Friday, May 26

Throwing in the cowl, or kicking the habit?

The santa fe trail has been a little quiet for the last couple of weeks. Sorry about that. There are a few reasons - one is that I've been busy chatting and posting on other blogs a bit, as well as being busy with assignments and stuff. Another reason is best summarised by my previous post - just wanting to make sure thinking doesn't become an idol.

Here's a few thoughts that are coming together in my head at the moment. Firstly, there's been a roaring discussion on what has been call "Network Church" over on Boxologies - worth a read, especially if you're going to join us for Coffee Shop Theology this weekend. Secondly, I've been writing an essay on Charles Spurgeon and his involvement in the "Down Grade Controversy" of the late 1800s. No, I hadn't heard of it either. Johnny does a good summary (as well as some good reflection) here.

So what's the connection?

Here are my questions: is the move away from congregationalism (represented by network church) the final decisive step in kicking our addiction to empire-building (as has been suggested)? Is it protest? Or is is a retreat of some sort; even a surrender to the individualism of our age?

Spurgeon (at least according to one historian I read) seems to have chosen the path of protest. When he left the Baptist Union, he formed no alternative denomination and generally dissuaded people from following him. In a sense he made a (quasi-monastic?) protest rather than seek to remain in the BU and critically engage with the "down grade" in an effort to reform.

All well and good, and protest is often necessary, but the problem was that he seems to have paved the way for the reactionary (protest) Fundamentalism of the 1920s, and the equally saddening (protest) theological liberalism - both of which were totally modernist responses and still cause us pain today. I wonder what would have happened if Spurgeon had stayed in the BU and engaged more constructively with the rising liberalism. Would both sides have found a less reactionary path?

In protesting against anything (whether the congregation, or the modernist church status quo - a la emergent) there seems to be this danger of polarization. God forbid that I should become an Emergent Fundamentalist, or a Network Fundamantalist, or a Monastic Fundamentalist - and (worse) that those who follow me would entrench this further.

Here's a comment from Gibbs and Bolger's new book: "People are both hungry for relationships and yet at the same time ill prepared for the costs involved. In a culture in which casual relationships or contractual relationships are the norm, it is difficult to build relationships on deep foundations that can survive disagreements and disappointments. People are more prone to walk away when the going becomes difficult than to work through a crisis to the point where a new depth of understanding is reached."

This is a challenge to us all, whether networky types, urban monks, or emergent churches. So there's the thing on my mind as I look for a job after graduation - protest or reform? In the words of the Clash: "Should I stay or should I go?"

Thursday, May 18


God, forgive me...

When I preach grace (but behave without it)
When I talk incessantly about community (but act alone)
When I cry out for social action (but only with words)
When I seek dialogue (but keep my fingers in my ears)
When I dream big dreams (but do not obey your simplest word)
When I use my ecclesiology as a stick with which to beat your Church
When my doctrine of God is exalted above my God

For theology without theophany

Friday, May 12

Hank goes church shopping

Couldn't help but post this...

Comments welcome, but I just thought it was funny.

(if the link doesn't work click here)

McLaren soundbites

I was down at the emergent conference in Teeside today, with a few friends. Well, yesterday technically - we just got home and it's nearly 2am now. It was a great day - not least the conversation in the car (try being stuck in a small Citroen for 6 hours with two theology students, an arabic/politics graduand & your theology lecturer! - torture for some, bliss for freaks like me.)

Brian McLaren was the speaker, and he did three sessions covering a large array of topics. I don't want to indulge too much in present-day hagiography (my wife already teases me enough), but one thing that struck me about the man was the lightness with which he engaged his critics - particularly those who would brand him a heretic and consign him to the hottest parts of hell (literally). While most of the things he was teaching were relatively familiar to me, I thought I'd share a few snippets of his comments, and see what conversations they can start (quotes are as accurate as I could be with pen and paper - sorry Brian if I misquote!):

(on change, and critics of it)
"Resisting change changes the resister... and the change agent"

(on Scripture's content)
"The Bible preserves the voice of the doubter (Ecclesiastes) and even of the wrong (70% of the book of Job)"

(on Scripture as dialogue)
"you don't hear the word of the Lord unless you hear the conversation"

(on Scripture and the church)
"how does Scripture serve the church?" (not the other way around!)

(on Spiritual formation)
"we are all made into the image of the God we believe in"

(on 'Generation Y' and their apparent contentedness)
"What do you give to the person who has everything? A knowledge of who to thank. And a knowledge that it is unsustainable and comes at the expense of others and the earth."

(on the theological task)
"The idea that we have to get it RIGHT is a religiously transmitted disease"

Any of this strike a chord?

Thursday, May 4


It's my birthday today. Maybe it's because I am now entering my 30th year, but I've been daydreaming lots lately. One of the things I've been dreaming is a "what if?" scenario for taking CoffeeShop Theology to the next level and developing an emergent-style missional community. Ah, dreams....

Anyway, as part of this exercise in dreamthinking I've been looking at the whole question of doctrinal statements and creeds. Should we have one? If so, do we write our own or adopt one from the church? If so, which?

My first reaction was to go for the "no statement" statement. But then there's the question of how you know you are still being a Christian group in any real sense of the word unless you declare something like a doctrinal statement.

The bigger questions are these: are creeds 'useful'? All too often Doctrinal statements seem to be used as a means of exclusion. Is this necessarily the case? Or can they be used as a some kind of 'center', around which we can welcome and embrace all without defining boundaries?