15 December 2009

Reflections on the Baptist's words

As I sat in church on Sunday, the text spoke to those who were the "haves" of society and outlined their responsibility to the "those who do not have." Part of the issue, as I see it, is that our economic systems have strong tendencies to benefit those who already have. Simply because of where I live, my educational level and other factors, I have opportunities that others would love to have. I confess, that like many others, I tend to under-appreciate those opportunities.

Like most people in the United States, I have some savings for retirement. Most of these savings are in various kinds of mutual funds. Some of those funds have elements of social justice as a part of there investment philosophy; however, even these funds invest in the US stock market. Stock markets tend to benefit the largest companies and seem to have limited benefit to those outside of the ones who already have enough to invest there.

Herein lies my difficulty and my question. While I have no problems investing in these funds per se, it seems that the recent past has resulted in lackluster returns where my portfolio decreases in value while I continue to read about excessive compensation for top executives. While returns shouldn't be my major motivating factor, I wonder how my investment strategies make sense in light of the Gospel. Prima facie, my retirement money is part of the continuing system of helping those who have to have more.

Now before you accuse me of being a communist or socialist or something else, let me state an alternative I which were out available to me and others. I wish that part of my retirement savings could go into a fund that would be used to finance micro-loans to persons attempting to start new businesses either in the blighted urban areas or in developing nations. I know there are sites where I can directly help in these kinds of endeavors, but I'm thinking that I'd like to put the funds into some kind of "fund" or large "pot" whose purpose is to give loans to help those who do not have in developing nations and portions of the US that traditional banks have forgotten. I also admit that with all the work related to my kids, my job, and life in general, I don't have the time to try to spend evaluating all of these options.

As part of the funds rules, one would recognize that the returns might be lower than some kind of funds that invested in stock markets. The lower returns would be offset by the knowledge that the dollars invested in this "fund" would have an uplifting effect on the "least of these." With some of the sites boasting a 98% repayment rate, it honestly seems much less risky tahn some of the traditional options. Obviously, most people wouldn't put all of their savings into this kind of fund, but what if it were an option? What kinds of good could happen if there were millions or billions of dollars that could be lent at affordable rates to those seeking to better their life?

Perhaps there are options out there, already... If there aren't, how could we start something like this option?

08 October 2009

A great article on Inerrancy ...

Perhaps the biggest theological difference between the "Concerned" and those who aren't a part of that camp is the way they view Scripture. My difficulty with the way that the "Concerned" portray this distinction as if there are only two options.

The first option, (and the correct one on their thinking) is that Scripture is true not only in the whole but in every part. Scripture, on this view, is wholly a "God" document and contains nothing of humanity. This view, which is commonly described as "Biblical Inerrancy" seems to see all other views (such as the assertion that the Scriptures are "inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith") as a low or inferior view of Scripture. Based on the rhetoric they use, one might even assume that they think persons who hold this view aren't really Christians. At best, they are heretics who should be expelled from the church.

The second option, as they seem to outline the landscape, takes in all other views of Scripture. These views, inasmuch as they affirm humanity's role in the Scripture deny any involvement by God or question God's involvement to the degree that Scripture is irrelevant for faith or daily life.

Logically, they seem to think they have impaled folks who disagree with them on the horns of a dilemma. Either one affirms Scriptural inerrancy or one cannot trust anything in the Bible. However, this dilemma is a false one and there is a clear way between the horns of this dilemma. C.S. Cowles, who has taught at Point Loma Nazarene University, shows how one can affirm the truth of the Scripture without holding to inerrancy.

I thought this article was well reasoned and did two things well. First, it does an excellent job of explaining some of the difficulties with adopting the viewpoint of Scriptural inerrancy. The position entails many difficulties that proponents seem ot ignore. Second, I think it also does a good job of showing how one can love the Bible and affirm the truth it contains without holding to inerrancy. While this article is a bit long, it is worth your time if you are interested in these questions...

C.S. Cowles - "Scriptural Inerrancy? 'Behold, I show you a more excellent way'"

05 October 2009

A Word of Encouragement

While this blog has been silent for some time, I am not unaware that those who called themselves “concerned” have continued to hit out against their enemies. I call them their enemies, not necessarily because they are seeking to cause problems for the “concerned,” but instead because they are daring to imagine new ways for the church seeks to proclaim the good news to the lost and hurting.

I was explaining missional theology to a friend who is a generation older than I am. After explaining as best I understood that folks are seeking to find ways to reach out to their communities and search for ways to find community in a fractured world, he said something to the affect of “Isn’t that what the Church has always been about? I remember that we did those kinds of things in the Church.”

All I can say is that somewhere, the way the church had functioned (for my friends generation) was lost. I’ve no idea what happened, but I still struggle to understand how some of those practices didn’t retain their prominence in the church. I’m worried that I don’t do enough and that I don’t give or live like my friend. I think sometimes I’m too absorbed in the consumer culture of the United States to live out the Gospel with the simplicity early Nazarenes did.

To those voices who clamor for the recovery of who we are: don’t stop. Don’t give up. There are many of us who occupy the pews who struggle with the demands of the Gospel. We struggle at times to understand the concrete ways we should respond to God’s love. Your imagination and creativity are reminders that the Spirit has not left the Church.

To those who are cautious about all this new language of “missional” and “emergent.” Keep in mind that we are your theological children who are trying to unlearn the ways of the world as we learn anew what it means to walk in the Spirit. We need your prayers and help. Who, when a child is learning some new skill yells at them when they don’t perform perfectly on their first attempt? Moreover, is it possible for us all to conduct ourselves with enough humility that we might remember our own weaknesses?

To those who are “concerned:” I hope you remember that there are real people attached to the names you denigrate. They are real people whose families love them and care about them. They are people who, though you may disagree with them, are your brothers and sisters in Christ. They are people of the Church. They are sons and daughters who prophesy, young men who see visions, old men who dream dreams. Perhaps you would be well advised to hear the words of Gamaliel: “So I am telling you: Hands off these men! Let them alone. If this program or this work is merely human, it will fall apart, but if it of God there is nothing you can do about it—and you better not be found fighting against God!” Acts 5.38-39 (The Message)

Almighty God, you know that we your people seem to grope around for our way. Sometimes we struggle while some days we run effortlessly. Will you send your Spirit to encourage each of us as we attempt to walk humbly before you? Will you put to an end the rumors that destroy your people? Will you give us careful ears which are quick to listen and feet which are quick to do the good work you give us to do? Bless those who are under attack and pressed down on all sides. May they find your presence in the darkness and draw strength from your love. Prompt us to provoke each other to acts of love and charity.

12 August 2009

Be a Team Captain instead of the Coach

One of my favorite things to do is spend time on a soccer field. Many of my best memories from college were spending time on the soccer field with a group of guys (and occasionally gals) who spent tons of time together. I don’t have the opportunity to play like I used to in college. Now, I coach a group of six and seven year olds.

Last week during practice, I (along with another coach) were trying to instruct the kids on various techniques and skills. We asked the kids questions and invariably my son knew the answers. On a side note, he is a very smart kid and seems to gravitate toward anything I’m remotely interested. After answering questions, he would try to tell the kids what to do. He was trying to be a coach. After practice, we sat down on the side of the field. As we removed our cleats and changed into regular shoes I asked my son, “Do you know what a captain does on a soccer team?”

I think he knew where I was going (and he remembered a previous talk) because he rattled off a few things a team captain does:
  • Plays as hard as they can

  • Does their best

  • Encourages their teammates

I wonder, “how often in life do we do the same things my son was doing on the soccer field?” How often do we try to become the coach? Why do we act like we are the only people who can do something?

Now I realize there are dangers in comparing God to a “coach” and I don’t want to take that metaphor too far, yet at the same time, would we do better if we acted less like a coach and more like a team captain?

What does life look like when we trust that God’s Holy Spirit is active in the lives of others? What does “playing as hard as we can” look like in life? How do we encourage others? Finally, how is that kind of living the kind of living that lines us up with the mission of God in the world to reconcile all persons to Gods own self?

11 August 2009

Index to the Review of the Concerened Nazarene's DVD

Given the fact that the review I posted of the Concerned Nazarenes' DVD was posted in five separate parts, I wanted to provide a post that would give users easy sequential access to the information. Below you will find links to each of the five posts. The entire review was written by Ryan Scott and provides helpful information and what seem to me to be valid critiques and concerns without resorting to personal attacks or diatribes.
  1. Introduction and Chapter 1 of the DVD
  2. Chapter 2 and 3 of the DVD
  3. Chapter 4 of the DVD
  4. Chapter 5 of the DVD
  5. General Critiques and Final Conclusions

07 August 2009

Review of the Concerned Nazarenes DVD (Part 5)

This is the final post in a five part series. This post is a continuation of the review of the Concerned Nazarene's DVD. The first post can be found here.

By Ryan Scott
General Critiques
  1. There was almost no mention of the Church of the Nazarene.
    If this is truly a DVD intending to speak to the Church of the Nazarene there should be more specific references. Using non-Nazarene speakers who spend a great deal of time disparaging and rebutting standard Wesleyan Holiness theology is not helpful to the cause.
  2. There was a distinct de-emphasis on Christ in favor of an over-emphasis on scripture.
    The phrase, “the power of God is in the gospel,” was used with the explanation that the words and understanding the words are the most important thing. This elevates scripture to a position of power and authority over and above Christ himself. This gives too much credence to the words of scripture and particularly to our own interpretation of scripture. While scripture is the most important means of revelation and interpretation, Wesleyans hold that scripture is not the exclusive means, along with reason, experience, and the tradition of the Church. The speakers on this DVD kept saying that experience must be tested by scripture, which is quite true, but they seem unable to believe that someone would come to a different conclusion than they have made.
  3. There is an assumption that Christians cannot be discerning.
    Time and again the speakers talked of conspiracies and manipulations with the assumption that Christians would be powerless to understand when they were being told something outside of their own beliefs or tradition. Surely there are people who can be tricked and led astray, but this DVD acts as if this is the normal position of Christians.
  4. There was a combative, ungraceful posture to the overall design of the DVD.
    This critique applies specifically to the inclusion of Jon Middendorf’s name on the back cover of the DVD. Middendorf has been repeatedly attacked by name in a number of places by the Concerned Nazarenes. Christian disagreement is a practice of engagement and dialogue, not isolation and attack. The very brief coverage of Middendorf’s out of context statements does not warrant the prominence of his name.
  5. Much of the arguments were based on illogical conclusions.
    The speakers demonstrated that some very liberal people, well outside the realm of orthodoxy, used specific buzzwords and then made the assumption that anyone who would use these same words must be as liberal and heretical as the first person. This is just not a sound logical leap. This guilt by association technique has gotten us in trouble countless times over the years. In his final conclusion, Sandy Simpson pointed out that while the emerging leaders have some good things to say, they also have some troublesome things to say. For him this meant throwing out the good with the bad, because Satan often sneaks the good in with the bad to deceive us. If this logic were extended, we would all have to be in perfect agreement all the time to respect each other’s opinion on anything.

Final Conclusions

As you can see, the fifth chapter is the one which got under my skin a little more than the rest. I appreciate the efforts of the Concerned Nazarenes to get these statements and opinions out to the public. I hope that they will take up opportunities to speak with other Nazarenes about why we disagree in some of these areas. While I have not read every book to which they refer, nearly every book they referenced that I have read was misrepresented in the DVD. This takes away from the credibility of the speakers. They often accused the emerging leaders of setting up straw men to knock down; this is probably true, but no different than the straw man arguments used in this DVD.

Perhaps the most troubling element of the DVD for me was the introduction. While it is relatively harmless upon first viewing, it is disheartening in light of the content of the DVD. I admit that Rev. Beverly Turner has every right to be upset with some of the contents; she should feel comfortable and secure in expressing her doubts about specific practices and beliefs, but to have an ordained elder endorsing a DVD that devotes so much of its content to contradicting traditional Nazarene doctrines and belief is very sad. I think we all would have been better off with a Concerned Nazarenes DVD that took a truly Nazarene perspective.

I do believe that there are legitimate differences that continue to need dialogue and discussion. Many contemporary issues, both practical and theological, require sound discernment and study with contributions from a range of sources and perspectives. I will not defend Brian McLaren or anyone else’s opinion on individual matters, but I do wish to stand up in favor of fair and honest engagement, rather than suspicious attacks. Without genuine unity and care for each other nothing will be resolved.

06 August 2009

Review of the Concerned Nazarenes DVD (Part 4)

This is the fourth post in a five part series. This post is a continuation of the review of the Concerned Nazarene's DVD. The first post can be found here.
By Ryan Scott
Chapter 5

Chapter 5 was an interview with Sandy Simpson, a missionary and author, again about McLaren and the emerging church, but also specifically about diaprax, which he described as an intentional manipulative means of getting someone to believe one’s own opinion and think that they came up with it themselves. This, he claimed, was what emergent leaders were secretly doing when they held dialogues or conferences. They had audio clips that purportedly showed McLaren doing this, although they did not play them. Simpson also commented that during his workshops, McLaren would have people break into groups to discuss for themselves, but he always had spies at work to make sure the groups moved in the direction the speaker wanted them to move.

This interview contained a lot of eye rolling and obvious disparagement. Simpson was obviously quite upset about these wrongs and blamed the emerging church for the failure of traditional mission work. He claimed McLaren coined the term “missional” in the 1990’s to describe the attempt by emerging leaders to change the focus of Christian life from winning souls to fixing the planet. Simpson also said that while emerging leaders did have legitimate critiques of the Church, they also had a lot of troubling things to say including solutions that would bring about the antichrist and a one world government at the end of time (there was a veiled reference to President Obama here as well).

This chapter contained few, if any positive attributes and, in my opinion, damaged the value of the DVD as a whole. Simpson certainly seemed genuine, even if he acted less professional and respectful than the other speakers. He seemed more knowledgeable and prepared than other speakers, at least on the wide variety of topics covered, however, he was ungracious and condescending and the charges of intentional manipulation seem a bit far fetched.

Many of the complaints he made about emerging leaders were so general that they could have equally applied to his own interview on this DVD. When speaking about persuasive techniques it is easy to make them sound manipulative (as in a sense, all human attempts at persuasion are, in essence, manipulative). There were also some troubling statements presented as fact. For example, the term “Missional” has been around for nearly 100 years and refers most often to the idea of prevenient grace expounded above. Also, I attended one of McLaren’s conferences and the statement about “spies” certainly did not apply there (unless he had secretly co-opted two local pastor friends of mine or their spouses). Many of the general critiques of the whole DVD listed below apply particularly to chapter 5 as well.