Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: GloboChrist

Review: GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn by Carl Raschke

For many writers in the Missional movement, there is a lot of discussion regarding what is wrong with the church and they do not really offer a solution. Raschke builds an argument for a wonderful understanding of the new discipleship and ecclesiology of the future but then tears it down in the last chapters. Most of the discussion includes a denial or defense of every opinion and does not do a great job of finding a compromise.

In the first chapter, Globopomo, we get the definition of GloboChrist and an explanation of the postmodern church and the impact globalization has played on the structure and transformation of Christianity. Here he lists the first set of ideas that points us in a new direction. Raschke says that “global postmodern Christianity needs to be characterized by decentralization, deinstitutionalization and indigenization (understanding universal concepts in light of specific circumstances)” (p.39). While these topics are built during the next few chapters many side trips are taken that either support or distract from the discussion.

In the discussion of globalization, one of the driving points, that is often drowned in academic and philosophical ideas, is that “primary force driving Christian global expansion… is the relational power of the Gospel” (p. 43-44). This idea is supported by the fact that faith is something to be nurtured by a community. Raschke hits some very significant points here.

The next idea that is focused on is the fact that the church must be incarnational. For us as the church, we need to be “present in local situations and in the sensitive space of people’s daily lives” (p.48). He later describes incarnational ministry as being more than just present in life but to truly be Jesus to one another. From here, we hear a message of hope as we adventure into ideas of contextualization and mission.

Raschke then dives into this dance of ethics, theology, history and non-agreeable rhetoric that, for the most part, derails his main concept of mission as an incarnational ministry. It declines even further into a discussion of Islam that points towards the “radicalness” of the faith and politely compares it to fundamentalist Christians. He makes his point but it feels as if it was a bit overdone.

In chapter five, Radical Relationality, we are given insight into a guide for further discussion and action. “The four R’s of becoming a Christ-follower heeding the call of the Great Commission …: radical, relational, revelatory and rhizomic” (p.116). Radical in terms of “Jesus extreme actions that expose the root of all authentic religious language and behavior”. Relational as the “real and genuine goal” of our faith. Revelatory in the incarnational characteristics of relationships. Rhizomic (multiplication/growth and interconnectivity) by the means of “spreading out, withdrawing, splitting, segmenting, then re-forming” (p.116-123).

Through all the rhetoric, there are many gems of quotes and grand ideas that points Christianity towards a global yet local understanding of faith that demands our love for our neighbors. One of the defining lines for me was Raschke's take on discipleship: “Discipling demands discipline,... discipling requires a singular focus on relationships, relationships that incarnate the pure love of God for his fallen creatures, as shown on Calvary.”

In the last two chapters, there is a breakdown of progress and we turn towards a conversation on the eschaton which seems almost out of place. This almost seems like it is an insurance policy on the information portrayed and he even calls out practically every tradition in the Christian faith. I get lost in his sense of identity only to believe that he has an argument for any side of any discussion. He even calls out moderates in the claim that they can go either way depending on the wind of culture yet he maintains his stance on discipline for incarnational and relational ministry.

The book was a good read, overall, but if we turned downed the language and the massive bibliography, we might have actually achieved something. One wish that I have it that Raschke needs to be more focused on building from his argument and less on the tear-down of others’. I have taken many good ideas from this book and I hope that we can look into postmodern Christianity with a new light of discipleship, relationships and dedication to the Gospel.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Church's Mission: Post-Enlightenment to Today

The modern interpretation of the Great Commission is one of disciple-making and evangelism. This understanding is based on Jesus’ command to “go” and often defines our mission in the Church. But this has not always been the mission of the church and the outcome of history has proven that the Great Commission has been interpreted in ways that have given the Church various direction throughout Protestant ecclesiology and missiology.
Although there is much to say about the missiology of the post-Reformation era of Protestantism the real conversation exists post-Enlightenment. With the Age of Reason and scientific discovery there were realizations that pre-Enlightenment missions were not a spread of the Gospel but a colonizing force cloaked in religion. So as Christianity moved into the post-Enlightenment era there was a tonal change in mission work and, specifically in the US, there was a focus toward the spread of ‘right tradition’. The shining example for this is the Methodist movement in the US during the 19th century. But our reality of mission in the US is limited to the understanding of Scripture as a call to proclaim our own tradition. This was apparent in the 19th and 20th century with the devisiveness of denominationalism with almost all Protestant and Christian groups.
But the foundation of mission is all bust lost in Christianity since the time of the Enlightenment. Our churches have forgotten that Christ’s call to ‘baptize the nations and to make disciples’ is our call to mission. The Great Commission should be constantly discerned as our command from Christ and our discipleship and our unity must be what defines us a people of faith.
There are three texts that outline this history and have been foundational in our understanding of the mishappenings and even the hope of our faith.
In David Bosch’s Transforming Mission we hear many stories and facts that outline the history of mission as something that can be improved upon. “Advocates of mission were blind to their own ethnocentrism… and confused their middle-class ideals and values with the tenets of Christianity.” (p301) Bosch creates a conversation around this in the argument that US Christian mission was a focused on the popular and stable segment of society that would best be able to create economies of expansion.
In Understanding Church Growth by David McGavran, it is outlined that mission and evangelism has taken many forms over the years but for many Americans there is a “fog” that limits our ability to see how we can grow. McGavran forms the argument that growth is a requirement of faithfulness and that we must not see evangelism as a goal but instead discipleship as our call to fulfill the Great Commission.
All three of my readings are glimpses from the past but J.C. Hoekendijk completely understands where the church has been and where it needs to go. Initially, I started reading The Church Inside Out and with a little vocabulary adjustment, this book could have been written yesterday. His clear understanding of how the church got to where it is and the hope and mission that defines us as Christians is a positive light that we all need to realize.
But Hoekendijk doesn’t use the language of expansion like McGavran. Instead he finds fault in many of our systems and says that “we must look for another way.”(p.18) There is more to what Christ is calling us to in the Great Commission than being a multiplying people of a religion. We need to be disciples who “establish the shalom”. By living and proclaiming shalom as humble servants we live out Christ’s example that is outlined in Matthew 9 as people that go into the world with a “Messianic shalom.” (p.25)
In my next article we will look toward the future of mission and evangelism through the lense of the Great Commission. After looking at past voices we will progress into modern thinkers that are discerning God’s call to the Church to baptize the nations and make disciples.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Week 1 of Brazil

Welcome to Campinas, Brazil! The last week has been a roller coaster of excitement and anticipation.    With the mixture of people that are on my team to the cultural differences of the people we meet, there is so much to be thankful for and it is amazing to think there is another week here.

We have been primarily working with the Presbyterian Church in Brazil(known as the IPI). From day one until today we have traveled around the region of Campinas visiting pastors and their churches in which they planted or revitalized. To hear from their perspective in their cultures has been so rewarding and I have learned so much.

Here in Brazil, during the first week, I have seen some major influences on the ministries here that are discerning their place as a church leader in their communities.    One of the biggest and most powerful aspects of the growing and revitalizing churches is their desire to be more spiritual in their lives and in doing so become better leaders so that they can be better prepaired in the context. Spirituality is a tough subject for me because it has always been the one thing that I can "skip" on my schedule if I'm overloaded. Since I have been in ministry almost 4 years ago, my connectedness with God has been in a low spot. I often feel like I have left behind what I have been called to do on a regular basis. (Kind of like the person who likes hunting so much that they become a Game Warden only to barely ever hunt because they are working during the hunting season.) So, spirituality is number one. Numero 2 is mentorship. While I have a pretty awesome pastor, I see many other people who go through discernment and pastoral roles with no one to check in with. Another thing about this is that our systems are not designed to rely on the mentor-mentee model. We may have it some where in the by-laws but it is not fully used.

With this in mind, I want to say a few things about the churches we visited. We have seen house churches that turned into large worshiping communities, old churches revitalized to discern God's will for the 21st century, church growth in poverty, church growth in the upper-middle class neighborhoods. These churches, whether we always agree with them theologically or otherwise, have given so much trust that God will use them to the point where they have gone in directions that they could not imagine.

What is Christ doing in this land? Well it looks a little bit hip, a lot a bit practical and ton more focused on relationships than I could ever imagine. In the Brazilian culture, relational ministries are the only ones that sustain.    We have a lot to learn from this particularly in the fields of evangelism, education and worship.

I'll hopefully have time soon to post some pictures of our adventures and when we return home, there are rumors of a video project in the works.

To TJ and my family, I miss you and am thinking about you.
To St. Paul's Community Church family, holy canoli do we have some things to consider! lol
To Ella and Willow, daddy loves you and misses you two.

Blessings from summer,

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Articles, Magazines, Sermons, Conferences

I love reading articles, blogs, reflections and anything where people are expressing their feelings and offering some insight or opinion on a certain subject.  Literally, I read dozens of articles with catchy titles in hope that I might actually uncover something earth-shattering that will either change my circumstance, spirituality or ministry.  We all read to feel inspired or to hear another's story but at what point does all the words and crafting of prose actually lead to change or initiation?

A lot of the things we read are usually just affirmations on what we believe or have heard.  We rarely want to read anything that opposes our views and then we just build up our walls (preconceived notions) even higher. In all the written pieces I have read, I have barely changed my mind on a subject or actually done something as a result of reading said material.  Also, when we go to church or even attend a conference, we may feel awfully inspired by the words and presentations but still our behavior remains unchanged.

One website that I frequent is Fresh Expressions. Why? Because they write articles about what people are actually doing and was has or has not worked for them.  This is what gets my blood running and inspires me to be a better leader in the Church. "Actions speak louder than words." "Put your money where your mouth is." "Practice what you preach.": These are all statements that we use in Church circles because we want to see work being done in the world to further the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Now I am certain that this article, like the many before and after it, will lead to little change in the world but through all the saturation of opinion and story telling I want you to turn inspiration into action. Easier said than done; I understand, but what will it take for us to make that step which leads to change?

In church, we ask a lot about what we can do to be a healthier community of believers or how we can reach out to those in need.  We need to stop answering that question by placing boundaries on God's will and have the faith to take risks. Get out of your comfort zone, try something new, make new connections with others, stop saying "we have tried that before", quit giving excuses and trust that by following God's lead we will be a better and more productive community of disciples.

I get asked many questions about church planting since I am involved in the Church Planting Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Frequently the purpose behind the question is "what is the secret to getting started?".  My answer is usually the same "When the Holy Spirit moves through you in your discernment, follow its lead."  Take risks, be bold in God's calling for you life, gather around people that have discerned a similar vision and trust that God will provide.

The next time you read an article and feel inspired to do something. Do it.  Your routine of life will be broken up for a small period of time but the consequences of your actions can be ground breaking.  Peter and the disciples took many risks when they preached the Gospel in a hostile environment but they were sustained in their ministry.  Sure they had a few bumps in the road but they followed the Holy Spirit as they went about growing the Church in the earliest days.

God has instilled in our hearts the ability and will to change, we just have to follow that lead.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King Jr.: 50 Years Later

For millennials and those younger, Dr. King is a symbol of courage and he worked towards bringing words into action.  He is an example of what we can achieve when we come together for common cause and stand up for what is right. But we often forget MLK Jr.'s words and that he was a brilliant pastor and theologian.  He also knew that equal rights was not just an understanding of circumstance but a relationship. So on this day, I want to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day by pointing out where we have failed to change in the last 50 years and where we can continue his legacy through our building of relationships.

Since the Civil Rights Movement in the 50's and 60's we have certainly come a long way in bringing equality to our society in regards to racial discrimination. But we have also failed over and over again.  Gentrification of urban areas, police brutality and discrimination, educational systems that lack funding, segregated churches and organizations; I can go on and on with clear examples of how race relations have not progressed in the past decades. Our federal government has done little to curb this trajectory of race relations and society as a whole has lacked the initiation to stop the division of our culture. So how do we fix that? Let's refer to Jesus.

Now I could quote the golden rule or even talk about Jesus' comments on equality but I want to focus on the fact that Jesus had a profound impact on architecture.  This, of course, is in reference to social architecture.  In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus warns the crowds gathered to not build their houses on sand but instead on stone. We have to ask ourselves if our foundations in society are built on sand or are they built on stone?

Our foundations of society are the relationships of its people. How we interact and treat one another is the basis for which everything is standing on. If our first reaction to a stranger is a judgment because of their skin color then that relationship has been initiated by stereotypes and ignorance. However, if we begin our interaction with one another in an equal love for one another then the relationship will grow on equality, love and acceptance.

So if we want to stand up to the intolerance of racism in America then we need to begin by building relationships with people that are different from us.  I wish I learned this lesson a decade ago when I entered my undergraduate university. It is my hope that you can start doing this today because we can see the light in the darkness.  Racism has no place in this world, we are smarter than that. We need to learn to accept one another and celebrate that we are different but we are all equal in the eyes of God. Put down your ideas of hatred and fear and be the change in this world that will bring to life the dream that MLK Jr. had.

Over the past 10 years I have grown tremendously in my understanding of life.  This has included the rejection of culturally ingrained racism and the acceptance of people that are different than me.  I have learned to do this because of my faith.  And because of my faith I have decided to be a part of society that doesn't let the cultural-norm impose on me ideas that are blatantly wrong but stand up for what is right. Through this moral decision I have made relationships with people that are different than me (racial, cultural, religious) and have built my own foundation of love and acceptance.  If we all do the same thing then our society will have the same foundation.  We need to build relationships, ask forgiveness and make Dr. King proud.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


January 6th is the yearly celebration of the visit of the magi to the young and innocent Jesus Christ. This is the day after the last day of Christmas and is a celebration of the light that has come to the world through Jesus. The gifts that were brought to Mary, Joseph and Jesus were the means by which they escaped as refugees to Egypt in their attempt to escape the oppression of King Herod.
Over the years some theologians have questioned the biblical support for Epiphany.  This is a part of a greater movement that questions many holidays and celebrations that have become staples of Church tradition. Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions celebrate most of the same holidays and Epiphany is celebrated universally as well.
But why the opposition to tradition?  The holidays of the Church have been founded on the idea that we are to gather and celebrate as in the words of the Psalms and similar to the events at the Temple in Jerusalem (minus the sacrifices of animals). Although, finding biblical basis for many of the modern traditions can be stretching at times.  Holy Week and Christmas celebrations are a combination of the Synoptic narratives, Pentecost is celebrated but we are far cry from what Peter and the Apostles were like that day in their gathering space and the tradition of Lent and Ash Wednesday are merely of post-biblical origins.
So why would we celebrate biblically loose holidays? If we ask this question then we would be questioning 2,000 years of discipleship and discernment. The theology behind these types of questions has to ask more questions that just “Is it in the Bible?”.  Most of Christian theology is not fully expressed in scripture including many unfortunate stances on fear, racism and exclusivity that have found their way into modern thought.

Please leave Church holidays alone. Epiphany is a celebration of light. Unfounded criticism only brings more darkness into the world. I often question many aspects of the Church in our post-Christendom and post-modern world but they are based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and not invented for an agenda. Peace be with you and Happy Epiphany!