In no particular order of importance:
(1) Down Under Summer: too much rain! Too cold! (Or, if in Oz, too hot!) Perhaps we could have a decent run of sunny, holiday mood suitable days and weeks of weather?
(2) President Trump: could we forget and wipe out certain things you have said and start afresh, speaking about and to the world in a kinder, gentler, respectful way?
(3) Visiting cricket teams to both Oz and NZ: a better standard of competition, please!
(4) I am starting back at work today and I am glad for all the practical things I have gotten done about the house and about my study ... but, really, there is still quite a bit to do and I wouldn't mind some more holidays in which to accomplish them :)
On a serious note, my holiday musings (including some contributory comments by readers and responses by me to the post immediately below), holiday reading, and holiday experiences at different places of worship, have gotten me thinking and thus re-keened up to blog in 2018.
Something I wonder if I might do is try to offer a bit more theological solidity e.g. by offering reviews/responses to serious theological reading. (However that is very hard to "live into" so "I wonder" and not "I promise"!).
Out of a wide ranging set of reading, thoughts, conversation, experiences, for the purpose of this blog, a very simple question comes to mind, What is the church?
"What is the church?" touches on associated questions, "What or who is the church for?" "What should our experience of church be?" "What did Jesus want the church to be?" "What would Paul and the other apostles make of the church in 2018?" "What makes the church? Preaching? Eucharist? Both? Something else?" "Where is the Holy Spirit in the life of the church today?"
Something I keep observing to myself is that different styles of church will mostly seem right and proper "church" to those enabling them either by preparing and performing or by choosing to faithfully participate in them. Yet pretty much every different style today - in my humble or not so humble opinion - can be severely critiqued from the perspective of Jesus and the gospels (e.g. see one book I have read on holiday, Sara Miles Take this bread), if not from the perspective of Paul and his charismatic, house churches.
Yet I also find, for myself, much that is good in each of the styles I experience and much to agree on in what I read. Obviously the perfect, if not ideal church is an amalgam ... :)
Praise the Lord: God in Christ is Lord of the church! And I love a comment in a Christmas letter sent to me. I paraphrase it here to avoid unfortunate and/or unnecessary identifications being made:
"For us the [Anglican church of the nation to which we belong] continues to amaze, astound, depress (delete as applicable – [where we live and go to church] IS the Diocese of Aregion!). We are consoled in recalling that the [Anglican church etc] is NOT the Church as defined by [our] brother Paul."
So, I shall continue blogging in 2018 in a continuing attempt to contribute something, however tiny, towards the church becoming what God intends it to be ... thank you for reading, keep up the commenting :)
Glen, I think Andrei got it scripturally right when he said a couple months ago that the influence that the gospel has on society is first mediated through regenerate lives in the Body.
So, yes, the Body does shepherd individuals to the kingdom. But any kingdom truly formed by the true gospel will be a good society strengthening the body politic around it. The gospel is not just pie in the sky when you die.
Given some grave problem of all (eg global warming), a church's contribution to its solution is, not to tell unbelievers the outcome of a vote on it (why should anyone care?), nor to tell them what the Bible says (even believers rarely understand that), but rather to live by God's grace in a way that materially ameliorates it (eg using less fossil fuel energy), and then give God the glory for that good which they could not have achieved without him. Israel fought, but the Lord gave the victory.
Scriptural social witness is not haranguing any mob who will listen about what we think on Issues Of The Day; it is showing a better way by pointing back to the already achieved society that has been flourishing in Christ. Where a church does not actually live a better way with better results, then it has nothing to say to society at large. Full stop. It should instead think about the change in its life that would actually be better.
This biblical constant-- OT and NT-- poses a deep new problem for churches in societies that have recently secularised. Before, the society was imagined to be the temporal hands and feet of the Body, and it made sense that the Body's spiritual head might tell it what to do. But where society has really secularised, a church that still thinks like that is just the hologram of a chattering head hovering in the air with no hands and feet. In post-modern societies, the C21 will see the ancient Church re-materialise.
(1) To be clear, the gospel does portend individual slices of pie at the marriage supper of the Lamb. However, despite the rhythm and rhymes, that supper will be on earth, not in the sky, and the Eucharist is a foretaste of that banquet given now, and not before you die.
(2) Herewith, an example of how the dematerialisation caused by deconstantinianisation changes everything.
Three of the most sceptical people I have known-- a biblical scholar in the Jesus Seminar mode, a New Atheist blogger, and an American woman on the edge of Buddhism through 20 years in Thailand-- have severally found their way to the Mormons. To all three, the authenticity with which the LDS have provided for personal spiritual direction, participatory group worship, and robust diaconal care all overcame more rationalistic objections that each had long had to religion generally and to Christianity in particular. This is not far from the way it happened in St Paul's house churches-- encounter with a new life came first; worship of Jesus was woven into that; fuller understanding of the gospel and kingdom followed participation and initiation.
But where Protestantism was modernity and modernity was rationalism, this was not the way conversion was supposed to happen. Rather, a more or less impersonal proposition was expected to attract a more or less rational assent, and that was thought likely to indicate some local site of a venerable institution. That may indeed be the NT ideal for sanctification (cf Dallas Willard). But in an age suspicious of rationalism, hegemonic discourses, Christianity, etc, the sense of being in the presence of a truly consecrated person can cut through the mental noise to begin conversion of the heart. Here up yonder, we are not prepared for evangelism to, and initiation of, post-modern souls.
Thanks Bowman for your attempts here for a post-secular evangelism experiment! Appreciated. One small rejoinder: I would not place DW in the camp you do - not having met the man and sat at his feet, and being asked to perform his spiritual exercises/disciplines.
Agreed, Bryden, that Dallas Willard was not an old fashioned rationalist. But insofar as rationalists seek to ground reason in scripture, I'd like them to know that they are trying to be Dallas Willard. And in fact, DW gives a satisfying explanation of just such conversions as the ones I have in mind.
Readers unfamiliar with Dallas Willard's work might begin by listening to what he says here-- https://youtu.be/DCJ-qYsRbM0
And with that you're off the hook Bowman - well, sort of! For I'd pursue this further line of enquiry:
It's probably not a coincidence that CS Lewis's favourite Psalm was 19. Yet his entire mind-set extols the imagination as much as reason - for they are properly twins. I.e. We've to see that reason is grounded as much in the cosmos as Scripture. Since the God of Faithfulness and hesed, the Lord of the Covenant, is Reason itself. Even if we merely take hold of the hem of his garments, in either that very cosmos or Scripture, both of which testify to God's works and ways in their respective (reasonable) forms.
Speaking of "what is the church", probably the more (personally) influential book I've read is Foster's Streams of Living Water. Lots of healthy dimensions of "church" and we mostly prefer or unprefer some and not others... Jonathan
Beautiful Jonathan! Have you encountered this Spiritual Formation Workbook which covers these various "streams"? Most effective in a group, each with their own copy. Enriches by rounding out ...
(1) "... the influence that the gospel has on society is first mediated through regenerate lives in the Body." BW
(2) "This biblical constant-- OT and NT-- poses a deep new problem for churches in societies that have recently secularised. Before, the society was imagined to be the temporal hands and feet of the Body, and it made sense that the Body's spiritual head might tell it what to do. But where society has really secularised, a church that still thinks like that is just the hologram of a chattering head hovering in the air with no hands and feet." BW
(3) "...the dematerialisation caused by deconstantinianisation changes everything...In post-modern societies, the C21 will see the ancient Church re-materialise." BW
(4) "We've to see that reason is grounded as much in the cosmos as Scripture." BB
(5) "To all three, the authenticity with which the LDS have provided for personal spiritual direction, participatory group worship, and robust diaconal care all overcame more rationalistic objections that each had long had to religion generally and to Christianity in particular... the sense of being in the presence of a truly consecrated person can cut through the mental noise to begin conversion of the heart." BW
Yes, Bryden. Prologue to St John, etc. But as you see, I am seeking a context for your comment in order to unpack it. And then apply it so that something on earth is different by next week.
I read your (4) as saying that to re-materialise, that is, to again exhibit the gospel daily in the streets rather than to smile like the cheshire cat as it is now doing, the C21 Church must or should practise reason as not just exegetic but also cosmic. This should make intuitive sense to most of Peter's readers.
But concretely what makes a practise of reason in the streets more cosmic? Is it more creation-centred, better mixing action and contemplation, more mindful of apocalyptic combat, more disposed to think archetypally about nature, more insistent on the symbolic operations of the parietal lobe of the brain, more empiricist within the mind of Christ, less triumphally High Modern, or something else? As soon as we know, we can set up the MOOC and release several thousand cosmic reasoners into a global village that needs to see something material from Christ. Or--- is that precisely what we do not need to do?
For how does that cosmic practise of reason enable churches to be there on the scene doing things in Christ that others without God cannot do? For instance, how does the cosmic practise of reason enable the "personal spiritual direction, participatory group worship, and robust diaconal care" mentioned above? Or "the sense of being in the presence of a truly consecrated person [that] can cut through the mental noise to begin conversion of the heart?" In short, how does it stop the steady retreat of churches from a street corner somewhere to a mere opinion space nowhere?
In the avalanche of American and other writing about #MeToo over the past few months, I have not seen a single reference to sexuality as a religious practise. "Except among the Anglicans, who having debated every aspect of sex for nearly a century have an admirable and distinct Christian practise, the sexes and even the generations seem to be at war over the nature of the act itself." Nothing like that has landed in my inbox. Nor have I seen, "In the standoff between the #MeToo *posse comitatis* and the sex-positive resistance of feminists like Catherine Deneuve, Anglican feminists, some of them bishops, have explained that polarisation as the outcome of blind spots on both sides that hurt both women and men."
In fairness, I do note a few Anglican bright spots. The Abbess of Avalon gave an interview to the BBC that was remarkable for her compassionate counsel to Millennials in particular that the reconciliation of the sexes is integral to life in Christ. "Those confused about this have still not found Him." The liberal-ish Church of Cockaigne has opened what it calls a *reconciliation center* for any who want to recover from the widespread hurt and misunderstanding between the sexes, and this is expanding into borrowed space to meet the demand. Meanwhile, the doughty bishops of conservative Parador have summoned all communicants in that province to separate consultations on sexuality for women and men. "We have not done less harm than others, and we are not less in pain than others, but in Christ our response to brokenness can and will be very concretely different." Cosmic reasoners all. But apart from these few efforts, even Rome is burning and Anglicans are just fiddling.
Hi Bowman and Bryden
I take Bowman's words to you Bryden to be a challenge (in my words):
- let's agree the church here Down Under (and further afield in the AC) is remiss in serious and in many ways;
- but it appears, on your reckoning, to be amiss in ways that it need not because (with the correct theology a la Black, Torrance, etc) the church exists which demonstrates the way forward and we should look to its example;
- EXCEPT you have not shown us where that church actually exists,* only that it could exist;
- which I do not think is a strong counter to my main-ish point: that we live in a new (NEW!) era and we are all struggling to work out how to engage the world of this era with the gospel;
- the best each of us can do, as you and Bowman (and me) and other commenters are doing, is proffer pointers to what the way forward MIGHT be, to what MIGHT work as a new mode of proclaiming the Word in the world.
*I applaud many aspects of current church life, especially where, whatever a church is doing, it draws a full congregation (something I see happening in evangelical Anglican, Catholic and independent Pentecostal churches) but the overall statistics for Christian belief in our country show that nevertheless we are failing to engage hearts and minds with the gospel. Even within the full churches, there are challenges re proclaiming the gospel and conveying Christian truth: evangelical Anglicans (IMHO) tend towards a rational, propositional form of the gospel which reaches some but will not reach all Millennials; Catholics are showing signs of "Anglican" dilemmas re the gospel and human sexuality (cf. a German bishop recently publicly musing on the appropriateness of SSB); independent Pentecostals worry about losing nearly as many people as they gain; etc.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Peter, since Bryden shares my strong interest in strategies of *retrieval* or *ressourcement*, I think of my reply to him as an urgent invitation to us all to put something evangelical on the ground for a desperate present.
Elsewhere, my Torrancean friends are meeting a wall of rejection from fellow Reformed who are too suspicious in their bones of any sort of real church, whilst my Jensonian friends are faring better professionally but discover that they are up against an epidemic of bad antinomianism in Lutheran circles. Not having been conditioned to disparage the Body or to fear wisdom as works-righteousness, Anglicans can act where others cannot and have more responsibility to do so. What then is to be done?
And if it should be the case that even Anglican churches Down Under or up yonder are just not up to doing anything at all, then it is urgent to not just interrogate that resistance, but challenge its legitimacy more radically than has been done before. As the Preacher says (3:1-8) "to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." One starts to discern the signs of the times.
Bryden, thanks, and yes - a small group of us did this in the 1990s, and also a bit of his more theological version of it whose name I forget. The Footprints of God exercises were particularly good and I should revisit them. He seemed to include spiritual exercises of , say, tradition X (charismatic, evangelical, incarnational, holiness and social justice(?)) that would be helpful for people who were not from that tradition. Jonathan.
Bowman, have you thought of compiling a dictionary?! :-) :-) (Exclusively available for us ADU readers!) Jonathan.
Well Bowman, for something to be "different by next week", perhaps we need to take 2 Timothy 3:5 to heart. In all its consequences. And thus stop 'playing religion' ...
"Bowman, have you thought of compiling a dictionary?!"
Jonathan, thanks for reading! In another field I did do that. Never again. Do you find any word that I have used obscure?
"Well Bowman, for something to be "different by next week", perhaps we need to take 2 Timothy 3:5 to heart. In all its consequences. And thus stop 'playing religion'..."
Yes, Bryden, William J Abraham et al have probably spelled out the most salient consequences of recognising *power* as Canonical Theism. Dallas Willard and the Renovare project seem compatible with their Canonical Theism, although they themselves have not embraced that to my knowledge. Still missing are *models* and *communities of practise* that reliably guide any given contemporary ministry or person to eg preach the gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, guide the perplexed, etc in likely harmony with those canons. Many have ventured to fill that gap, including some with whom we may disagree (eg GAFCON) or just find unsettling or strange (eg Richard Rohr). Since what interests me is seeing that gap filled with all deliberate speed, I look forward to godly contemplation that overflows into action with *power* that will be recognised and canonised in due course.
"Il n'y a qu'une tristesse, lui a-t-elle dit, la derniere foi, c'est de N'ETRE PAS DES SAINTS..."
-- Léon Bloy, La Femme Pauvre
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