Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Conservative Reformed Mafia Interviews Doug Pagitt

The Conservative Reformed Mafia posted an interview with Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon's Porch and candidate for the MN state legislature in 2010.

Doug comes under fire in conservative evangelical circles for some of his writings. He is a (founding?) member of Emergent. I have not personally read any of his books, so I don't have anything to add.

CRM asked Pagitt a number of questions about faith and politics. One notable question was about whether he was just a leftist version of James Dobson and the late Jerry Falwell. The questions are poignant, and Doug's answers clarify his intents.

It's worth a listen.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Renewal Video

Here is a video of the work we did with YFC Tillicum (described below).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Renewal: A Believers Fellowship Outreach Project

This month my church partnered with the Tacoma Area Youth for Christ in our latest outreach event. YFC is building a youth and family center in Tillicum. Dan Livingston, the director of the project, told me that they have been ministering in the Tillicum schools for some time now, but that it was tough to tell the kids that God loved them when they had no evidence of it at home. Poverty is rampant in the area, and some of the kids had to sleep under trash bags to keep themselves dry from the rain that leaked through their ceilings.

YFC wanted to build a place where kids could stop by after school do their homework, play video games, and hang out with people who would mentor them, teach them life skills, and pray for them. All of this would be done in the context of the Gospel. So, they purchased the Wander Inn Tavern, they gutted it, and they are in the process of renewing it into a safe place for the kids of Tillicum.

On November 8th, our church went out to Tillicum to help them with the project. We built a couple of storage sheds for them, and we helped demolish some windows and bar equipment that had to go before construction can begin on the center. In addition to the construction project, we also helped YFC with their annual fundraising auction. We put together two packages—a “grandparent survival kit” and a gardening kit. Both items were auctioned off and the proceeds went to the Tacoma Area YFC's annual budget.

One of the coolest parts of the project was getting to write on one of the support pillars in the tavern. Dan told us that one of the biggest problems they have with the construction project is that local gang members often tag it, and they are constantly cleaning off graffiti. Gang members tag, he said, because they are staking out territory. So, he wanted us to “tag” the building for the kingdom of God. Each of us got to write our name and a Bible verse or encouraging thought on the pillar, which would be present behind the walls forever.

The YFC Tillicum project is an awesome illustration of renewal to me. They took a building that was probably doing more harm than good to the community, and they are transforming it to be a holy place. That’s just what God does for us. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9–11 NIV)

God takes old things and He makes them new.

We love what YFC is doing for the youth and families of Pierce County. I look forward to seeing what the new center will do for Tillicum. I have a feeling that the transformed building will help transform the community, as kids in the area will have other outlets for their free time than gangs and drugs. We had a great time working with YFC and we prize the relationship we have with them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Conservative Evangelicals and Shibboleths

In Judges 12, the Ephraimites are at war with the Gileadites. Because the two tribes were closely related, it was difficult to tell who was a friend and who was an enemy. But because the two groups had different accents, they used code words to distinguish friend from foe. When someone was suspected of being an Ephraimite, the Gileadites would ask him to say the word "shibboleth." If the person had an Ephraimite accent and pronounced it "sibbboleth," the Gileadites would kill him on the spot.

We have our own shibboleths in conservative evangelicalism. We size people up as either "with us" or "against us" based on what they believe about certain issues we deem important. Some of our shibboleths are:

Your view on hell
Your view on homosexuality
Your view on the role of women in the church
Your view on the environment
Your view on postmodernism
Your view on evolution
Your view on inerrancy
Your political affiliation
Your view on the "emerging" or "emergent" church

When we hear someone's views on these issues, we categorize them as either "with" us or "against" us. When we ask the question, "What do you think about hell?" we don't care so much about what influences their theology of the righteousness of God and eschatological justice, we just want to know if they are "with" us or "against" us. Are they a liberal, or are they one of the good guys? (Or, conversely, are they a fundamentalist, or are they one of the good guys?)

I realize that shibboleths are a part of all cultures and sub-groups and evangelicals aren't the only guilty parties, but I think we take it one step further.

If our preachers don't regularly preach on the shibboleths, we start to questions whose side they're on, anyway.

I think that is why evangelical preachers are accused of preaching nothing but hellfire and brimstone and why God hates the gays--if they don't, people question their conservatism.

Now, I am all about preaching the Bible and teaching the truth. But really, how much ink is spilled in the Bible on these topics compared to how much they're brought up in church? How many times did Jesus tell people they were going to hell and that this meant a literal place with literal fire that consciously torments you literally forever? How many people did Paul hand over to Satan because they were postmodernists?

I take the conservative position on most of the above issues. But perhaps what makes me different is that I have friends who don't. Some of these people are a lot smarter than I am. Some of them love God a lot more than I do. Some of them know the Bible a lot better than I do. Not everyone who takes a "liberal" position on these issues is trying to destroy the Gospel. They read the same Bible as me and serve the same God. They just see things a bit differently. I disagree with their ideas, but I am okay with some diversity in the body of Christ.

There is a time and a place to set boundaries. The great church councils decided that there is orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Jesus cared a lot about what people believed about Him. But I think we define orthodoxy a lot narrower than those who have gone before us. Maybe we need to learn to hold fast to what is essential, but to show some humility in other areas.

Jesus was most interested in telling people to follow Him and build for the kingdom of God. Paul was most interested in telling people about the life-changing effects of the cross and the indwelling Holy Spirit. John was most interested in the significance of Jesus--who He was, why He died, and what difference it makes in the way we treat each other. Maybe these are the things we should care about, too.

Over a thousand years after the conflict between the Ephraimites and the Gileadites, shibboleths came up again in the community of faith. This time it happened in the city of Antioch. The Jews of the day went to great lengths to distinguish themselves from the godless Gentiles. They didn't eat meat sacrificed to idols, they didn't work on the Sabbath, and they circumcised their sons. There was never a question of whose side they were on--their lifestyle made it apparent. But Peter, the apostle to the Jews, started eating with the Gentiles in Antioch. But when the kosher good ole boys came up from Jerusalem, he changed his ways. He made sure his eating habits said "shibboleth" and not "sibboleth."

But Paul called him out. Peter wasn't living the Gospel.

In Galatians 3:26–28, Paul writes, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

The Gospel transcends the shibboleths.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Good Life Sermon Number 6

Last Sunday I taught the sixth message in a ten-week series called The Good Life: Redeeming Suburbia through Counter-cultural Living. Every week we contrast a myth of suburbia about living the good life (taken from David Goetz's book, Death by Suburb) with a message of Jesus about living the good life (taken from the Gospel of John).

This past week we looked at the myth, "I Need to Make a Difference with My Life." We talked about how we all have this feeling that God wants us to do something great with our lives. Does He? Maybe He just wants us to be faithful. We looked at Jesus' interaction with Pontius Pilate, the hidden righteousness, and the importance of doing good, even when no one is looking.
You can listen to this, or any of my other sermons here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Awaiting Redemption Redirected

I was very close to shutting this blog down for good, but I'm not going to do that. The past few months have been good for me--much better than the six months previous. I think that my participation in online communities and discussion groups was distracting me from the things I enjoy most in life. When I cut the internet out of my life for a season, I rediscovered who I am.

The internet can be stimulating. I enjoy lively discussion of ideas. I love the reevaluate what I believe, why I believe it, and what difference it makes to the world. My interests are mostly in theology, ethics, and Christian origins, and most people are bored with the things that excite me. Thus, blogs and discussion boards can be a much-needed outlet for my intellectual and spiritual curiosity.

I started this blog as a way of thinking out loud--of putting my thoughts about life, God, and especially "already/not yet" spirituality, on to paper (or rather server space). The key to a good blog, I heard, is to update it every day. So I tried.

Big mistake.

I wasted so much time in stupid discussions about things like the Emergent church, the New Perspective on Paul, and how we know what we know, that I neglected the things that really matter. I have since made it a priority to take care of myself. I need to get exercise. I need to watch what I eat. I want to spend time with the people who matter most to me. I need to pursue God. I need to figure out once and for all how Christianity "works." I need to be more aware of the needs of the people around me. I need to become the person that I want to become. Or, as Elvis Presley once put it so profoundly, "I need a little less conversation and a little more action."

I am going to keep the blog going. I do find it to be helpful in some ways, and I think I will probably start another blog some time in the future if I put this one to rest. I figure I can just save myself a step by leaving this one active. I am not going to update it every day--only when I have something to say.

Thanks for reading.