace and love of God. I know that specific denominations would like it to be "their" way (or the highway) but the bigness of God cannot be contained in a singular, spiritual experience. I'm posting Peter's remarks NOT because they were his originally but rather they come from a book that is meant to present a "fly over" of what has been historically experienced in the Jesuit movement. I think the following is an interesting summary of how many people journey through life in regards to faith. The list has its "problems" but at least it is an attempt to capture what a vast majority of people experience. See what you think?
6 paths of human beings on a spiritual quest (originally posted by Peter Enns – adapted/edited by me)
In chapter 2 of his book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A
Spirituality for Real Life, James Martin, SJ, lays out what he sees as six
paths to God–by which he means 6 ways in which people seek God. Each path, Martin tells us, has benefits
and pitfalls. Maybe one or two resonate with you. I think I know people in
every category, or some combination.
Path of Belief–“…belief in God has always been part of their lives. They
were born into religious families or were introduced to religion at an early
age. They move through life more or less confident of their belief in God. Their lives, like every life, are not free
from suffering, but faith enables them to put their sufferings into a framework
of meaning. The benefit of this path is
that “faith gives meaning to both the
joys and struggles of life. A pitfall is “an inability to understand people on
other paths and a temptation to judge them for their doubt or disbelief.”
Path of Independence–These people “…have made a conscious decision to
separate themselves from organized religion, but they still believe in God.
Maybe they find church services meaningless, offensive, dull, or all three. Maybe
they’ve been hurt by church. “One
strength of this group is a healthy independence that enables them to see
things in a fresh way–something their own religious community often desperately
needs….The main danger…is a perfectionism that sets up any organized religion
Path of Disbelief–Those traveling along the path of disbelief not only find
that organized religion hold no appeal for them (even if they sometimes find its services and rituals comforting), but have also arrived at an intellectual
conclusion that God may not, does not, or cannot exist. Often they seek proof
for God’s existence, and finding none, or encountering intense suffering, they
reject the theistic worldview completely. “The
cardinal benefit of this group is that they take none of the bland assurances
of religion for granted. Sometimes they have thought more deeply about God and
religion than some believers have….They also have a knack for detecting
hypocrisy, cant, or lazy answers….The main danger for this group is that they
sometimes expect God’s presence to be proven solely in an intellectual way.”
Path of Return–People on this group typically begin life in a religious
family but drift away from their faith. After a childhood in which they were
encouraged (or forced) to attend religious services, they find them either
tiresome or irrelevant or both. Religion remains distant, though oddly
appealing. Then something reignites their curiosity about God….Thus begins a
tentative journey back to faith–though it may not bet he same faith they knew
as a child. This path is Martin’s own, and he gives no benefit or pitfall (not
sure why). He mentions that his own drift from faith involved the collapse of
the “God as problem solver” God of his youth (after the death of a close
friend). His move back to faith involved through prompting, learning to see a
“different kind of God–a God who was with you in suffering…”
Path of Exploration–Though settled in their religious beliefs, these
seekers “often find that their own spiritual practices are enhanced through
interactions with other religious traditions.” “The benefit is that “after a
serious search, you may discover a tradition ideally suited to your
understanding of God, your desires for community, and even your own personality.
Likewise, returning to your original community may give you a renewed
appreciation for your ‘spiritual home.’” The
pitfall is “the danger of not settling for any tradition because none is
perfect. An even greater danger for explorers is not settling on any on
religious tradition because it doesn’t suit them.”
Path of Confusion–“This final path crosses all the other ones at various
points. People on the path of confusion run hot and cold with their childhood
faith….They haven’t ‘fallen away,’ but they haven’t stayed connected….finding
God is a mystery, a worry, or a problem.”
“The main benefit of this path is that it often helps people fine-tune
their approach to their childhood faith….But confusion can lapse into
These paths may seem like people do all
the leg work, but Martin also talks a good bit in the book of God finding us on
our path. I also understand how some might react to
Martin’s “non-exclusivist” approach to spirituality. In that case, wherever he
speaks of ”religion” or “tradition,” substitute “denomination.” These points
appear to me to be applicable in a variety of permutations. Which path, if any, speaks most clearly
to you? Do you know people on different paths than yours or are most people you
know on your path? Is “path” even a good way of talking about the religious