This is number twelve in a series of fourteen. In the past fifty years our imagination about what it means to be God’s people has been shaped by imported models and by a variety of traditions, but those traditions themselves have been conditioned by the preachers, leaders, books and churches that have dominated the media. The most prominent of are American “success” mega-churches.

We are now in the intriguing place of recognizing the limits of an imported imagination of ecclesial life, creating a significant vacuum and much anxiety. There are also hopeful signs that the work of theology, and of mission, in place — in THIS place — and the interaction of these two, is being taken with new seriousness by Canadian believers. Thus this series of posts on the work of Canadian authors.

My last post considered “Missional Spirituality, by myself and Roger Helland. This time we’ll look at An Emerging Dictionary for the Gospel and Culture, written by myself.

An Emerging Dictionary is not really a dictionary, but a syllabus and anthology: a collection of thoughts, organized alphabetically by virtue of a particular conversation. The idea for this project emerged, like so many great ideas, from a free-for-all conversation around breakfast one morning.

Shortly after I left the table I realized that our conversation had invoked any number of authors living and dead, and had spanned spirituality, leadership, education, philosophy, ecclesiology, and even cosmology. We had invoked Augustine and Barth, Jim Wallis and Dallas Willard, chaos, and culture. Someone had even shared a Buddhist koan! Really, one would need the most eclectic dictionary on earth!

coverWhy not? Why not a roving, eclectic dictionary that is both ridiculously current and particular, rooted in the broad conversation on culture, the gospel, and change; and at the same time, nearly universal, broadly inclusive, referencing names, old and new, that are used in this conversation. Why not write the ABCs of the emerging and missional conversation: an anthology organized by alphabet? In conception, this is Wishful Thinking (Buechner) meets A for Abductive (McLaren and Sweet) meets Soul Survivor (Yancey). And maybe there is just a touch of Brian McLaren in A Generous Orthodoxy.

The rules are simple: no more than five words per letter; names and personalities can occur on either side, attached to a definition or as referencing a word or concept; the tone is positive and constructive; and, while the overall interest is theological, the focus is life and mission—not theory.

So what would the first entries look like, and who and what would be included?

Under ‘A’ would be affections, ancient, apophatic, and attractional. And of course, one would have to reference Saint Augustine. Augustine has never been more relevant, with his thoughts on desire beautifully elucidated by William Cavanaugh. Augustine is the brother who quipped, ‘Our hearts are restless ‘til they find rest in you.’ In our consumer culture, desire itself has become a commodity.

Some other names attached to these ‘A’ words would be Robert Webber, Frost and Hirsch, Reggie McNeal, Jonathan Edwards, and Saint Gregory. Both Augustine and Saint Gregory are referenced in relation to the rediscovery of apophatic prayer, and the exploding interest in spiritual formation and ancient practices.

Under ‘B’ would be Barth, Saint Benedict, Bread, and Walter Brueggemann. While Barth isn’t an everyday name in the conversation around the gospel and culture, I am often struck by the echoes of his teaching around the recovery of wonder, or related to ideas like chastened rationality. As for Saint Benedict, the growing interest in missional orders can be traced back to his Rule, and a recent book explores the vows of stability, conversion, and obedience with reference to renewal and missional engagement (Inhabiting the Church, 2007).

Bread symbolizes for me the rediscovery of a sacramental perspective and the renewed awareness that God is involved in all of life, especially the most ordinary things. But at the same time, it reminds me that the heart of memory for Christians is Eucharistic, and that most political celebration is always subversive. Walter Brueggemann is the de facto prophet of subversion, the poet who speaks against a prose-flattened world, and he will be found more than a few times in this emerging dictionary of the gospel and culture.

Under ‘C’ will be found chaos, consumption, conversation, conversion, and culture. What else? Chaos Theory was born in 1961 when meteorologist Edward Lorenz stumbled across a system that had sensitive dependence on initial conditions, making it impossible to predict outcomes. Even infinitesimally small variables can impact final results; the classic ‘butterfly effect.’ And in terms of the gospel and culture we have to deal with both chaos and complexity.

The last word, culture, has been described as one of the most complex words in the English language, yet we use it frequently and assume that everyone understands what we mean by it. Other names referenced here will be Jim Wallis, William Cavanaugh, Rodney Clapp, Brian McLaren, and Simone Weil. Weil said, “culture is that which forms attention.” Culture is a cultivating force.

Under ‘D’ we take on dangerous, disciplines, and différance. The first word connects me to the cadence of Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn and his, “lovers in a dangerous time.” Love is always a risky venture, and should probably only be engaged when wearing seat belts and crash helmets. In a related movement, Walter Brueggemann reflects on the challenge of living as exiles, opining that, “We can only stand in readiness for what God may do…that standing requires the use of intentional disciplines that in every case are marked by danger.”

You may download the PDF for the first chapter using this LINK.

The page at AMAZON.