len on October 21st, 2014

“A friend of mine, lecturing in a theological college in Kenya introduced his students to “The Quest for the Historical Jesus.” This, he said, was a movement of thought and scholarship that in its earlier forms was carried on largely in Germany in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He had not gone far into his lecture explaining this search for Jesus when one of his students interrupted him. “Teacher,” he said, “if the Germans have lost Jesus, that is their problem. We have not lost him. We know him. We love him.”

“Research into Jesus himself has long been controversial, not least among devout Christians. Several people in the wider Christian world wonder if there is anything new to say about Jesus and if the attempt to say something fresh is not a denial either of the church’s traditional teaching or of the sufficiency of Scripture. I want to grasp this nettle right away and explain why I regard it, not just as permissible but as vitally necessary that we grapple afresh with the question of who Jesus was and therefore who he is. In doing so I in no way want to deny or undermine the knowledge of Jesus of which the Kenyan student spoke and which is the common experience of the church down the centuries and across widely differing cultures. I see the historical task, rather, as part of the appropriate activity of knowledge and love, to get to know even better the one whom we claim to know and follow. If even in a human relationship of knowledge and love there can be misunderstandings, false impressions, wrong assumptions, which need to be teased out and dealt with, how much more when the one to whom we are relating is Jesus himself.

“I believe, in fact, that the historical quest for Jesus is a necessary and nonnegotiable aspect of Christian discipleship and that we in our generation have a chance to be renewed in discipleship and mission precisely by means of this quest. I want to explain and justify these beliefs from the outset.

“The most basic reason for grappling with the historical question of Jesus is that we are made for God: for God’s glory, to worship God and reflect his likeness… and Jesus has revealed God.

“The second reason why I engage in serious historical study of Jesus is out of loyalty to Scripture. This may seem deeply ironic [but] just because our tradition tells us that the Bible says and means one thing or another, does not excuse us from the challenging task of studying it afresh in the light of the best knowledge we have about its world and context, to see whether these things indeed are so… Our traditions have supposed to be ‘biblical’ but are sometimes demonstrably not, and have made us blind.

“The third reason is the Christian imperative to truth.”

NT Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, 13-17

len on October 19th, 2014

Today’s church is in serious trouble. The crisis we see is a crisis in leadership, because leaders help to shape adaptive responses, like navigators reading the currents to guide a ship to harbor. Leaders cease being navigators when they fear change, or loss of influence, but also when the pressure of leadership tends to create reaction more than reflection. Perhaps Canadian leadership guru Michael Fullan is right when he observes that, “the two greatest failures of leaders are indecisiveness in times of urgent need for action and dead certainty that they are right in times of complexity.”

Thankfully, our dualistic and hierarchical models of leadership are falling in favour of holistic and egalitarian models. The crisis is thus an opportunity to rediscover the vocation of the church as an authentic community, a living priesthood, a missional people in a foreign land. We have the opportunity to move from leadership cults, to leadership cultures; instead of lone rangers, we need meaning makers; instead of the Wiz we need Dorothy.

More – PDF

Many foundational questions surround both theology and practice in relation to Christian leadership at this time in our culture: what does leadership look like in this in-between place? What kinds of structures will facilitate authentic transformation in this community? What sorts of disciplines are necessary to help us prepare for the social changes we will face in the next decade? How can we facilitate the kinds of environments necessary for healthy and sustained growth in the kingdom of God in urban environments? How can we become a people that welcome Spirit?

To develop a broader vision we must be willing to forsake, to kill, our narrower vision. In the short run it is more comfortable not to do this – to stay where we are, to keep using the same microcosmic map, to avoid suffering the death of cherished notions. The road of spiritual growth, however, lies in the opposite direction. We begin by distrusting what we already believe, by actively seeking the threatening and unfamiliar, by deliberately challenging the validity of what we have previously been taught and hold dear. The path to holiness lies through questioning everything. — M. Scott Peck

Forty Years in a Narrow Space – PDF

len on October 13th, 2014

How does a part of the world leave the world?
How can wetness leave water?
Don’t try to put out a fire
by throwing on more fire!
Don’t wash a wound with blood!

No matter how fast you can run,
your shadow more than keeps up.
Sometimes, it’s out in front!

Only full, overhead sun
diminishes your shadow.

But that shadow has been serving you!
What hurts you, blesses you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.

I can explain this, but it would break
the glass cover on your heart,
and there’s no fixing that.


len on October 11th, 2014

Ronald WrightA few years ago I discovered Ronald Wright. Funny how easy it is to be optimistic while going about daily life in our privileged culture.. and how easy it is to be pessimistic after watching the evening news or reading the Globe and Mail or Time Magazine. In essence, if we look hard at the realities of our world and our way of life, we have good reason to be gloomy. Not coincidentally, Wright notes that Margaret Atwood in her dystopian novel Oryx and Crake, has one of her characters ask, “As a species we’re doomed by hope, then?” Wright continues,

“Hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create ever more dangerous messes. Hope elects the politician with the biggest empty promise; and as any stockbroker or lottery seller knows, most of us will take a slim hope over prudent and predictable frugality. Hope, like greed, fuels the engine of capitalism. John Steinbeck once said that socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” (124) Read the rest of this entry »

len on October 10th, 2014

Al Mohler is a great preacher. And he makes his point in this video very, very clear. Using a series of metaphors, he tells us that what we need in unstable times is greater certainty. When things are falling apart, we don’t want more conversations, we want action!

The context of his argument is Scripture. The preacher shouldn’t leave his study until he knows exactly what the text means — in fact, the preacher shouldn’t eat or drink until that happens!

We want desperately to take uncertainty out of the future but when we take it out it isn’t the future. It is the present projected forward.

Contrast this approach with the attitude of NT Wright, arguably the greatest living New Testament scholar. Wright is well known for beginning his preaching with this: “70% of what I am about to tell you is the truth. The problem is, I’m not sure which 70% it is.” Wright explicitly puts the onus on the hearer to do her own homework and not simply defer to his years of scholarship and language study.

But wouldn’t we all love it if the world were really the way Al Mohler says it is? In fact, the more unstable the times, the more we look for strong leaders. Fundamentalisms thrive in uncertain times (Cue Naomi Kline’s “Shock Doctrine.”)

Canadian author Michael Fullan summarizes our current state in terms of leadership in the West, as well as identifying the way forward. He writes, “I have never been fond of distinguishing between management and leadership: they overlap and you need both qualities. But here is a distinction worth making: leadership is needed for problems that do not have easy answers.” (Leading in a Culture of Change, 2)

Similarly, Ron Heifetz accuses us of looking for the wrong kind of leadership when the going gets tough: “in a crisis, we call for someone with answers, decision, strength, and a map of the future — in short, someone who can make hard problems simple.. Instead of looking for saviours, we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face problems for which there are no simple, painless solutions — problems that require us to learn new ways ” (Leadership Without Easy Answers, 21)

Fullan summarizes the challenge of these crazy times. “The two greatest failures of leaders are in decisiveness in times of urgent need for action and dead certainty that they are right in times of complexity.”

Elsewhere, Meg Wheatley writes that “Leadership in Turbulent Times is Spiritual.” Hint – that doesn’t necessarily equate with certainty of direction. In fact, faith is often opposed to certainty, since faith requires risk and dependence on a God who reveals himself in his way and at his speed, ie. he is not on call because we have a need to move forward.

len on October 9th, 2014

booksSee also “Lofland & Lofland

len on October 9th, 2014

coverA thick description of a human behavior is one that explains not just the behavior, but its context as well, such that the behavior becomes meaningful to an outsider. The term was used by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz in his The Interpretation of Cultures (1973) to describe his own method of doing ethnography (Geertz 1973:5-6, 9-10)

Geertz aims to provide social science with an understanding and appreciation of “thick description.” While Geertz applies thick description in the direction of anthropological study (specifically his own ‘interpretive anthropology’), his theory that asserts the essentially semiotic nature of culture has implications for the social sciences in general and political science in particular.

“Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete. And, worse than that, the more deeply it goes the less complete it is… There are a number of ways of escaping this — turning culture into folklore and collecting it, turning it into traits and counting it, turning it into institutions and classifying it, turning it into structures and toying with it. But they are escapes. The fact is that to commit oneself to a semiotic concept of culture and an interpretive approach to the study of it is to commit oneself to a view of ethnographic assertion as… ‘essentially contestable.’ Anthropology, or at least interpretive anthropology, is a science whose progress is marked less by a perfection of the consensus than by a refinement of debate. What gets better is the precision with which we vex each other.” (29)

We must proceed to interpret a culture’s web of symbols by 1. isolating its elements 2. specifying the internal relationships among those elements 3. characterize the whole system in some general way—according to the core symbols around which it is organized, the underlying structures of which it is a surface expression, or the ideological principles upon which it is based. (17) We must, however, be careful that such hermetical approaches might actually distance us from cultural analysis’s proper object, “the informal logic of actual life…” (17)

Ethnography is by definition “thick description” — “an elaborate venture in.” Using the example of “winking,” Geertz examines how in order to distinguish the winking from a social gesture, a twitch, etc. we must move beyond the action to both the particular social understanding of the “winking” as a gesture, the state of mind of the winker, his/her audience, and how they construe the meaning of the winking action itself. “Thin description” is the winking. “Thick” is the meaning behind it and its symbolic import in society or between communicators.

Summary (edited) from Robert Charlick. See also “Analyzing Social Settings – Lofland & Lofland

len on October 8th, 2014

global myths“As Christians, and as the church of Jesus Christ, we are called by our Lord to be “in” the world, but “not of” the world. “No longer” who we were before we came to Christ, we are “not yet” what we will be when Christ returns. This bracing call to tension in both time and space lies at the heart of our faith. Individually and collectively, we are to live in the world in a stance of both Yes and No, affirmation and antithesis, or of being “against the world/for the world.”

“This tension is crucial to the faithfulness of the church, and to her integrity and effectiveness in the world. When the church of Christ remains faithful to this calling, she lives in a creative tension that is the prerequisite of her transforming power in culture and history.

“Beyond any question, the single, strongest expression of the face of the world in our time … is globalization, the process by which human interconnectedness has expanded to a truly global level. At the centre of the current wave of globalization are “the triple S-forces” of speed (with the capacity for instant communication), scope (the capacity to communicate to the entire world), and simultaneity (the capacity to communicate to everywhere at the same time). Together, these forces have shaped our “wired world” and led to an unprecedented triple impact on human living: the acceleration, compression, and intensification of human life on earth in the global world.”

Os Guinness and David Wells on Globalization (Lausanne). Vinoth Ramachandra on Globalization and on Integral Mission.

See also “Subverting Global Myths” and this short reflection on “The Lexus and the Olive Tree.” And at Academia, notes on “A Critique of Milton Friedman

len on October 7th, 2014

Christianity Today has run a series of interviews with Philip Jenkins, author of the title noted above.

Part I
Part II
Part III

From Part III —

Ed: Some are estimating that in the next couple of decades, they’ll be more evangelicals in Brazil than in the United States… what will that do in terms of global leadership? We’ve already seen the Anglican Global South assert its authority as the majority. How will this shift play out in the coming years?

Dr. Jenkins: So much of this change has happened very recently – within 30, 40, 50 years, which in the span of Christian history is not great. It’s hardly surprising that some institutions have not adapted fully to take account of that. Other churches, however, recognize it. On a typical Sunday, there are more Assemblies of God worshippers in the greater San Paulo, Brazil area than in the United States. It’s a radical change.

Let me suggest to you that in 30 years, there will be two sorts of church in the world. There’ll be the ones that are multi-ethnic, transnational, and multi-continental. They are constantly battling over issues of culture, lifestyle, worship, and constantly in conflict, debate and controversy. And those are the good ones. The other churches will have decided to let all these trends pass them by. They’ll live just like they’ve always done with an average age in their congregations of 80. Personally, I’d much rather be in one of the ones that is recognizing, taking account of the expansion with all the debates and controversies.

HT to Prodigal Kiwis