What and who is the Church, and how is that identified?

Posted in Uncategorized on October 19, 2013 by ikesullivan

My understanding of what the Church is, is, at least, a group of people which has a particular understanding of the way the world is organized and a corresponding understanding of the way that daily life should be conducted. The conducting of daily life (as in practice) will inherently reflect an understanding of the way life ought to be (as in an imaginative future oriented vision). The Church is eventually confident in its understanding of the world to the point which it advocates a particular practice and seeks to implement that practice (i.e. sacraments or liturgy).

 

I follow this up by then asking who is the Church practically speaking. Pragmatically, we have certain practices which are identified as practices which individuals belonging to the Church perform. We have a certain range of practices which we say come out of, correlate with, and reinforce our understanding of how the world is organized. This range of practices includes, among others: professing Christ, or self-identifying as a Christian, meeting with others who’s practices are in the same range, reading and being attentive to certain texts and authoritative people, being confident in a similar imaginatively constructed future oriented vision).

 

What happens then when individuals who have been identified as belonging to this group of people, begin to practice outside of the confines of that range which is understood to be the one which reflects the understanding of the groups shared vision of how life ought to be?

 

Either they are identified as no longer belonging to the group. Or, if those individuals remain as part of the group, the group’s understanding can be seen as one which is substantiated and reinforced by a wider, or shifted range of practices. The groups self-identified imaginative future oriented understanding of how life ought to be conducted is thereby promoting/condoning a wider range of practices.

 

If the later becomes the case, then we must begin to ask ourselves what takes primacy in determining who belongs to what we’re practically identifying as the Church (i.e. a social organization). Is it the practices which fall either inside or outside of the confines of those which are identified as reflective of the groups understanding, or is it merely an identification with the articulated understanding which the group advocates? (Presuppossing, of course, that these two are not mutually exclusive, as practice and understanding of how life ought to be are intrinsically connected. The question is which takes primacy in identifying an individual as either part of the group or not).

 

Finding a way to effectively articulate imaginative, future orientated visions, so as to encourage practices which reinforce them is eventually the task of anyone who leads.

What to Emphasize, and How

Posted in Our Praxis (The Application of Theories, Ideas, and Conviction) on June 17, 2012 by ikesullivan

If the Church is going to begin to emphasize real, daily life. What types of things will effect the unifying and solidifying of the body if we see a de-emphasis of meetings and ministries conducted through a central building? I am not saying that having a church building is not something to be desired necessarily but rather that by focusing time and  of efforts on things like jobs, relationships, spontaneous and undefined meetings (which looks more like friends spending time together rather than what we would typically define as a “church function”) we might naturally see less time directed toward meetings and things conducted in a central building.

Traditionally the weekly meeting of the congregation at a specific place which serves primarily for that purpose has been the hub of all other manifestations of the Church. These manifestations include the things which I believe should actually become the emphasis. They include a persons decision to work a part-time low income job because they are especially inclined to spend time their family, friends, neighbors, or homeless etc. These manifestations include a contractors decision to turn down income because some income maybe a compromise of morals. They include an evening at bar where a group of christian friends engage in a discussion about the Church, theological matters, or personally life struggles in the context of obedience to the will of God. These manifestations of the Church on earth in life are exactly, exclusively, and entirely those times when the Spirit of the Living God is present in the behaviors, actions, and events of people in whom He dwells. Admittedly we now have about the vaguest most intangible and open definition of what the Church does on a daily basis. But being unable to settle for anything more specific, I am stuck with this vague notion of what the Church is doing and is meant to do, and therefor should seek to move forward within this framework. Again my point is not to point to traditional meetings and ministries that the Church has and will likely continue to examine, improve, and conduct to God’s glory,  but rather to say that there are other manifestations of the Church which are equally substantial and should be emphasized and acknowledged in order to encourage those who have found most of their church-life taking place in areas and ways that are not often determinedly “Christian.” Going to a church building on a Sunday to meet with other Christians is regarded by pretty much everyone as Christian. Yet having a bonfire and listening to music with other Christians is not considered by all to be a necessarily Christian event. Is it because there is a chance that there will be non-christians at the bonfire too, that it is not always considered Christian, because as far as I know there are many people across the country who while attending a church building every Sunday, and while professing faith in Jesus, have not the works or behavior which are a naturally and typically associated with Christians. And there are even some attending who have not the confidence to even profess anything definitive about Jesus and his resurrection. My point here is that we have something, regular attendance at a church building, that we are apt to determine as definitely Christian. I think it is right that we determine meetings in buildings owned by the Church as Christian things, but then should we not also determine that gatherings at houses owned by Christians as Christian to the same degree as gatherings at buildings owned by the Church. Is it because people are also using houses as a place to live that it lessens its ability to facilitate Christian gatherings? I would venture to say that because Christians are actually there, living, all the time that we should be more inclined to define it as a Christian building, and inso doing define activities taking place there as Christian activities. Even if only a few people discussing the weather and the effect of poor hometown sports teams on general moral; after all I think I’ve probably had this type of discussion in a building exclusively used for church functions.

The point I am making here is that we are neglecting to emphasize certain things that I consider to be extremely formative and substantial manifestations of the Church on Earth. And inso doing we are left with almost a complete emphasis and pressure on people to try desperately to walk their church-lives down avenues that are overcrowded and simply not meant for all people to walk down. I will not exactly try to define these avenues but only say that I am referring to the ways that we typically seek to get “plugged-in.” The history of the Church reveals that in his mercy God has been able to enact his purposes and reveal himself despite horrible ideas that the church has acted on. Can you imagine the meeting where church leaders sat down and decided that they should allow Christians to plug-in by crusading against muslims. The zeal of the Lord will accomplish the things He has planned. On the other hand I have been extremely blessed by certain ‘usb-ports’ of the Church that I was bale to plug into (I am a sucker for really corny Christian analogies/jargon). The example that comes to mind is that shortly after beginning to try to be obedient to God, I was left without much to do since most of what I spent my time on previously wasn’t the result of obedience to God. One of the first ways that I really interacted with the Church was by playing video games and drinking a lot of Mountain Dew every friday with a small group from the Church. And this was a function that was a direct off-shoot from a group that met weekly at a church building. So again, I am not saying that the Church should stop doing everything that it has been doing, because God is in it, and I have no problems saying that small groups, ministries and meetings that come out of groups who are held together largely by a regular meeting at a specific building. There are those though, who are Christians, who love Jesus, and want to follow him, who are being discouraged by the fact that the things that pull upon their heart are not those defined tangible avenues coming from and leading back to a regular weekly meeting at a regular place used exclusively for church gatherings. It is a shame that these people are then left feeling like they have an inactive church life or something like that. These people have passions, desires, talents, and determination given to them by the same Spirit who lives in a evangelistic pastor who strives daily to let the Spirit manifest in his life. Who said that a maintenance janitor who cleans and fixes things that will never be noticed, that his co-workers would never touch, who does things that “aren’t in his job description,” or that “he doesn’t get paid enough to do” is not daily letting the Spirit of Lord manifest in his life in the same way that a good preacher does when he preaches?

The original question that spurred all of this is, if we begin to try to emphasize things other than weekly meetings in buildings owned by the Church, and if we begin to emphasize things other than defined planned small-groups, and outreaches; but seek to emphasize indefinable passions and directions and goals and spontaneous gatherings and daily life, what can we plan? What will consistently hold us together as a unified body? What will become the foundation of visible community? Because to this point our meeting weekly in a building exclusively for this purpose has been the foundation of our visibility, and has brought us together every week (and as far as it goes brought a certain level of unity), and it has been the thing that we plan. How would we begin to move forward with a re-emphasis?

Thoughts on Theologizing

Posted in Uncategorized on January 11, 2012 by ikesullivan

There have been complaints – which I think are not entirely undeserved, toward theologizing and it tendency to send theologians spiraling towards a dualism which leaves them removed and disconnected from the hard realities of living as we know them. As mentioned, I think this reservation is not without credence; however I find that this should not amount to neglecting theology. And find that at the point where theology comes from a theologian’s life on earth but in God, we see a beautiful and valuable practice which could be called simply, knowing God. Who is a theologian only, and not a christian? How great it is to see a desire for God in ones life. As this is seen it should be no surprise that one should dwell on the nature of God, that one should hanker for Jesus’ words; and it should be no surprise nor should it draw criticism that out of the overflow of God in someone’s life things of God should be expressed- sometimes the expression is called theology.

 

In Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Shane Claiborne, we see the intersection of a Chirstian living with a desire to fellowship with God, and theology. And with both of them we see lives which are different from their contemporaries, the difference is described by their theology. And we also see theology that cannot easily be dismissed as otherworldly, and this is because it is theology introduced by life on earth. It should be noted that their lives are driven by a desire to know God, this is the premiss for godly living also godly theology. 

The Cost of Discipleship

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2011 by Mr. Sullivan

Recently I have been thinking a lot about what it means to follow Jesus. What does it really look like when someone is following Jesus? How is their day-to-day existence different? It is concerning to me, that when I hear sermons, sing songs, read books, write blogs, have conversations about really ‘giving all to follow Jesus’ it doesn’t translate in to real life changes.

Mainly, what I feel is that so much of the call to ‘leave everything behind and follow Jesus’ becomes a call to work harder on things that a lot of people already do. To be ‘all in’, ‘to sell all your possessions to follow Jesus’ comes across as a call to commit to a more disciplined life. Reading your Bible more, praying more, and serving at church meetings more. It also comes with a call to witness in your workplace, in your school, or wherever you might be.

Now, I don’t want to discredit personal devotion, life-giving habits like reading the bible, praying and fasting, etc. Nor do I want to  say that being a witness to the Kingdom even in our workplaces and our schools is not important. All of these practices are involved in the pursuit of Jesus Christ. That being said, I also wonder how much of these things really challenge us to live differently.  How will this radical call to follow Jesus affect what I do day-to-day? How will this radical call to be the people of God actually affect what we (the church) do day-to-day? What does it really look like?

The call to ‘give everything up to follow Jesus’ calls for a radical change in how we live our lives. Yet I feel that the out working becomes confusing. What actually ends up changing is not as drastic as it all sounded during the sermon Sunday morning or the mid-week bible study. The out working becomes more of a renewed commitment to things already being done rather than a change and a learning of a new way of life. This leaves me questioning what all this talk of ‘following Jesus with everything I have’ really means.

I read a book a few months ago called ‘The End of Evangelicalism?’ by pastor and professor David Fitch. In it he explains how making the ‘decision for Christ’ has become a nebulous concept for evangelicals in America. At the same time it has become a distinguishing element of Christian living, in a sense, it has become the linchpin that holds together the activities, programs, and educational efforts of the church.

He says that ” ‘the decision’ assumes salvation is individual, begun through a voluntary act, and then nurtured through individually acquired learning and worship” (Fitch 2010: 79). The church’s focus then is to give these individuals the materials necessary for the growth of these individuals.

“Large groups of people come to these settings anonymously as individuals and receive the ‘materials’ they need to grow. They receive the good and services necessary to lead individual Christian lives. It all makes sense because of the backdrop of ‘the decision’ ” (2010: 79).

The issue for Fitch is that ‘the decision’ has become a very prominent aspect of the church’s life together while at the same time it has become very unclear what it actually requires of the one who decides to believe in Jesus. He says “the ‘decision’ has coalesced a large group of evangelical people around it, but fewer and fewer of them really know what it might mean for their concrete lives” (2010: 81). The decision to believe in Jesus Christ as ones personal saviour and enter into a personal relationship with God has “become set off and separated from one’s embodied existence” (2010: 88).

I feel like this is the same tension I felt when I heard another sermon about really giving up everything to follow Jesus. I wanted that, I felt my heart yearn for such a life. But after the service, I sat in my chair wondering what I really had to do now that I had made this decision to follow Jesus with ‘my whole heart’.

The book of James talks about the supposed dichotomy of faith and works. How can you have faith if you don’t do anything? How can you say you believe in Jesus, that you are saved, when you do not really do anything different? He says in chapter one:

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

I don’t have any answers to these questions. I am still not sure what it will look like to ‘do the word’. But I feel like I keep looking at my face in the mirror and forgetting what I look like.

I think it will involve changes for the church and our life together. It might mean that we need to actually live differently, eat differently, drink differently, and work differently. It might mean that some literal and concrete things that we do in this life will have to change. It might mean giving up on the literal and concrete lives we pursue with the rest of America. It could mean that your job needs to change, it could mean that your habits, routines, pleasures, and joys need to change. I don’t know. What seems  clear though, is that Jesus calls us to follow him and that necessitates literal and actual following him as a living God.

This call, as Bonhoeffer says in ‘Cost of Discipleship’, is the grace that we receive from him.

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life” (1995: 45).

 

1. Fitch, D.E., “The End of Evangelicalism?”, Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2011

2. Bonhoeffer, D., “The Cost of Discipleship”, New York: Touchstone, 1995.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acts: We are this people

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2011 by Mr. Sullivan

Here is a part of script of a sermon I wrote. It is part of a series that me and Josh Mitchell are taking a group of youth and young adults at our local church. This is an attempt at an introduction. I say attempt because it turned out to be quite long and the subject matter calls for a series in and of itself. The reason I want it to be an introduction though, is because I feel it is of utmost importance for the church to continue to see itself in the context of the full revelation of God to his people. A revelation that connects Creation, Fall, the call of Israel, the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Sending of the Holy Spirit and the Sending of the Church.

Narrative of Redemption in broad strokes:

  • Last week Josh talked about the bigger picture. In introducing the book of Acts he moved further and further back until we came to the beginning of the narrative. The premise from which all the rest of the scriptures derive. “In the beginning there was God” . And this God is a loving God, Three in One, eternal community, eternal love.  This God creates a creation which would reflect his glory, and a creature who would be like him, who would dwell with Him and in Him. This is the groundwork for the rest of the narrative. Until we grasp the love of the Triune God, the desire for a creation to love, create, and live with we cannot understand truly what God has done and is doing in the world.
  • Then there is the turn… where the creatures who were intended to love God, who were intended to live with him, determine that they are better suited with out God, they are better suited if they would not listen to God, better off deciding what is good and evil without him.
  • This is the great conflict: Humanity refuses to acknowledge that it is creature, not creator. Thus, humanity refuses the offer of God, to live as his people and in his community. And yet, God will not capitulate to humanities attempts to construct their own community. Communities constructed on distorted versions of truth, versions of truth that begin with ‘did God really say?’
  • The people of Israel can be seen as a microcosm of this great conflict. Even the people God calls and covenants with, turn to reject his offer, his kingdom.In 1 Sam. 8, “it is me that they have rejected as their king. Just as they have done from the day that I brought them up from Egypt until this very day, they have rejected me and have served other gods” (1 Sam. 8: 7-8).Yet he continues to offer himself, “Although it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it will be said to them, “You are children of the living God!” (Hos. 1: 10).

God calls a people

  • How will this loving, creative, mysterious God bring his creation back to it’s intended mode of existence? He will call a people, a people which would be a glimpse, a picture of the hope for God’s restored community. The Kingdom of God manifests particularly in this community. Thus he speaks to show a people a way of life that will bear the image of the Triune community, the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. He calls a people and he forgives this people, he washes this people and bestows his holiness upon them. Dwelling with this people is his intent. This people display a relationship between humanity and Trinity that God desires for all of humanity. A people called out of sin and idolatry and in to holiness and worship, life with and in reverence to, the Triune God.

God sends a people to all people

  • God then sends this people in to the world. To declare his love for all people, for all nations. To pronounce his covenant to all of humanity. The king has issued a decree, “come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, come to me and have life, eternal life, abundant life, true life, whole life, full and everlasting life. Away from evil, away from lies, away from these fallacies, those unfounded claims of peace and prosperity” and this people are to be the heralds. By word and deed, they are heralds.
  • Life is offered to this people in the light of the cross, offered in the light of the suffering servant, the one who defines love as giving up life for others. It is in the light of Easter morning that this people receive life. This is a king who has defeated the last of his enemies, death itself has been destroyed. This kingdom knows no end, life here does not stop at death. This is a kingdom that will reign in grace and truth, it is kingdom that does not defeat and conquer by the sword, but rather, one which overcomes by love. They, like their God, will not relent, will not capitulate to the false kingdoms of humanity. Assured of their position, they do not declare themselves ‘lords’ or ‘kings’, but servants. In this there is a combination of confidence and humility that allows for this people to display the love of the Triune God.

Acts shows us this people:

  • The community that we encounter in Acts is a community who have received by faith in Jesus of Nazareth, life in this kingdom of God, life witnessed by the presence and reality of God dwelling with them.
  • At Pentecost, the day when God fulfills his promises to his people, God establishes himself with this community by sending the promised Holy Spirit, who will guide them in to all truth, who will come with power, who will come as a comforter.
  • Pentecost represents the initiation of a new age. This is why Peter quotes from the prophet Joel in Acts chapter 2.
  • In the light of this understanding, this people become a people driven by faith in the power of God which brought Jesus back from the tomb.
  • They are a people who live with a faith that expects imminent actions from a living God.
  • They are a people driven by a hope that this Jesus brought the first fruit of the eternal kingdom which was still to come.
  • They expect this kingdom to come at any moment. Every present moment is a moment that carries the potential to become a moment where God interrupts the line of history. This develops this people into a people who love and cherish God, who love and cherish one another, and who love and cherish Others.
  • This people are a sent people. God has created them for a purpose, that the world may know that it is ‘world’, that it might by way of contrast, and sometimes by way of conflict, understand that God lives. It is important, therefore that this people understand and know their identity in Christ. Not only individually, but also collectively.
  • They strive to continue to teach one another that they are God’s people, sent to this world that it might be saved. Equipped with the Good News, directed and instructed by the Holy Spirit of God himself, this people know and act on the basis that God is King, and that he is coming.

This introduction to the people in the book of Acts functions to introduce us, the present day church, to ourselves. This story is our story. We are this people.

No one wants to be called a ‘hipster’ (especially hipsters)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 20, 2011 by Mr. Sullivan

I was given an article a few months ago about the emergence of what has been deemed ‘hipster Christianity’. It was written by a guy named Brett McCracken, the author of a book called ‘Hipster Christianity’. I would like to get the book at some point, but the article will have to suffice for now.

The article is a brief look at what McCracken sees as an emergence of a new ‘subculture’ within American evangelical Christianity. His observances are mingled with an overriding critique of the move. His critique is multifaceted, centering around the idea that the new culture of American evangelical Christianity, which he labels ‘Hipster Christianity’, is really not all that new. In other words, what they are doing is simply a reproduction of what  the previous generations did in their attempt to be accepted by our American culture.

Christianity and cool:

McCracken sees that Christianity has been plagued by an attempt to be ‘cool’. He traces this back to the 60s, noting that it was when the hippies began to follow Jesus that things like Christian rock, youth ministries, and communes brought new fervour to American Christianity and it’s pursuit of cool. A people who grew up in a culture of revolution, came to the faith unafraid of looking at things in a new way. The ‘Charismatic movement’  also added a very emotive, personal and Spirit-filled element to what was seen to be a staid and traditional faith. These elements carried through in to other various attempts at ‘cool’, which later manifested in various expressions of ‘just how you like it’ church services. Here is McCracken:

“Evangelicalism in the ’90s had a firmly established youth culture, built on the infrastructure of a lucrative Christian retail industry and commercial subculture. Huge Christian rock festivals, Lord’s Gym T-shirts, WWJD bracelets, Left Behind, and so forth. It was big business. It was corporate. It was schlocky kitsch. And it was begging to be rebelled against”

Hipster Christianity, then, according to McCracken is the rebelling that evangelicalism has been begging for since the 90s.

“They sought a more intellectual faith, one that didn’t reject outright the culture, ideas, and art of the secular world. In typical hipster fashion, they rejected the corporate mentality of the purpose-driven megachurch and McMansion evangelicalism, and longed for a simpler, back-to-basics faith that was more about serving the poor than serving Starbucks in the church vestibule.”

In a way it’s a return back to the hippie/hipster roots of modern American Evangelicalism. But here, I think McCracken gives valuable insight, he states that what is happening now is the reverse of what happened in the 60s.

“But the Jesus People were secular “hipsters” first, then—having converted to Christianity—began to shed their hippie clothes and customs to form communities that were set apart, ultimately becoming their own subculture (e.g., Jesus People USA). Today’s Christian hipsters are doing the reverse. They seek to break out of the Christian subculture. The clothes and customs they shed are nothing less than the evangelical establishment itself, formed through decades of attempts at cool Christianity”

This is what forms the basis for McCracken’s critique then. He finds it worrying that ‘Hipster Christians’ are abandoning Evangelical subculture to find solace in a secular culture. Though this is often done with the mantra ‘the church has fallen in to the hands of modern american culture!”, what McCracken is arguing is that Hipster Christianity is mimicking the same cycle and only capitulating to a different secular culture. Thus, though they are claiming that they are moving away from church culture that is too melded with modern America, corporations, capitalism, and all the evils of Right-wing empires, they pour themselves into the mold of the new secular culture instead.

What drives the hipsters: Coolness or faithfulness?

McCracken’s description of the ‘Hipster Church’ reaches pretty wide in my opinion. (Including church’s like Mars Hill in Seattle. I don’t know what definition of ‘hipster’ most people are working with, but Mark Driscoll doesn’t quite fit into mine). Because McCracken is making the definition of ‘hipster christianity’ it is hard to say what is and what isn’t right about his description of the ‘movement’. If you don’t know what an apple is, and I tell you it’s a brown, bitter tasting, root vegetable, then you would be hard pressed to disagree with me.

What he does is identifies trends, and it is true, a lot of the trends he names, he does so accurately. Things are changing in the American evangelical church. Changes in worship, old hymns instead of CCM style music; changes in theological parlance, new creation and community/ecclesiocentric understanding of salvation instead of ‘soul-winning’ and heaven (esp. the up in the air, cloudy version); concern for creation and environment instead of apathy towards such concerns. These things are all changes that are occurring in evangelical christianity today, but to name them all ‘Hipster’ seems to reduce them to mere whims of cultural preference when in reality, these changes are all funded biblically and theologically.

For example, McCracken suggests that many of these ‘Hipster Christians’ prefer serving the poor rather than Starbucks coffee in the vestibule. They have a revived sense of justice, for both people and planet, and the end result will be positive. This concern for justice, McCracken does concede, is a positive aspect of this new shot at cool. However, the end is not always the most important concern when speaking of discipleship and ecclesiology, the means and the motive also needs to be considered. For if churches are simply becoming more concerned about justice because the culture demands it, it remains submissive to the wrong forces. What happens when this cultural fad is discontinued? Will the church then opt for Starbucks again? This is McCracken’s concern, and it’s fair.

But I don’t think that the desire for justice and righteousness can simply be said the be a PR move for the church. The theological and biblical weight is too evident for such suggestions. The Scriptures make it clear that the church is to love justice because her God loves justice. If it happens to be an attractive aspect of our faith in this present culture, then it’s a good side effect, but not the main driver of the shift. This shift is good because it a change guided by scripture, tradition and the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, McCracken’s tone presents most of the changes negatively, as if ‘Hipsters Christians’ are unable to have deeper motives for their passions and interests than the desire to be accepted by the cool kids. They are only singing old songs because its cool, not because they have determined through theological thought and the guiding of the Holy Spirit that the older songbooks connect their local community with the greater history of what God has been doing since the beginning of time. His description, therefore, mostly comes across as an abrasive dismissal of the changes that are occurring rather than a respectable discussion of their validity.

A more sustainable challenge:

That said, one thing he points to did present a challenge that I think is sustainable. This came when he was describing how ‘Hipsters’ are quick to appreciate the smaller and simpler things in life. Admiring the goodness of creation and the creativity and craftiness of human vocation. He says this, and does seem to admire it, and then offers this challenge:

“On the other hand, some wonder if hipster Christianity goes too far in embracing worldly things—especially when those things arguably become stumbling blocks or idols in the Christian life. Some suspect that its rebellious embrace of formerly taboo behaviors actually might do more long-term harm than good.”

He goes on to describe that part of the rebellion of the ‘Hipster’ movement is to indulge in practices that were, in conservative evangelicalism, largely forbidden. McCracken again:

“If hipsters cannot completely overthrow the structures that bind them, they can at least destabilize them by engaging in hedonistic behavior: smoking, drinking, cursing, sexual experimentation, and so on. It’s about freedom, partying, and transgression—not in the Jersey Shore, frat-party sense (unless ironically), but in the “bourbon cask ales taste good and I don’t care if I get drunk” sense. Hipsters ridicule bourgeois concerns such as “cigarettes cause cancer” and “drinking should be done in moderation,” opting instead to recklessly embrace such vices with “why not?” abandon. If you aren’t willing to engage in at least some of this “subversive hedonism,” you will have a hard time maintaining any hipster credibility.”

The reason that I found this so cutting is that I have basically found myself thinking these thoughts many times. Especially the one about cask ale… And I think he is right here. I will admit that I have too often forgone the ‘rules’ of Christian living and embraced these ‘hedonistic’ subversive and destabilizing practices (though I wouldn’t quite name them as such). That said however, it is hard to argue that this would be that much of a ‘moral’ decline from the state that the American evangelical church is in today. Divorce and pornography come to mind most readily. But let’s not point fingers, at the end of the day the matter is a misunderstanding of what it means to follow Jesus. For it means neither the rule creating, legalistic evangelicalism of the past, nor, the ‘why not?’ abandon of today that gives structure to the practices of discipleship.

In reading a book by NT Wright (who, ironically, is one of the author’s McCracken associates with ‘Hipsters’) he shows how neither the morality which upholds rules with strict order, or the morality which advocates for each person to follow his or her heart in matters of right and wrong, can be adapted in the church. Instead, the church needs to learn how to foster the building of character. Which is the development of a particular second-nature, which shapes people and gives them the skills necessary to navigate secular culture while displaying Christ faithfully. This does challenge the ‘Hipster’ Christian today, to understand and realise that it is not about doing whatever feels right, or whatever is cool, or tasty, but it is about acting in accordance with the character which the Holy Spirit is developing in the body of Christ. A character that takes work and practice, that is affected by practices, and habits, and that acts as a rudder in our pursuit of the King of Kings. McCracken’s concerns for the ‘worldliness’ of the Christian hipsters should be heeded but what is needed is not a return to legalistic formalised rule keeping. Rather his concern should produce the inculcation of character formation as a fundamental aspect of discipleship and worship.

Final Word:

I found the article by McCracken to be very insightful, though in places, I felt that his descriptions carried an implicit negativity that is unwarranted. The changes he notes, are for the most part, changes that I would say can be founded biblically and theologically. Though there probably are instances where the changes are more driven by the quest for cool than the desire for faithful Christian living, to write off all of the changes as flighty cultural fads is off-base. His warning about the ‘worldliness’ of the movement should be heeded, though his alternatives need to be explored. The recovery of notions of character and virtue seem to be appropriate ways forward for this discussion. Many of the changes McCracken points to are changes that needed to happen in the church, and that they are changes which, when driven by motives of faithfulness to the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, will be changes for the good of the church and thus, for the good of the world.

The Pope introduces Jesus

Posted in Uncategorized on December 27, 2010 by Mr. Sullivan

The first comments the Pope offers about this Jesus of Nazareth are directed towards a promise from Deuteronomy. This seems a strange place to start for a book about Jesus, but the significance of this origin is quickly made clear.

The promise the Pope begins with is one which declares that one day God will raise up a prophet like Moses. This man will fulfill the role of the prophet which is unique to Israel. This unique role is not an office that can be likened to other religions or other ‘soothsayers’ or ‘fortune tellers’, for the prophet of Israel is not mainly concerned about future events.

The prophet, according to the Pope, is “not to report on the events of tomorrow or the next day in order to satisfy human curiosity or the human need for security. He shows us the face of God, and in so doing he shows us the path that we have to take” (2007: 4). These other soothsayers and fortune-tellers are in contrast to the prophet of Israel because the Israelite prophetic office is defined by the life and character of Moses – one who spoke to God. Thus, the prophet is defined by relationship to God, by being able to hear God, and by being able to see God.

The insight here is sharp. In his juxtaposing of soothsayers and Israelite prophets, the Pope finds that the prophets go far beyond mere future telling. Though they do speak of the future it is clear that “the future of which he speaks searches far beyond what people seek from soothsayers. He (the prophet) points out the path to the true ‘exodus’ which consists in this: Among all the paths of history, the path to God is the true direction that we must seek and find” (2007: 4).

What is important here is that the office of the prophet is directly tied to the fact that a prophets speaks to, and knows God. He converses with God as a friend does with another friend. Remember the story of Moses asking to see the glory of God (Ex. 33:18-23)? God only allows Moses to see his back from the cleft of the rock saying that ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live’ (v. 20).

Now, relate this story to the promise that one who is greater than Moses will come one day. It can be seen that what was refused to Moses – namely face to face relationship – will be granted to the one who is greater than Moses. “This naturally entails the further expectation that the new Moses will be the mediator of a greater covenant than the one that Moses was able to bring down from Sinai” (2007: 6). The promise of a greater prophet tells the people of Israel that one will come who knows the heart of God and will be equipped to guide the people towards Him.

Then in John we see that Jesus is the only one who has ever seen God, “No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known” (John 1:18)  It is clear then, that this Jesus is the fulfillment of the promised prophet. He is the one who lives in the most intimate unity with the Father. For the Pope this is central to the understanding of Jesus. “We have to start here if we are truly to understand the figure of Jesus as it is presented to us in the New Testament: all that we are told about his words, deeds, sufferings, and glory is anchored here” (2007: 6).

Because this is the one who calls all men to follow him, then the claim that the ‘filial relationship’ between the Father and the Son is central to all that Jesus is also relates directly to the disciples who would follow. “The disciple who walks with Jesus is thus caught up with him into communion with God. And that is what redemption means” (2007: 8). The one who is greater than Moses has come, and he has come from the Father, and he has shown us the way to the Father. To follow Jesus is to follow him into a face-to-face relationship with the Father. This is what defines Jesus and this is what defines his disciples.

In John’s Gospel, after Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples he tells them once again that he is leaving them to go to the cross but that he will send another, the Holy Spirit, and that he will not leave them as orphans (Jn. 14). Then Judas (not Iscariot) asks him ‘Lord, how will you manifest yourself to us and not to the world?’ And Jesus gives him this for an answer:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and more our home with him”

The promise that one who is greater than Moses will come is fulfilled in Jesus, the one who has seen God. Now this Jesus promises to his disciples that we too can now dwell with the Father. And dwelling with God is the gift of eternal life given to all who love him.