Archives For Ecclesiology

gresham-collegeEngland’s, Gresham College has a series of excellent lectures available for free on YouTube. Two grabbed my attention. Alister McGrath’s, ‘Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates  was the first. The second was Alec Ryrie’s, ‘What Would Jesus Do? Christian Culture Wars in the Modern West.’ 

McGrath’s lecture reasserted a lot of what I’ve heard before. What I liked about this was how McGrath dealt with William Paley’s, Natural Theology and how McGrath leans authoritatively towards Thomas Aquinas and Charles Kingsley.

The lecture starts with an overview of Charles Darwin’s journey from boat to the establishment of his theory, and closes with a discussion about Darwinism and religion. I thought McGrath was a little  to generous towards Darwin when discussing Nazism and its social Darwinian ideology.

This, however, is offset by McGrath’s in-depth look at Darwin’s assertions in ”The Decent of Man”.

Key statements were: “Darwin never became an atheist. Although he wrestled with [Protestant] Christianity’s “lack” in dealing with suffering, brought on by the loss of his daughter, Darwin never used evolution as weapon against Christianity. From what we know, Darwin didn’t see a clash between evolution and creation”

After watching another lecture from Alister McGrath called, ‘Evangelicalism & Liberalism‘ from an unrelated source, Alec Ryrie’s lecture was a surprise find. Ryrie deals with a similar theme.

The great attraction of this lecture is how Ryrie presents Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s incomplete [‘half-formed’] theology on the ecclesia. More precisely his idea of ”religionless Christianity” drawn out form a list of letters in the unabridged version of ‘Letters and Papers from Prison, DBW:8.’

Ryrie covers three themes. Moral events, christian authenticity and the loss of christian identity as it is paralysed by politics and pluralism. His frame is the evangelical question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Religionless Christianity.

Out of these he points out that in the West, ‘World War Two was the defining moral event, of the twentieth century.’ The fight against the Axis powers in WW2 was portrayed as a Crusade against evil. Something that, post Dachau and Auschwitz proved to be true. This lead to a post-war rallying around Judeo-Christianity, the faith of Christendom, as being a bulwark against communism because it saved the West from Nazism [the new modern face and name for evil].

From here, Ryrie looks to the African-American civil rights movement. In these he sees the opportunistic birth of the left as it took over ownership of the Civil rights movement, quietly suppressing the Christian foundations of it. Attracting in particular those who took Bonhoeffer’s ”religionless Christianity” and looked to work it out as doctrine. (Something I would take to mean the hijacking of Bonhoeffer by the radical Left).

The consequence being a ‘reckless abandonment of institutions’ and tradition in the process. Adding to this the eventual gagging of the gospel and the disintegration of an openly Christian identity.

It’s here where the content of Ryrie’s lecture meets with McGrath’s look back to the legacy of Christian liberalism. From which is drawn the view that ”culture determines the agenda and therefore the church has to go wherever culture leads.”

Christian identity ended up ‘torn’ between left and right. However, by the late 1970s the religious left had became ‘invisible’. As an example, Ryrie presents the overthrow of the Student Christian Mission (SCM) by Marxists, who ‘merged a Marxist revolution with the Kingdom of God; seeing Jesus as a political radical.’ This was the ‘subsuming of Christian identity into radical politics.’ Another legacy of theological liberalism with its ”world sets the agenda laissez-faire attitude.’ (McGrath)

The lecture ends with the example of Buzz Aldrin’s decision to have communion on the moon. Ryrie highlights Aldrin’s regret, mentioned in his 2008 memoir, which stated that he wouldn’t do it if he did the moon landing all over again because they went to the moon on behalf of humanity, which includes Jews, Muslims, Hindus and heathen, not just Christians. Although the communion was done in private, Aldrin is still led to reconsider it. Ryrie points to this regret as evidence of the crisis caused by this loss of identity. The  insecurity (lament/shyness/uncertainty) about holding up, with conviction, what is an essential rite of Aldrin’s faith, makes special note of the struggle Christians have in ‘maintaining a [Christian] identity in the midst of pluralism.’

Ryrie’s lecture is full of insight. His subject is well researched and I find myself agreeing with his points. Points that back up the quip that the radical Left created the Conservative movement. The radical Left continues to be a divisive force, grasping for any cause that will reinvigorate this division to foster recruitment and feed the sense of global community only found in the Commonwealth of Christ. Setting itself up as the Kingdom of God without God in it.

Christianity indistinguishable from the world is subsequently extinguished by the world. Or perhaps more accurately, Christianity indistinguishable from the world allows itself to be extinguished (at least in public) from the world.


Sources:

[i] McGrath, A. 1993 Evangelicalism & Liberalism‘ Moore College, Australia

[ii] McGrath, A. 2016 ‘Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates Gresham College – [transcript]

[iii] Ryrie, A. 2016 What Would Jesus Do? Christian Culture Wars in the Modern West Gresham College – [transcript]

When it comes to improving context and expression on social media, #hashtags can empower written communication.

For example #hashtags can provide:

 sharp relief…

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Image: AdamRobertsEF, sourced from Flickr 27th May 2014

They do this by allowing improved delivery of the message. Such as providing context, enhancing dialogue and uplifting an otherwise impoverished form of expression. Hashtags allow the author and the reader to reach beyond the limitations of non-verbal, faceless communication.

However, used on their own #hashtags can be:

hashtags

Jasmine Henry, writing for ragan.com, suggests six areas of social media etiquette where businesses (and I think people in general) should use caution when wielding the might of the hashtag.

Jasmine writes:

First, beware of using ‘too many hashtags. Overuse is annoying and can be difficult to read’.

Second, be careful of the ‘irrelevant use of hashtags.’ There’s no need to hashtag every post.

Third, proper social media etiquette requires a limit of only ‘three to four words’ behind a hashtag. This allows for improved readability.

Fourth, don’t ‘over promote a self-made hashtag‘. Be careful you’re not over stating what is obvious to the reader.

Fifth, understand the mechanics behind hashtags. ‘Be considerate of the trend in order to avoid looking like you are jumping into a pre-existing conversation without having something relevant to contribute to that conversation.’

Lastly, be sure that the hashtag relates to the trend. Avoid ‘hashtag sampling, by misusing or miscalculating the contextual meaning within a hashtag trend’

The Church would do well to not overlook the usefulness, significance and potential of hashtags. Their use allows for bridge building as the hashtag mechanics can carry the message further. One outcome suggested by a hypothetical scenario might be when a person in need of encouragement lands upon a ”trend” directing them back to the Gospel, or the sender opening up opportunity for fellowship, responsible care and/or contextual mission.

Some of us might be unaware of this ”etiquette”, since a lot of people are all awkwardly still working out how to use this technology in community. I had some idea, but it wasn’t until I looked more into it that I realised the use of hashtags is actually not a bad thing.

The fuss in using hashtags appears to involve nothing more than concerns about their overuse and the uncertainly of their usefulness, significance and potential.

These are also important points here that can be made about how this relates to pastoral care and evangelism in an online mirco-blogging environment. For instance, hashtags can avoid a passive aggressive tone when presenting shared material. In a pre-emptive sense, used properly hashtags have the potential to defuse rather than ignite misgivings about the Church, the Bible and God.

As long as the mechanics are understood and not hindered by their programmers or our own poorly considered words, the hashtag allows a way for us to reinforce the context of what we are trying to say. As result we have a way to overcome the limitations of faceless-expressionless communication and the obstacle of misunderstandings unique to social media.

 

hashtag Merriam_Webster

Image: Merriam-Webster

 

Source:

Henry, J. 2012 The 6 most irritating ways to use hashtags on Twitter, sourced from ragan.com

Bonhoeffer_Lenten Sermon

A Collection of Sermons from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, something I’ve been hanging out to read for a while, arrived today.

In the process of browsing through the texts, some statements in particular held my attention:

The historical context of this sermon is Lent and Hitler’s coming to power in Germany, January 1933[i].

‘Gideon responded, “but sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you…” (Judges 6 – 8)
Who would be willing to say that he or she has never heard this call and has never answered, as Gideon did: Lord, with what am I supposed to do such great things? But then Gideon is silenced; today as just in those days, he’s told to shut up. You’re asking, “With What?” Haven’t you realised what it means that this is God calling to you? Isn’t the call of God enough for you; if you listen properly, doesn’t it drown out all your “With What” questions? “I will be with you” – that means you are not asked to do this with any other help. It is I who have called you; I will be with you; I shall be doing it too…
…Do you hear that, Gideon of yesterday and today? God has called you, and that is enough. Do you hear that, individual doubting Christian, asking and doubting Christian? God has plans for you, and that does mean you. Be ready and see to it. Never forget, even when your own powerlessness is grinding you down to the ground, that God has phenomenal, immeasurable, great plans for you. I will be with you.
Gideon conquers, the church conquers, we conquer, because faith alone conquers. But the victory belongs not to Gideon, the church, or ourselves, but to God. And God’s victory means our defeat, our humiliation; it means God’s derision and wrath at all human pretensions of might, at humans puffing themselves up and thinking that they are somebody’s themselves. It means the world and its shouting is silenced, that all our ideas and plans are frustrated; it means the cross. The Cross over the world…
The people approach the victorious Gideon with the final trial, the final temptation: “Be our lord, rule over us.” But Gideon has not forgotten his own history, nor the history of his people…The Lord will rule over you, and you shall have no other lord….Beside us kneels Gideon, who was brought through fear and doubt to faith, before the altar of the one and only God, and with us Gideon prays, Lord on the cross, be our only Lord.
Amen.’
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Berlin 1933)

The content of the sermon reflects a response to the ideological ‘will-to-power’ present within fascism, spreading its hands across Europe at the time. The overall text of the sermon hints at Bonhoeffer’s political theology. Here he firmly warns us that human loyalties may sway, but the Lordship of Jesus remains intact as a matter of fact.

Bonhoeffer appears to be saying that because of God’s grace there is only one Lord. He alone, is for us – to be our God and we His people. He stands against us in His loving Yes to us. Even though humans may seem to succeed for a time in their pride filled quest for lordless power, they are inevitably confronted with ‘defeat’ and ‘humiliation’; ‘the world and its shouting is silenced’ by ‘the cross of Jesus Christ – that means God’s lordship over the world.’[ii]

For me, the relevance of Lent and Ash Wednesday is apparent. This gives weight to Bonhoeffer’s chief point, and is made all the more intense with references to ‘dust’, ‘faith in action’[iii], humiliation and defeat. In addition what is seemingly stated to contrast with the Swastika (or crooked cross), a symbol now synonymous with Nazism, Bonhoeffer’s ‘cross over the world’[iv] remark is subtle, and deliberate, highlighting a theologically well defended political subtext.

In pointing us to the liberating contents of the Biblical genres, Bonhoeffer is reminding us that Jesus the Christ reigns, as Lord, over the lords of this world, whether they (or we) like having Him as their (our) Lord or not[v].

 

Source:


[i] Best, I. 2012 Sermon Introduction & Exposition in The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Fortress Press, p.67
[ii] Bonhoeffer,D. 1933 Gideon: God is my Lord in The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Fortress Press 2012:73
[iii] Ibid, p.69
[iv] Ibid, p.73
[v] Ibid, p.73

Humility Wins

July 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

Richard Foster once made three profound observations about humility, stating:

Humility

Humility (Photo credit: deep shot)

‘…it soon becomes apparent that:

1. Study demands humility. Study simply cannot happen until we are willing to subject to the subject matter…we must come as a student, not teacher.
2. Not only is study directly dependent upon humility, but it is conducive to it.
3. Arrogance and humility are mutually exclusive’ (2008:82)

Here Foster is concerned with the polarised disconnect between arrogance and humility in the context of study, viewed as being one of four inward spiritual disciplines.

Over the years I have learnt the importance of humility. The process involves having a loving conscience, and being open to the possibility that other Christians may stumble. Primarily due to my own advanced or under-developed theological and socio-political understandings. (1. Cor.8:11)

In 1975 Liberation theologian James Cone stated that:

‘most theologies [and other academic disciplines]are in fact an, [advantaged class] bourgeois exercise in intellectual masturbation’ (1975:43, words in brackets mine)

My most recent reflections on the issue of pride has in part been driven by this damning metaphorical indictment. It is a caveat, that I am in cautious agreement with. Only as far as this statement critiques pride and ‘disturbs the sinner in his or her sin’ (Karl Barth).

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Source: RL2013

From a Western perspective, personally, I would not be designated as having come from the advantaged class. Nevertheless I do believe God’s love as expressed through Father, Son and Spirit in the biblical texts, summons us to wrestle with the pride that can be produced by the very knowledge which He rightly and richly encourages (Eph.1:7-10). Whether you are a Christian or not – God sends the rain to provide for both.

Therefore, I would argue that God’s blessings are to be nurtured because they can too easily become prey for the tempter.

Paul illustrates this in 1 Cor.8-10 when he invites the Church to identify its idols because:

‘Idolatry exposes people to serious danger…the strenuous self-denial of the athlete…is a rebuke to half-hearted, flabby Christian service. The athlete denies themselves many lawful pleasures and the Christian must similarly avoid not only definite sin, but anything that hinders spiritual progress…however God is not simply a spectator of the affairs of life in this; he is concerned and active. He will always provide a way out…therefore our trust is in the faithfulness of God’ (Morris 1996:137, 141 & 142)

Zeal (whether it be labelled liberal, conservative, red-pill, blue-pill, extreme or otherwise) must not become arrogant, conceited, and over-empowering whereby it puffs up one person to dominate over another unjustly.

Pride is, and can only ever be an enemy of grace –  pride is like a tool for the ‘nothing’ (Barth’s term for absolute evil) to corrupt God’s blessing. As a consequence pride becomes an enemy to freedom, and a threat to community, worship, marriage, family – progress.

I have interpreted this in light of the caveat  ‘do not become the dragon  you are fighting against’ (Nietzsche paraphrased by Phillip Yancey, 1997:232)[1].

This means my response to pride must become ‘reflective instead of instinctive’ (Karl Barth C.D IV.4:182); putting off well-engrained, survival mechanisms that help me hide in bitter pride rather than heal in humility.

It may be too simple to suggest that humility wins. After all rejecting pride is not an easy task and mantra’s themselves can become tired, meaningless words. Suggesting that humility wins is not the same as saying ‘love wins’ because it is more specific. In addition, it does not mean allowing ourselves to become doormats or subjugating ourselves to indentured, unjust servitude. What I mean is that humility drives us forward unifying us in our agreements, and promoting respectful dialogue in the areas where we disagree.

Even. When. We. Mess. Up…

Humility

Humility (Photo credit: Perfesser)

This week I witnessed the public shaming of a Christian who I think is unique, spirited, and missional. The matter could have been better handled. For example: the grievances held by the leadership of that community should have been addressed with her in private.

The event is a reminder of Paul’s call, already mentioned, to work towards preventing the wounding of other Christians in areas of their lives where they are either exhausted or  under-developed. To this task the Church in its various expressions and forms, ‘works towards the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10:31) rather than the glory of self.

By choosing to include this in their response the leadership would have not just carried out the loving act of correction (which they did), but engaged in the loving ‘act of consideration for her limitations ’ (Morris, 1996:124-123, italics mine). In so doing they could have strengthened this sisters understanding by carrying her to the light of even greater insight and participation in the community.

Sadly, preventing the fallout from this, is now perhaps just another missed opportunity for the Church to act holistically on the commands of the One we say we follow.

(Jn.8:7)

Sources:

Cone, J.1975, God of the oppressed  Orbis Books NY
Forster, R. 2008 Celebration of discipline (1980) Hodder & Stoughton UK
Morris, L. 1996 Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Corinthians Intervarsity Press Wm. B Eerdmans publishing
Yancey, P. 1997, What’s so amazing about Grace? Zondervan Publishing House


[1] The actual quote reads ‘the man who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you’ (Beyond good and evil, p.63) – This is not an endorsement of Nietzsche or his philosophy, it is a critical application of a controversial statement used in order to illustrate a point.

My wife and I are homeschoolers and we both deeply value learning.

Most homeschoolers would agree that ‘to be a teacher is truly to be the learner’ (Kierkegaard 1995:461). A part of this involves appreciating how important it is to have a teachable attitude and flexible approach towards education.

This is to say that we study with, as much as we provide teaching for our Children. Learning from one another drives education and we all thrive because of it.

We have quickly learnt that there is no room for academic arrogance in a homeschooled environment. This is because we are always working towards being ‘empathetic, a good listener and solidly present’ (Gerkin 1997:157).

From my observation, the way we engage in this environment is properly informed by a pastoral theology which understands that ‘models of care must be adapted to our changing situation’ (ibid 1997:37).

I have been embedded in the academic world for four and a half years. Throughout that time I found it extremely rare to witness the same kind of academic arrogance that I have seen on display, via some of the social media platforms I utilise. The closest I got to this in my journey through the academic maze was witnessing what happens when an ideology guides the theology of academics.

One example of this was Donald Miller’s consistent posts on twitter this week, which concerned some poorly timed tweets from John Piper. Sadly, Piper’s tweets coincided with the tragedy in Oklahoma. I appreciate both men as Christians and view them as solid contributors to their respective fields within the church (Piper’s tweets have since been deleted).

They just went too far.

The problem is that we are all tempted to impose, by varying degrees, a sense of superiority over others, especially when we disagree.

If Sir Francis Bacon was right and ‘knowledge is power’, then in a world that has wrongly rejected all absolutes, knowledge becomes KING, power becomes EVERYTHING.

The chief concern here is that bulldozing others with our knowledge represents our own insecurities. Worst still, it asserts a false moral superiority because it places us in opposition to grace and places us above the law.

Our reactions reflect how we feel about our ability to decode what has been communicated to us.

Sure, there are plenty of people who will agree, disagree and be totally indifferent to what you have to say. Fine, I get that.

For me the issue of academic arrogance is very real. It’s a potential compromise for Christians who use social media for mission, proclamation and outreach. The scripture that comes to mind here is Mt.10:16 (you know, the part where Jesus talks about sheep, wolves, serpents, wisdom, doves and innocence).

My point is this: it is necessary for Christians to keep practicing discernment. Knowing when to engage and when to disengage, when to assert ourselves and when to back off.

This means learning when to disagree openly and when to let some comments simply just fall away without incident. When we process this theologically we find a comfortable starting point with Paul’s plea to ‘speak the truth in love, like Christ’ (Eph.4:11-15).

My encouragement to you today is this: if like me, you inadvertently struggle in this area, make sure you return to your post.

Change it, delete it or mould it into something else. Don’t let the sense of inferiority that has guided the reactions of others cause you to give up.

Excellence is about giving the best we have to offer.

If that ‘imperfect offering’ (Cohen) reflects your best, LET IT SHINE. If it represents your 2nd best pull it and revise it. Do so, not because someone didn’t like it. Do it because you acknowledge that you can do better, knowing that in some ‘circumstances where we show hospitality to strangers, we may be entertaining angels without realizing it’ (Heb.13:2, ESV/NLT/MESSAGE)

Act on the truth which a lot of homeschoolers already own, that is ‘to be a teacher is truly to be the learner’ (Kierkegaard 1995:461).

When we do this the church proclaims humility through vulnerability, because we are open to correction and retraction. This shows the world that we are real, and that we are not part of an ‘elite spiritual aristocracy…that claims ‘special gnosis (knowledge)’ (Peterson 2005:61).

Our actions will show the world through word and deed, that we are part of a ‘suffering and sacramental community, on an imminent-incomplete journey towards the completeness promised to us in the event of the resurrected Christ’ (Barth, 2008:29).

This promotes authentic church, where Father, Son and Spirit through the voice of the μαρτύριον (the marturion/matyrs – witnesses) invites the broken, rejected and downtrodden into becoming genuine ‘dialogue partners’ (McGrath, 1992:128) with Him.

Sources:

Barth, K 2008 Prayers: Karl Barth Westminster John Knox Press London
Gerkin,C. 1997 Introduction to Pastoral Care Abingdon Press Nashville
Hong, H & Hong, E. 1995 The Essential Kierkegaard Princeton University Press
McGrath, A. 1992 Bridge building InterVarsity Press
Peterson, E. 2005 Christ plays in ten thousand places Hodder & Stoughton, London

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In the previous post, I introduced my topic and briefly outlined the context from which I write. Part two will conclude with a format that follows along IMG_20130506_165144similar lines.

‘The Naked Christian’ presents itself as a critical incident report that follows the protocols of theological reflection. What could be rightly termed as ”Borlase’s lament”, presents a convincing case for dropping self-serving prefixes such as ‘on-fire, post-evangelical, born-again and instead be content to simply be a Christian’ (pp.26-27). Therefore, ‘The Naked Christian’ is NOT a rant about the church. Alternatively, Borlase takes to task those expressions of church which are dangerously close to being, ‘too heavenly minded to do any earthly good’ (p.166). He cautiously walks between the polarising extremes of ‘the small-minded paranoia associated with the selfishly negative, and the free flowing DIY spirituality connected with the mindlessly positive’ (pp.137, 166 & 173).

Now, before you begin to think that I am recruiting you for membership in the Craig Borlase fan club, allow me to delicately lay out before you two significant limitations to his conclusions.

Firstly, although Borlase rightly identifies the churches’ problems with overreaction and indifference, some of the relevant-at-the-time material within ‘The Naked Christian’ is now not as relevant.  Take for example, the positive impact social media has had on the churches ability to connect with people both publically and privately, in their homes and work et.al. This answers part of the problems identified by Borlase, surrounding the churches tendency to place ritual-over-relationship. (The caveat here is of course that there is also a case, for how this makes ‘The Naked Christian’ even more relevant. I just think that in this particular area the positive, by far, out-ways the negative).

Another limitation related to this is that Borlase highlights what he calls, Jesus’ ‘radical acceptance’ (p.118) and ‘inclusion of all’ (p.151). Borlase gives only small consideration to the fact that, quite often the events were accompanied by people motivated to reverse their lifestyle. The New Testament records that the people who came into contact with Jesus were literally, never the same again. For example: Peter, Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus and Paul.

The problem this highlights for the church today is that Jesus confronted sin on a relational level. This lead to the admonishment ‘go and sin no more’. He provided and communicated an alternative way out. How can the Church do this effectively, when a large portion of Western society today views disagreement as disrespect? Which is closely associated with the tendency to ridicule the church into submission and silence it, through accusations of bigotry and hate speech. How does the church engage as Borlase describes, when it is deliberately being forced (now sometimes legally) to disengage?

Secondly, ‘The Naked Christian’ tends to downplay the importance of solitude and periods of isolation that are useful for nurturing faith. Ergo spiritual disciplines are not addressed. Having said this, it is important to note that Borlase does acknowledge the importance of order. For instance: ‘with no structure in place there would be a real threat of directionless wandering’ (p.164).However, he does not elaborate on how spiritual disciplines, such as solitude, fit within his critique of the church.Sometimes distancing ourselves from a particular context or relationship is necessary and beneficial.

The strength of Borlase’s work is that it is a theological quest ‘for balance’ (p.167). The definition of a ‘Naked Christian’ is an ‘authentic’ (p.64) Christ-follower who advocates a thinking faith, over against an ‘airhead Christianity…that preferences emotion over understanding’ (pp.154 & 159). Speaking from his own experience, Borlase seeks to raise awareness about the ‘good vs. bad logic that wrongfully underpins our ideas of Church vs. world’ (p.137, emphasis mine); or in other words the false dichotomy between secular and sacred (p.110).

Borlase is right to do this because it counters the dehumanizing, results-over-relationship culture that hinges on the buy and sell transactional nature of relationship. This is something which should rightly be an anathema to the church. For example: the church should ‘treat people as loved by God instead of targets (numbers) for Christian mission’ (p.85). In order to do this Borlase encourages the Church to bring ‘the world into focus’ (p.109)…stating that

Christianity is about relationship not ritual’ (pp.137 & 166)…‘If we run away at the first sign of bad feelings, if we have failed to equip ourselves with a knowledge of God and if we only value the big spiritual event, then we run the risk of missing out on some absolutely vital parts of our relationship with God’ (pp.163-165).

This is reflected in what Karl Barth means when he speaks of the ‘bourgeois’. What he meant was (predominantly white) middle class Christianity (Gorringe 1999, p.8)[2]. This works for a valid explanation of my own broad experience of the Australian Church. IMG_20130505_223258I attended a Catholic primary school, was baptised in a Pentecostal church, attended an ecumenical Christian secondary school and was married in the same Anglican Church I was christened in. As a teenager I was forced by my, loving but, recently divorced mother to attend every Sunday service, shifting between two wealthy charismatic Churches. I was a volunteer announcer at a Christian radio station that prided itself on only playing ‘Christian music’, along with managing a Christian bookstore, and now I’m studying a double degree at an ecumenical tertiary college.

All these paradigms of ecclesia have shown me that every ‘metaphor’ (Jensen & Wilhite 2010, Loc.276) of church has strengths and limitations[3]. Therefore I am sympathetic to the statement that ‘the church is yet to be defined’ (Jenson & Wilhite 2010, Loc.322) beyond being an ‘invisible (mystical) and visible reality (institutional, sacramental, herald and servant’ (2010, loc.722).

When serious thinkers like Karl Barth speak of a ‘bourgeois’ Christianity the subtext conceals a witty caveat. It is a warning against becoming a ‘narcissistic subculture…or so culturally relevant that we no longer have anything to say to the culture. Instead of having a transforming influence on it, we run the risk of fusing with it’ (Morgenthaler 1995, p.137).

This has largely been my experience of the church. For the most part it has been a negative one and resembles the song ‘I’ve been everywhere man’. For example: I was a Protestant in the Catholic paradigm, come from a welfare dependant family who were Anglican, yet were attending a wealthy charismatic Pentecostal Church. I was a deeply troubled teen constantly wrestling with trying to reconcile the Christianity I was seeing with the Christianity I was hearing about from within my ecumenical, secondary Christian school milieu.

In sum, I was an accidental prodigal who didn’t fit the criteria, and was part of the ‘odd and vulnerable, showing their scars and wounds to a watching church’ (Borlase 2001, p.131), who seemed unwilling to invite participation without demanding doctrinal assimilation. My fumbling attempts to live out of my confession that Jesus Christ is Lord of my life made me unwanted. This led to those Christians I was in contact with not taking my salvation seriously, simply because I wasn’t at the latest conference, wearing the latest slogan or showing off a ‘spiritual six-pack’ (p.132). Borlase is right to ask: what would happen if ‘the life of the church gathered, was brought into contact with the life of the church scattered’ (p.49 emphasis mine)?

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Throughout 2002, God used this book to turn my anger and frustration with His church, into understanding and compassion. Throughout the many years since this has transformed my negative experiences into a love for authentic church as being, not just doing. We are called into the church by Jesus the Christ as being and doing. We are not called to play the role of church by seeming to be doing.

My intention here has been to share how this book has impacted my faith. It has done so by encouraging me to see that the church is much bigger than we can be trapped into think it is. What makes this book special is that Borlase challenged my embedded theology. It encouraged me to not only ‘test everything…but to hold fast to what is good’ (1 Thess.5:21).

In a similar way, Borlase’s message motivates the church by encouraging us to move beyond  ‘smug complacency’ (p.89 – the ”meh” culture), disappointment, offense and despair. He points us towards responsible action, devoid of Christianese and its dangerously decontextualized cousin, who appears briefly from behind closed doors[4] in order to safely evangelise, solely in the form of slogans, bumper stickers and memes. The good news is that Jesus is not bound by doors closed for fear of retribution, rejection and ridicule (Jn.20). Neither should we be.

The church cannot hide from the world and its temptations because ‘the Church…is the world conscious of its need’  (Karl Barth cited by Gorringe,1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony p.63)[5].

Bibliography

Borlase, C. 2001 The Naked Christian, Hodder and Stoughton London
Cash, J, No earthly good Johnny Cash: Personal Files Available @ iTunes and Amazon
Gorringe, T.J. 1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony Oxford University Press Inc. New York NY, USA
Jenson, M & Wilhite, D 2010 the Church: A guide for the perplexed T & T Clark International London
Morganthaler, S. 1995 Worship Evangelism: inviting unbelievers into the presence of God, Zondervan Publishing house Grand Rapids, MI, USA

If you are interested in reading some other works from Craig Borlase, I  recommend ‘God’s gravity’ and highly recommend ‘William Seymour’.


[1] Quote is attributed to Brene Brown, 2010,  ‘the gifts of imperfection’ Hazelden
[2] Bourgeois is defined as self-reliance, religion for example: ‘Humanity itself is comfortably established, life was based upon a firm foundation, economically and politically solid and secured by reliable moral principles. This bourgeois character and its piety is strongly orientated ethically and hence is determined by human conduct. Humanity knows what is good and righteous and can achieve it by his own unaided efforts’ (Keller, 1933).
[3] Keller is right to say that ‘Barthianism is a picture of our religious situation inasmuch as it portrays the dissatisfaction of the church with itself, the self-contradiction which results as soon as it orientates itself by its God-given commission and not by its cultural requirements’ (Keller 1933, pp.37-38)
[4] Terry Crist, ‘Learning the language of Babylon’
[5] Jensen and Wilhite make the statement that ‘separation is foreign to the church’ (2010, loc.2433)… ‘It seems the acme of enmity to distinguish the church from the world…To call ourselves the church, then call everyone else the world suggests that `we’ are better than `they’. It is a subtle form of self-justification’ (2010, loc.2241)…’The church exists for the world’ (2010, loc.2253)…the world is not only `them’; it is also (and first) `us’. Nor can the church’s word of antagonism be a final one. The church is finally for the world not against it, because its King under whose reign it lives is finally for the world (2010, Loc.2268).(Rom.5:8)

Some years ago I picked up a book entitled ‘The Naked Christian’ by IMG_20130505_223258British author, Craig Borlase. That was 2002. Since then I have completed close to 12 years of middle management in Christian retailing, and I have nearly, more than qualified for a double degree in ministry and theology. Why is this important? It is important because it help’s to lay out the context from which I speak. I cannot in any small way, minimise the significant point of impact that this book had on me at that period of time in my life, and despite the intense learning curves since, still has. Over the next few days, I plan to explore this in more detail, for now here is an introduction.

Within ‘The Naked Christian’, Borlase critiques the social contracts that bind us to a transactional-consumerist nature of relationship.  This is based on his own experiences with the results-over-relationship priorities that such social contracts inform. Borlase considers ‘balance to be the imperative of focus’ (p.111) and overall his work achieves that. It is a balanced and helpful discourse concerning worship, ecclesiology, evangelism and mission. His purpose is to bring into ‘focus’ (p.109) ‘two extremes’ within the Christian church which he considers as ‘short-sighted’ (pp.109) and ‘long-sighted’ (p.119). The former are those Christians who have retreated from the world through fear of having their faith  contaminated by the world (p.113). The latter are those who have seemingly surrendered themselves to a highly commercialist culture (p.116), and by default have watered down the Gospel to fit in with the whimsical ‘trends’ (p.125) of the world.

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Available @ Amazon

Sadly, this applies to some expressions of the church in Australia. Such a modus operandi permeates the socio-economic expectations and ecclesiastic tribalism found in some fashionable expressions of church (p.123). For instance, Borlase is right to assert that the ‘church suffers under the pressure to entertain, and before long the service becomes more about keeping bums on seats than about keeping eyes on God’ (p.15). Sounds too harsh? perhaps. Yet, however we view this, it is difficult to ignore the nasty facets of church practice which Borlase has painstakingly highlighted, for instance:

When we reduce Christianity to looking fluffy we do God wrong (p.122)…When we buy into the line that looking our best is important it can only be a short step to believing that it is only when we look our best that we are truly loved. Carrying a little extra weight? Sorry, you’ll never be happy. Unable to afford the right label? Tough luck, your cool rating just took a dip. Whichever way you look at it, this line of thinking is totally in opposition to God’s way of doing things’.

‘Yes, it’s nice to feel nice, but how sad a state is it when we infect God’s word with the dark heart of conditional self-worth and mindless materialism? Those are two flavours that most certainly have no place in the faith…when Church becomes a fashion show, when looking in the mirror comes in front of the Sunday morning ritual of looking for the Bible, church itself gets affected…we need to watch out for the desire to bend too much in an effort to be relevant…Of course Christianity can be cool, vibrant, artistically challenging and inspiring. But doing things just for those reasons is  as ridiculous a motive as they come’ (pp.124-125, reproduced with permission from the author).

In no uncertain terms, if this book had not been written, my walk withinIMG_20130505_224615 the church would have dramatically taken a turn for the worse. I’d had enough of the pretence of church. Such as: the empty rituals, hollow prayers, and the smiles, lies and hi-fives triumphalism that went with them. I was exhausted with the labels, disorientated by witnessing the repeated Spiritual show called ”manifestations”, that suggested God picked the same people every Sunday as a reward for their piety. I was fed up with having my tithing and church attendance record being used as the yardstick, that measured my commitment to Christ, and  Christ’s commitment to me. Little did I know it then, but I was being led out of the Churchian ‘cycle of exclusivity and isolation’ (p.44), that is upheld by the false divide between secular and sacred. In short, Borlase introduced me to what authentic church can look like, and helped me to see the Triune God who gives his church permission to both sigh and breathe.

‘What this world needs, is not another one hit wonder with an axe to grind, another two bit politician peddling lies. Another three ring circus society. What this world needs is not another sign waving super saint that’s better than you. Another ear pleasing candy man afraid of the truth. Another prophet in an Armani suit’ ‘

(Casting Crowns, ‘what this world needs’ 2007, Altar and the door)

To be continued….

Source:

Borlase. C, 2001 ‘The Naked Christian: getting real with God’ Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.