just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Sociology of Protestantism

I love hot, sunny summer days. I went for a run in the late morning today with the sun already casting its oppressive rays on the asphalt road. I “bonked” at mile 5. I “cracked”, fell apart, lost the will to keep running. I finished the same route (7 ½ miles) last week without a problem.

Speaking of clergy who blog…Rick Warren now has a blog, although I understand you can’t post comments. Purpose-filled blogging.

I came across an interesting section in the book I am reading—The Sociology of Protestantism. Mehl lays out a rationale for looking at religion from a sociological perspective (the Modernist lens—empirical rationalism…although he acknowledges that there are limits to which sociology as a science can explain the invisible mystery that is the object of faith—God--"What sociology lacks, what every other science also lacks, is the possibility of grasping this revelation as the act of God revealing himself." p. 10). He suggests that the practice and activity of the different Christian confessions are influenced by the various ways in which they conceive of revelation.

In schematic fashion, we can say that for Catholicism this revelation resides in a sacred doctrinal deposit entrusted to a hierarchy which looks after its integrity, its teaching, and its explication; for Protestantism it resides in a living word which resounds from out the holy books of the Old and New Testaments, primarily when it is preached to the assembled community; for Orthodoxy, finally, it resides in a liturgy of the church which, because it is lived drama, abolishes the distance between the events of holy history and the present time, and thus integrates the faithful into sacred time.

From this device the essentially different forms of religious behaviour. The primary concern of the Catholic Church is to assure the continuity of the hierarchy (the foundation of the teaching church and of the validity of the sacramental acts) and the submission of all to the hierarchy (this primary concern has resulted, during certain periods, in a suspicion regarding the free usage of the Bible by the faithful).

The primary concern of the Protestant churches is to assure the preaching of God’s word and the diffusion of the Holy Scriptures; the constitution of these churches gives clear indication of the will to dispose everything with a view to permitting, above all else, an unceasing preaching of Scripture, even more than to assuring the distribution of the sacrament: the translation of the Bible into the common tongues and its intensive diffusion is the point of all missionary activity. The spring of personal piety is to found in the private reading of and meditation on Scripture. This also is the source of a constant preoccupation with elevating the cultural level of the faithful.

The primary concern of the Orthodox Church is to assure the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This celebration takes the place of catechetical instruction. It is the imprint of the liturgy on the souls of believers which maintains them in the faith. Thus one sees the Russian Orthodox Church accepting with a certain facility the restrictions which the governments impose on its external activities and even on its teaching: the essential is safe as long as the church can celebrate its liturgy.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Icons and the Emerging Church

Andrew Jones (a.k.a. Tall Skinny Kiwi) has an interesting post today on icons and the emerging church. For those of you outside the orbit of emergent church stuff, Andrew Jones is a protagonist in the movement. He is more involved on the other side of the big pond with Dawn Ministries in Europe. I actually don't know too much more than what I gather reading his blog occasionally.

I was asked the other day why I blog. Musing on that question, I think of several reasons that led to the genesis of keeping a blog. I will list a few below. Some of the items listed below represent not just why I blog, but the landscape (convergence of technology and cultural impulses) that have led to a proliferation of blogging.

1. The world is flat. The information age, the internet, and the democratization of communication capability has eliminated the middle man. Now everyone can access almost any information. And almost anyone can publish information. The deluge of digital text and images is allowing for new ways for people to create, express themselves, network, interact as social beings...thinkers...humans...in cyberspace. This phenomenon represents the democratization of communication and voice. Everyone who has a computer and access to the internet can access this information highway and contribute their unique and particular voice to the Glocal community. There are not gatekeepers denying anyone with these simple tools access. This is very democratic.

2. I began blogging soon after having read Generation to Generation, by Friedman. I was thinking about family theory and congregational systems. I was thinking about pastoral theology. One of the things Friedman suggests is healthy for leaders to do is to self-differentiate--to be open about perspectives, identity and vision they hold. This frees the congregation to not be held captive by fear and anxiety by uncertainty as to where the leader is at, or even worse to be locked in some kind of hidden, manipulative power game. Ahhh, church politics. Why would Friedman think that kind of stuff ever happens in churches?!!!? (:) So my blog is a way I attempt to be real about my own journey. It is a public space where I make room for conversation, for working out my own theology and salvation (in fear and trembling). It sometimes feels like a risk, but I would rather be real than play some kind of role just to keep the system going.

3. Blogging represents the postmodern impulse for Truth to be narrative. The postmodern sensibility is skeptical of propositional truth. Every medium and discipline of our time in some way reflects an awareness or adaptation to this sensibility--Reality TV, Action Research, Narrative theology, and on and on... So blogging is a way of expressing self, and the narrative the self emerges from. As I blog, I am expressing some of what the world looks like from inside my skin. Truth intersects with my experience, and my voice is heard. The Gospel is centered on this same dynamic--the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The power of the Gospel is that it is not esoteric, it is messy and particular. It is a manger, a birth canal, bread and loves, nails and a cross, bread and wine. The Gospel is iconed in the material world. So icons are not limiting, nor idolatry, but they point to the fact that the Word becomes flesh. Incarnation. History.

4. I believe blogging is an expression of our longing for community. We are created as communal beings. The social medium may look different, but it is the same impulse for community that gives rise to it. To know and be known, that has always been a part of the human story. Blogging is just another layer of communication. It does not replace face to face interaction, it just adds another layer that can enhance and broaden our interconnectedness. Time and space are eliminated as barriers to our communication. Again, the world is flat.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Newbigin, the Gospel in Pluralist Western Culture, and Culture Class

The other day I spoke with a reporter for Lancaster Newspapers who is working on a possible story on clergy who blog. She asked me what was behind the title of my blog—Just an Apprentice. I thought I would reflect on this question a bit with this post.

Dallas Willard, in his book Divine Conspiracy, writes about the Christian life as a way of living in this world not just a set of doctrines, or a gospel of “sin management”. Christianity is much more than dogmatics, it is about a way of living. The earliest Christians were known as followers of the way. The title of my blog, indicates that I too identify myself as an apprentice of Jesus, one who is following the ancient Christian path of transformation. I have not arrived, I am on the way.

Secondly, it points to a stance that I believe the church must take if it is to recover and be freed from its Christendom distortions. I heard Jim Schrag talk about the need for the Church to go back to school to learn what it means to be a missional church. I think of someone like Bishop Leslie Newbigin, who in many ways was a catalyst for the missional conversation among Western churches.

Ryan Bolger writes that Newbigin created a space for Western churches to analyze their relationship to Western culture. Returning to 1980s Britain after forty years in India, Newbigin viewed the Western church with a different set of lenses, and he spoke a message that the Western church needed to hear.

Newbigin returned to a church held captive by the culture and its own church traditions. He asked how the church had become so marginal to public life. He traced the church’s current form back to the Enlightenment, with its focus on reason, the individual, and the removal of values from the public (or factual) sphere. In addition, Newbigin identified another source of the lifeless nature of the Western church – Christendom. Because of the church’s historic relation to the state, Western churches served passively as chaplains to the culture, baptizing the culture’s agenda. With the church’s domination by the powers (the ‘isms’) and its historical relationship with Christendom, the church found itself beaten-down with little ability or energy to respond.

All was not lost. Newbigin argued for a response, another way out of the church’s predicament. Because of the historical nature of the church’s position (it was not a ‘given’), other trajectories were possible. He advocated that the gospel must be the starting point for Christians -- specifically the as expressed in the Incarnation and the Trinity. The gospel must frame all other structures and practices, not science or any other ‘tradition’. The gospel can handle pluralism, provided the gospel is located at the center. The church, not the culture, sets the agenda, speaking from within the biblical narratives to the wider world.

For Newbigin, the church must embody this public truth in all realms, foregoing the facts/values split of the Enlightenment, e.g. in neighborhoods, in arts, science, politics and economics. Rather than accept life on the margins, the church must serve as pointer to the coming reign of God. In retrospect, Newbigin gave the church a gift by exposing the powers and encouraging a gospel-like response in all spheres of culture.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in a Culture Class with 16 students from Spain who have been in the United States as a part of American Home Life International. This was really a great time of interacting with the Spaniards around the question: “Do you have any spiritual beliefs?” This question became a great springboard for conversation about God, the scientific worldview (secular), values, Jesus, the Bible, what is shaping their beliefs… For these Spanish young people, talking about faith and spirituality in a personal way was something foreign. Many would have some Catholic roots, but are essentially agnostic, or secular humanist in practice. What is the Gospel, the good news, for these Spanish young people? How does Jesus cut through the distortions and baggage created by their experience, by their cultural context, the history of Spain for the over the last century? We had some good open conversation and I trust some seeds were planted that will continue to grow in their lives.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Floyd Landis

A ride for the ages...

Amazing! Epic! After having a bad day and cracking in stage 16, what a turnaround yesterday. To gain back that much time--7:38--in one stage is unthinkable.

I remember watching Greg Lemond's incredible ride on the last day of the tour in 1989 (I think), when he made up over a minute to Laurent Fignot who was in good form. That gave me chills. But yesterday, as Bob Roll (OLN) said, was the single most incredible individual effort and ride ever seen in the Tour de France.

This sets up to be incredible drama in the Individual Time Trial on Saturday--a discipline that plays to Landis' strengths.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Middle East Violence

“Israel and the End Times” by David Ewert appeared in The CHRISTIAN LEADER, 25 October 1977, organ of the U.S. Mennonite Brethren Church.

Ewert provides an excellent treatment of how a Christocentric reading of Scripture might challenge many widely held views regarding the present day nation-state of Israel. Below, without commentary, I submit some excerpts from this article.



As believers we take seriously Jesus’ word, “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:22), and gratefully acknowledge God’s grace by which we were grafted onto the Abrahamic tree (Rom. 11).

The question, however, whether there is a special place in the end-times for the Israelitic nation, has to be settled not on emotional or political, but on exegetical grounds. Unfortunately, the issue has become so highly charged, that those who question the hope of a national restoration of Israel are quickly charged with anti-Semitism or unfaithfulness to the Scriptures.

When J.R.W. Stott was asked about his position on this matter he frankly stated that there was not a single New Testament passage that promised a return of the Jews to Palestine. And he added, “I am hesitant about any Old Testament prophecy that is not confirmed in the New Testament.” That, I submit, is the proper perspective (Christocentric) from which to discuss the question of “Israel and the end times.”

As we turn to the Gospels to see what Jesus said about national Israel, we discover very quickly that He came not to restore the Jewish nation to political independence, but to usher in the kingdom of God. Also, we discover that Jesus and the apostles looked upon the prophetic hopes of the Old Testament as fulfilled in the new people of God which Christ came to create.

It is clear from Jesus’ teachings that Israel as a nation has lost its privileged status, and because of its rejection of the message which Jesus brought, Israel has no national-political hopes guaranteed to her by God (Mt. 3:9; Mk. 1:15; Mt. 11:21-24; Lk. 13:34, 35; Lk. 19:41-44; Mk. 12:1-9; Mt. 21:43; Jn. 10:16; Mt. 20:16; Mt. 8:11, 12; Lk. 12:32).

The Old Testament promises, which hold out a glorious future for Israel, however, are being fulfilled in a new Israel, a people that is bound together not by blood ties, but by its willingness to do the will of God (Mk. 3:31-35). Descent from Abraham is now irrelevant; repentance and faith pave the way for membership in this new people of God.

If we still think of the Jew in nationalistic terms, how easy it is to take a militaristic attitude when in our day the state of Israel is attacked. And when the Israelis beat the Arabs (with the help of American jets), that’s because God is on their side, it is said. Some of the strongest supporters for arming Israel with American military hardware are evangelical Christians. Whether 90 percent of the Israelis are agnostics or not, doesn’t seem to matter. They are God’s people. Really?

Those who hold to a national restoration of Israel have a difficult question to answer with regard to the New Testament concept of the church. It was the purpose of Jesus’ coming and the goal of the apostolic ministry to establish one body of believers, composed of Jews and Gentiles. It is hard to see that in the end there should be two peoples of God—the church and Israel. We should then be careful not to drive a wedge between Jews and Gentiles. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him” (Rom. 10:12).

The view presented in this article will not sit well with many of my brethren in the church who have adopted the dispensational system of interpreting the Bible—a system not known in Mennonite circles until the late 19th century. But if one accepts the New Testament as God’s final revelation, it is hardly legitimate to bypass the New Testament and go straight from the Old Testament to current events, and to affirm that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes.

As we await the return of our Lord, let us join Paul in his concern that both Jew and Gentile hear the Good News as long as God’s mercy allows us time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Prayer for the Bishops, Leaders, and People of Lancaster Mennonite Conference

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant that all of us be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Refreshing Mountain

We had a good weekend at Refreshing Mountain. I added some photos from this weekend to the SMC church website. It was really fun to watch the kids go for it on the high ropes course and zip line. On Sunday morning we talked about the parallels between these high elements and life/being Church/faith journey/trusting God.

Saturday evening was a great time of enjoying a common meal together with awesome barbecue chicken provided by Dave Beiler again! Really good to see Karen again.

This picture just confirms that our household can be a circus at times.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Farm life offers a wisdom worth contemplating.

Here is the voice of another pilgrim on the journey.


Monday, July 10, 2006


Home again, home again jiggity, jig. Good to be home again. No deep posts at this moment. Thought I would post some of my photos from Kansas.

What was Zidane thinking?

Is anybody else on the Floyd Landis bandwagon? Couldn't believe what I read in today's Intell about Landis needing a hip replacement after this year's Tour de France!!! As if riding up Alpe d' Huez isn't difficult enough without hip pain.