Tag Archives: Emerging Church

“How (Not) to Speak of God” by Peter Rollins

rollins book 2Peter Rollins is a postmodern pastor, theologian and philosopher born and raised in Northern Ireland. In 2006, he published his first book, “How (Not) to Speak of God,” as an attempt to bring the mystical approach of viewing God into the wider Christian community of the Western Church. The core of this endeavor can be found in the following statement articulating the tension between mystical humanism and religious fundamentalism:

“That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking” (page xiv).

Drawing heavily on postmodern philosophy and the tradition of medieval mystical thought (especially that of Meister Eckhart), the book itself was directed to those engaged or interested in the “the emerging conversation” (page xvi). Accordingly, Rollins spends the first part of the book providing a theological framework for this view of God before shifting into a more practical outworking of the material. While Rollins’ application of his theoretical framework is interesting, this review is going to focus solely on the theological first part of the book.

In the first chapter, Rollins introduces two very important concepts. The first is that each of us unconsciously projects our view of the world on to the Scriptures, affecting the way in which we see and understand God. Once we know this, then we are able to understand the second major concept, that of mystery and concealment. It is this later concept that serves to drive the book forward as Rollins explores how God can both be concealed and revealed at the same time: “revelation embraces concealment at one and the same time as it embraces manifestation and that our various interpretations of revelation will always be provisional, fragile, and fragmentary” (page 18).

Chapter two builds upon this foundation by “exploring how such thinking critiques the idea of theology as that which speaks of God in favor of the idea of theology is the place where God speaks” (page xv). The core of this exploration is the concept that while we must continue to speak of God, we must also recognize that our words will always fails at truly defining or describing God. This “a/theology”, as Rollins calls it, is an “uncollapsible tension between affirming our religious ideas while also placing them into question” (page 28).

The next chapter continues to developed the a/theology concept with a focus on virtual of doubt. Rather than trying to know everything completely, a/theology focuses on the Holy Saturday experience between the shock of the cross and the glory of Resurrection Sunday. Namely that the decision to follow Jesus on Holy Saturday, when the future is unknown, is the true decision while the same decision on Resurrection Sunday, when the future is certain, is a false decision. This embracement of doubt causes one to realize that “God is not revealed via our words but rather via the life of the transformed individual” (page 44).

Peter Rollins in 2015
Peter Rollins in 2015

The theme of doubt and mystery continues to build in chapter four with Rollins exploring how the “rediscovery of mystery, doubt, complexity and ambiguity in faith helps us come to a more appropriate understand of religious desire” (page xv). For Rollins, it is the “seeking” after God that is important rather than the “finding” Him as other traditions have done (page 53). This core thought behind this can be understood in the following statement:

“A true seeking after God results from an experience of God which one falls in love with for no reason other than finding God irresistibly lovable. In this way the lovers of God are the ones who are the most passionately in search of God” (page 53).

All of this mystery, doubt and complexity on whether one can fully talk about or understand God leads to question how we can understand which reading of the Bible is “good and which reading is not” (page 64). Rollins tackles this question in the fifth and final chapter of part one during which he “draws out the centrality of love in Christian thinking” (page xv). Rather than having an infinite number of ways in which one could interpret the Scriptures, love provides the boundaries that keep the interpretations in check. This prejudice of love is draw from Rollins view that it was the “central interpretive tool that Jesus employed when interpreting the scriptures” (page 65).

In reflecting on part one of Rollins book, I found myself really enjoying and agreeing with chapters one through four. The mystical concepts of the unknowable yet knowable God is something I have embraced over the years, primarily through the reading of the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity. In this tradition, they have something called apophatic theology which attempts to describe God by what He is not just like cataphatic theology seeks to describe Him by what He is. The back-and-forth nature of the Eastern Orthodox’s apophatic and cataphatic approaches to theology creates a sense of mystery which fits beautifully with Rollins a/theology viewpoint.

My main disagreement with Rollins is over the centrality of love in chapter five. Rather than seeing love as the central interpretive tool used by Jesus, I see Jesus embarking on the mission of God as seen through the lens of Kingdom Theology. God is the Creator King who created humanity in His image as a signpost to all of creation declaring His rule and reign. After breathing life into humanity, the Creator King beckons them to join Him in His mission to establish His kingdom throughout the earth. Jesus, in entering into a specific culture at a certain time and geographical location, joined His Father on this mission while destroying the works of the evil one and challenging the different contemporary interpretations of the kingdom. We, as followers of Jesus, are to embrace the mystery of the inaugurated eschatological kingdom established by Jesus and allow that mystery to guide us in how we view God and the Scriptures.

Book Review: “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren A Generous OrthodoxyIn the late 1990’s, Brian McLaren invited to join the Leadership Network’s Young Leader Network (YLN) lead by Doug Pagitt. Other notable members of the YLN include Mark Driscoll, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, and Andrew Jones. One of the main conversations discussed at the YLN was how to share the good news of Jesus with a growing post-modern population. The result was the birth of the emerging church movement in the United States, influenced by similar movements in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. As the movement spread, McLaren quickly became one of the top proponents and speakers, drawing both praise and criticism from across the Christian faith.

McLaren’s book “A Generous Orthodoxy” was published in 2004 during the height of the emerging church movement. It was written as a type of confession in which McLaren shares his personal journey through the different movements and groups of Christianity. The books’ subtitle summarizes the theme of the book in that McLaren promotes holding in tension beliefs normally considered in opposition to each other: “Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.”

To help hold together the tension of all these various Christians tradition, McLaren suggests approaching things with a “consistent practice of humility, charity, courage, and diligence” (page 34). Humility in that we are to admit that our personal and corporate pasts have been “limited or distorted” (page 34). Charity for those who belief and/or practice a different tradition then ourselves within Christianity. Courage is needed to faithfully walk the path that the Lord Jesus as placed us on even with others disagree with our journey. Diligence is the last practice suggested in that we are to continually seek the “true path of our faith whenever we feel we have lost our way” (page 34).

After this setup, McLaren spends four chapters talking about why he is a Christian. This may sound like an odd place for a Christian leader to start, but at the time McLaren was under attack from Christian leaders of all types while being asked by folks who have left the church why he was still embracing Christianity. As such, I believe that he felt the need to clarify why he still calls himself a Christian. These chapters also help set the tone of the rest of the book in that McLaren briefly sketches out the seven “different” Jesus promoted within the Christian faith (e.g. the Conservative Protestant Jesus, Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus, Roman Catholic Jesus, Eastern Orthodox Jesus, Liberal Protestant Jesus, Anabaptist Jesus, and the Jesus of the Oppressed). He also spends some time confirming the need of humanity for a Savior while redefining the need itself to hold in tension beliefs from all seven groups previously mentioned:

“To say that Jesus is Savior is to say that in Jesus, God is intervening as Savior in all these ways, judging (naming evil as evil), forgiving (breaking the vicious cycle of cause and effect, making reconciliation possible), and teaching (showing how to set chain reactions of good in motion). Jesus comes then not to condemn (to bring the consequences we deserve) but to save by shining the light on our evil, by naming our evil as evil so that we can repent and escape the chain of bad actions and bad consequences through forgiveness, and so we can learn from Jesus the master-teacher to live more wisely in the future.”

Following this declaration of faith in Jesus, McLaren spends the following fifteen chapters flushing out the book’s subtitle in why he holds the various briefs in Christianity in tension. These chapters are the jewel of the book in that they sketch out the history behind the formation of the different subgroups within Christianity. In knowing history, the reader can then understand why the Christianity faith (especially in the United States) is split into so many subgroups. McLaren also shows how each subgroup has something they can give to the other groups, if only they would listen to each other. Intentionally or unintentionally, the need for an inter-Christian subgroup dialogue comes across as one of biggest themes within McLaren’s book.

The last chapter, entitled “Why I Am Unfinished”, wraps up the entire book in declaring that each of us are on journey towards Jesus and are “unfinished.” As he writes on page 333, “to be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuffed, and mounted on a wall. It is rather to be in a loving (ethical) community of people who are seeking the truth (doctrine) on the road of mission (witness as McClendon said) and who have been launched on the quest by Jesus, who, with us, guides us still.” This view of following Jesus strikes me as closer to the view given to us by the four Gospels writers. To me, as to McLaren, Christianity is more about a personal relationship with the Creator of Heaven and Earth than about believing the right doctrines. This is not to say that doctrine and theology is not unimportant, it is just that the relationship and journey towards Jesus is the primary vision and focus on the Scriptures.

Church Planting: An Interview With Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer has a long and very impressive resume full of planting, revitalizing and pastoring churches across the USA. He has also taught and mentored tons of pastors over the years as well as spend many a hour researching and surveying in state of the local church. Currently he is the President of LifeWay Research and a member of the International Mission Board’s Church Services Team.

Accordingly, his comments on church planting in North America have some weight… as in, they are worth listening too and thinking about. Which is why I recommend reading this article detailing a recent interview with Vineyard USA.

To help spur you on in reading the interview, I have posted some quotes from Ed along with some of my thoughts below.

Reflections on the Church Planting Scene in North America

“I think church planting is exploding. But I think it’s also important to note that the focus of many of these movements, and even the methods that they have used, have been influenced by the gifts that the Vineyard gave us all: a heart for church planting, new network approaches and strategies, and a passion for reaching the lost.”

Yeah…I couldn’t pass up quoting this piece as it is nice to see such favorable press for one’s tribe. Granted, Ed is talking to the Vineyard USA so it could be a simple ‘don’t bite the hand that is feeding you’ statement…but I seriously doubt that as Ed, who is not part of the Vineyard, doesn’t have a motivation to suck up to the Vineyard. If he didn’t like us, he could simply say so and walk away.

Therefore, the fact that he, as a noted missiologist and church researcher, publicly acknowledged the influence that the Vineyard has had on the wider church is amazing! I personally think that one of the reasons the Vineyard, which at 554 churches in the USA is not a large denomination, has had such a large voice in the greater church is because of our love for the whole church. From the very beginning, John Wimber and all the braze souls who started the Vineyard constantly gave way the gifts the Lord in trusted to them to the wider body. It has never been just about the Vineyard; it has been loving Jesus and His Bride (i.e. the WHOLE church).

What Opportunities Would You Say The Vineyard Has Now?

“I think the opportunity here is, will the Vineyard rediscover its roots without feeling it necessary to relive its past? I think the roots of the Vineyard are birthed in a passion for the kingdom of God, church planting and evangelistic engagement, and yes, societal concern. And I think many would say that focus has been diminished and might have a desire to go back to the glory days…. So the underlying principles that made the Vineyard an explosive movement could be rediscovered, but perhaps some of the methodological practices would not be as helpful in the future.”

I think these comments by Ed are interesting to say the least. They seem to echo the words of warning given to the Vineyard years ago from Bill Jackson in his 1999 book “The Search for the Radical Middle” and Bert Waggoner in his address at the 2008 Northwest Leaders Gathering. The warning primarily being that we are to continue to follow Jesus wherever he takes us while being careful not to fall into a cycle of routine (i.e. “we do this because it’s what Vineyards do” vs “we do this because it is what God is doing at this time and place.”).

Continue reading Church Planting: An Interview With Ed Stetzer

“The Holy Spirit Is NOT for Sale” by J. Lee Grady

A few years ago while taking a class on the emerging church, I ran across the identifiers  “post-Pentecostal” and “post-charismatic.” At first I did not fully understand what these terms meant nor while someone would want to use them…but slowly over the years I have come to realize that I myself am a post-Pentecostal/post-charismatic follower of Jesus.

The term, contrary to what some may think, are not referring to cecessionist doctrines or theology, nor are they saying that we have move beyond the movement of the Holy Spirit as ushered in by THE Pentecost of Acts 2. Instead the terms post-Pentecostal and post-charismatic pay homage to the mentality of post-modernism in that they refer to a new shift in thinking about Pentecost and the workings of the Holy Spirit.

In other words, post-Pentecostal/post-charismatic folks tend to be tried out by all the hype and faddism that seems to follow Pentecostalism and Charismaticism.  We are people who are turned off by the worship of super-star healers, prophets, speakers, and miracle works. It’s not to say that God does not work through those people, ‘cause he can if he wants, it is just that we just not going to listen if all we hear is marketing and hype. Give me simple, humble workers of Jesus who see the lame healed, injustice destroyed, and signs and wonders in both the church building and on the street corners. Those are the folks I want to listen to and read about!

An unfortunate consequence of this post-Pentecostal/post-charismatic mentality is that my reading list and study material tended to come from the Evangelical, non-charismatic side of Christianity. I basically stopped paying any attention to anyone on the Pentecostal/charismatic side of the fence – all the while, mind you, practicing a spirit-led life that regularly saw miracles, signs and wonders (remember, I’m a member of the Third Wave and not a cessessionist!).  God, of course, doesn’t like fences and, as such, started prodding and poking me towards my  Pentecostal/charismatic roots – as I wrote about here and here.

Continue reading “The Holy Spirit Is NOT for Sale” by J. Lee Grady

“A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin” by Tony Jones

Off and on over the last past few years I have been thinking about the different metaphors used in the Bible to describe why Jesus came to walk among humanity, died, rose again and etc. (the fancy theological word for this is the “atonement”). Interestingly enough I’m not the only person thinking about this issue as modern Jesus followers re-discover of the mystery of the atonement. Folks such as N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, John Piper, Al Mohler and Brian McLaren are all offering their opinions on the subject – not to mention those from the mainline Protestant churches, Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church.

A big part of the reason why the atonement is such a big deal today is due to the increasing rift between neo- Calvinists evangelicals (John Piper, Al Mohler et al.) and the progressive evangelicals (N.T. Wright, Roger Olson, et al.). Add to this fire the growth of post-modern and post-post-modern Jesus followers who are looking at Christianity through different glasses/worldviews than their predecessor (Brian McLaren, David Fitch, Scot McKnight, et al.).

Knowing all this, I have every excited when I heard that Tony Jones had published an ebook on the atonement, “A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin”. Tony, for those who don’t know, was a driving force in the emerging church movement of the past few decades and the author of the book “The New Christians: Dispatches From The Emergent Frontier”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  He is also an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School – meaning that he is a post-modern theologian scholar who, I was hoping, could bring some fresh air to the conversation.

And, to a certain extent, he does deliver – even though I disagree with his final conclusion, but I’m getting ahead of myself! 😛

The outline of the book is fairly simple with the first part being more biographical in the sense that Tony shares with the reader why he started on the journey of questioning the predominant Protestant view of the atonement (i.e. penal substitutionary atonement or PSA). After the ground work is laid, Tony shifts gears into laying out all the views of the atonement the church has held since the time of Jesus (all quotes are from Tony’s ebook):

Continue reading “A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin” by Tony Jones

To All the Christians in North America

Last year a group of folks presented an “Eighth Letter” to the Church in North America (the previous seven ‘letters’ are those listed in Revelation to the church in Asia).

In that same vain, David Fitch – author, church planter, pastor, seminary professor – recently wrote a letter to the “Christians in North America.” As I read it, I couldn’t help but nod in agreement – especially with his ending points.

Originally I hopped to post the entire letter here (it is 2,000 words), but then I thought about copyright rules and what not…so I am just going to post the first three paragraphs along with a link to Fitch’s website and hope that you all go over there and read it.

“To All the Christians in North America,

“The North American church is in a credibility crisis. We find ourselves in a culture which no longer sees Christianity to be true, relevant or, for that matter, interesting. Yet we keep doing church the same way as if nothing has changed. We continue to do Sunday morning (and Sunday evening) services, put on Christian rock concerts, do outreach events and hang out in the fellowship hall. We do it all seeking to reach the world with the gospel, but discover that only Christians are showing up. Meanwhile our neighbors and our world go on oblivious to the good news of Jesus Christ. We are looking more and more like a people having a conversation with ourselves that no one else cares about.

“We compete with each other on producing better Sunday morning services. This usually means excellent music, the best video technology or the most charismatic and easy-to-listen-to Bible teacher. Yet we know, by and large, these kinds of services change little in our lives and communities.  Few remember anything from the morning sermon. The so-called worship experience with its wonderful music and playful dramas serves to excite us but rarely affects us beyond the moment. Instead the “show” seems to distract us from noticing the ways our lives don’t make sense as followers of Christ. Yet we keep on doing them because it reinforces us in thinking that we are doing something significant.

“The progressives among us do the same thing with justice. We create enormous energy around justice issues in the name of God. Some impressive money is raised and some good works are done in the name of Jesus. But often, too often I suggest, the word “justice” becomes a bumper-sticker-like rallying cry that makes us feel better rather than accomplishing anything that actually takes root in our lives. Sadly we participate very little in actual relationships with the poor that live alongside us in our churches or near our church buildings. It is much like buying fair trade coffee at the Wal-Mart. Nonetheless we keep doing it.”

To finish reading this letter, please go to David Fitch’s website – trust me, it is worth the time.

Cultivating Missional Rhythms in a Community

David Fitch, bi-vocational pastor, scholar and author, recently posted nice suggestions for “Cultivating Missional Rhythms in a Community” on his website. My heart identified with these suggestions as they reflex how I live life and ‘do church.’

Below is a summary of the nine suggestions – you will need to go to David’s website to get the full version.

The Important Task of Cultivating Missional Rhythms in a Community

1.) Kindly Reject doing Outreach Events. Instead direct imagination towards ways of connecting with people where they are.

2.) Kindly Reject evangelism as a one time hit on a target with a preconceived outcome. Kindle imagination toward seeing mission as part of regular daily, weekly and monthly life rhythms where out or regular life God works to use your life to impact people for the gospel in unforeseen ways.

3.) Kindly reject building multiple use buildings as if by building a gymnasium on the church campus we can bring people into the orbit of the church. Instead stoke imagination for what can happen when we go inhabit the gyms already in the neighborhoods. We should build less third spaces, and inhabit more the ones already there.

Continue reading Cultivating Missional Rhythms in a Community


Last night I was approached by a couple in the church asking if we could start giving testimonies ever week. Unknown to them, this concept of testimonies or storytelling has been a crucial concept in the marketplace of ideas within Christianity over the last few years.

Proponents are claiming that the church needs to move from a systematic faith based upon doctrines and logic to a faith rooted in community and brought together by stories. This concept was promoted throughout the Society of Vineyard Scholars (SVS) conference last week – both in individual conversations and in the papers presented (most notably, James K.A. Smith’s keynote address).

Having just returned from the SVS conference, the conversation last night sparked an interesting realization:

It seems that the proponents of this narrative epistemology shift seem to be those who are engaging the post-modern culture around us. Opponents, on the other hand, tend to be more modern in their worldview.

Meanwhile, the couple in my church probably have a more premodern worldview as they come from a Pentecostal background (Pentecostalism as a whole never did ‘buy’ into the modernism worldview – click here for additional thoughts along this line)

It just goes to show that ‘new’ is a relative term depending on where one starts. What is ‘new’ for someone in mainline Protestantism or Evangelicalism may not be ‘new’ for someone in Pentecostalism. And vice versa – mainline Protestantism and/or Evangelicalism has things that are ‘new’ to Pentecostals.

This is why we need to full body of Christ – i.e. no one group has the corner on God.

The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch

the-forgotten-ways-by-alan-hirsch2Sometimes when you have a problem it is good to have someone else look at the issue with new eyes as they can sometime see things you can not.

Alan Hirsch does this every thing with his book The Forgotten Ways. Instead of focusing on the negative side of the decline of Christianity, Hirsch began with asking what would be left if all the Christian seminaries, school, books, NGOs, buildings and 501-C3s were removed. Then, drawing insight from the first 200 years of the Christian church and the modern underground church in China, he developed a model doing ‘church.’

This model (displayed below) is centered around one crucial element: Jesus is Lord.

While this statement may sound trivia or Sunday shcoolish – it is in fact the center of the entire Bible. Jesus is Lord, King, Ruler of everything. It was this understanding that drove the early church onward in the face of persecutions and death. As such, it should be the center piece of everything a Believer does.

Spreading out from this center are five different intertwined elements that help fill out the model:
Continue reading The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch

Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger

gibbsEdmund (Eddie) Gibbs is an English born missionary, professor, scholar, and author who has taught at Fuller Theological Seminary in California since 1984.  Drawing from professional expertise in Church growth and renewal as well as first-hand church planting experience with the Church of England in Chile, South America (:8), Gibbs is able to provide a historical high-level view of the emerging church movement.

Co-author Ryan Bolger is also a Fuller Theological Seminary professor with expertise in contemporary and postmodern culture.  Bolger’s background as a generation X-er involved in several new paradigm churches (:8) helped balance out Gibbs’ Baby Boomer generational worldview.

This book was born out of a desire by Gibbs to follow up his theoretical book ChurchNext with more practical data and Bolger’s need for field research to complete his Ph.D. degree at Fuller Theological Seminary (:7). Joining together, the authors set out to analyze “emerging trends in the U.K. and the U.S.” (:8) with the goal of proving that the church is in the “midst of a cultural revolution and that nineteenth-century (or older) forms of church do not communicate clearly to twenty-first century cultures” (:17). Continue reading Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger