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Follow the Rabbi Wednesday, March 29, 2006 |

Do you ever wonder what it must have been like to live in the 1st Century with or around Jesus? I mean, Jesus lived in a specific culture, was raised in a specific environement, and lived around specific people. Yet how often do I just clunk my own culture on top of Jesus' words? Whenever I want to enter into that world, Jesus' world, I go to Follow the Rabbi. Ponder this:

For us to know Jesus—and thus God the Father and the Holy Spirit—more intimately, we must carefully assess our 21st-century culture and Western attitudes in relation to and in light of the 1st-century world of Jesus. We must immerse ourselves in the culture of Scripture and Jesus of Nazareth. And we must learn to "think Hebrew"—in the way that the original writers of the Text thought.

If you ever get a chance, browse through this intriguing section on the differences between Hebrew (Eastern) thought and Greek (Western) thought. It will definitely open your eyes!

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My wife... Saturday, March 25, 2006 |

I love being married to my wife. And there is nothing better than being married to a woman who is humble, gentle, patient, kind, thoughtful... unless it is a woman who is all that, and lives out the Gospel wherever she is planted.

We don't live in a safe neighborhood. We don't live in a quiet neighborhood. We don't live in a very pretty neighborhood. But we do live in this neighborhood. And my wife gets it - what it means to be "missional." Read why here.

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Learning from G.K. |

There is no greater philosopher/theologian for the 21st Century in the West than G.K. Chesterton. (Did he just say the 21st Century?) Yes, the 21st. Listen to his playful indictment of Western "modesty" and tell me if you don't agree:

"But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt -- the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance." [ read more ]
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Missional Church - Part 4 |

I started this Missional Church series talking about the gospel as foundation to mission. Steve McCoy has thrown down one of the most honest and existentially important posts on the reality and effect of the Gospel in his life. Here's an excerpt:

"...Most of my thoughts and meditations have been on the Gospel. And the more I meditate on the Gospel (in full, or in part) the more I realize how much of the Gospel I miss in Scripture for my idolatry over principles." [ read more ]
And the Obi-Wan of missional church, Andrew Jones, has now weighed in the relationship between the Missional Church and Reformed theology and heritage:

"According to some research I am currently involved in [buying old books on ebay], the "missional" emphasis of the emerging church may have its foundations in Reformed theology." [ read more ]
If you would like to follow the Missional Church series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
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Missional Church - Part 3 Thursday, March 23, 2006 |

Kevin Cawley, the resident blogger-guru on missional ecclesiology, has a great little summary of Missional Church - a book by Darrell Guder. It is short, informative and a heckuva lot easier to read than the original that was posted on GOCN. A little teaser:

Chapter 1. The church is missional, not by its sending out of missionary ventures but by its life as a community sent by God into its place in the world.

Chapter 2. The context for the recovery of missional identity in North America is one in which the modern world shaped by the Enlightenment is fast becoming a postmodern one in which truth, self, and society are differently conceived. [ Read More ]
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Book Review: A Community of Character - Stanley Hauerwas |

Hauerwas, Stanley, 1981. A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.

Stanley Hauerwas is currently Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University Divinity School. He was named by Time in 2001 as "America's Best Theologian." He has a prominent voice in current American theology, and even has been interviewed on Oprah. According to his bio and a brief scan of this book, it is obvious that he emphasizes the importance of the church, the narrative in which the church lives, and the many disciplines with which the church must interact.

The thesis of the book is this: Jesus' story, God's story, is a social ethic (p. 40), and that story is to shape and drive the peculiarity of the community of God, the church (p. 1). This story, what Hauerwas calls a narrative, is the basis of hope and courage for the community, and the driving force behinds it unique nature and call in society.

Part I speaks to the claim that the narrative is a requirement for every community and polity (p. 4), and it is the church’s unique narrative that should give it a distinctive voice in society (p. 69). Part II deals with the philosophical ramifications of the claims of the importance of narrative for a virtuous social ethic (p. 4, 128). Part III deals with the "political significance of the family" (p. 5), specifically as they interrelate with sex (p. 186) and abortion (p. 226).

I was captivated by Hauerwas' use of the language of narrative as the basis for the social ethic of the church. I certainly agree that this foundation (although foundation would be too small a definition) of God's narrative, Jesus' story, is the heart of our interaction with and redemption of society. My bias, however, is decidedly Trinitarian and missional. So, I am constantly asking how those are represented in Hauerwas' work. Although he didn't use "missional" language, he did talk about, for example, peace as a fruit of narrative (p. 33). And the idea that the story, the narrative, we tell offers us a place in an adventure (p. 151) certainly gives wings to the idea that we are all on mission, inviting others, by the nature of our story, into that adventure with us (i.e. community). But what I found lacking was a truly Trinitarian language and underpinning. Doesn't the theology of the Trinity have more to speak to ethics than Aristotle or Aquinas and their understanding of the acquisition of virtue? Doesn't Trinitarian theology speak volumes to the nature of our narrative, and therefore our community? I would have desired this to be the pool from which his arguments were drawn, but, again, I am biased.

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my word cloud Tuesday, March 21, 2006 |

This is my word cloud from this blog. You can get one too here.

[ HT: being free ]

Book Review: The Next Christendom - Philip Jenkins |

Jenkins, Philip. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002

Book Review:
There are big-picture trends that are creating a massive shift in global Christianity. While those in the West have been too myopic and inwardly focused on their own paradigm shifts, the "Global South", those countries located below the equator, has seen a resurgence of Christianity that has not been rivaled in history. Christianity is on the decline in the West, creating unique barriers and opportunities. But the explosive expansion of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, even now not even a blip on the radar screen of the West's focus, is shaping up to be a seismic shift of enormous political, economic, social, and global impact.

What are the implications of this book for theology and religious practice? Christians in the global South will be "more committed in terms of belief and practice" (p. 94). They will be "far more conservative in terms of both beliefs and moral teaching" (p. 7). As Christianity in the West continues to decline in terms of morality, Christians in the Global South will become more conservative. This was illustrated within the last couple of years as the North American clergy in a well known denomination were rebuked (and outnumbered) by their African counterparts on the issue of gay rights. The African clergy and leadership were far more conservative in their practices than their North American peers. Christians in the global South will be "among the poorer people on the planet" (p. 7). This will have far reaching affects on the religious practice since what must be done in regards to religious practices must be accessible and simple. Christians in the global South will also "retain a very strong supernatural orientation" (p. 7), and will "preach deep personal faith and communal orthodoxy" (p. 8). The trend toward a strong supernatural orientation will continue as Christianity both clashes and mingles with the overtly supernatural religions of Africa and Asia. To us in the West, Christians in the global South will appear as "simplistic, charismatic, visionary, and apocalyptic" (p. 8).

What are the implications of this book for city ministry/urban church planting? Jenkins states that "most of the global population growth in the coming decades will be urban" (p. 93). In another major shift, these urban areas will mainly be Southern (p. 93). In fact, "the very concept of 'belonging' to a particular state will probably erode" (p. 11). As God's people we are strategically placed and uniquely positioned to deal with this trend. Urbanization is not just a trend - it is a fact. If by 2050 up to 3 of 4 people will live in cities, then the people of God must be prepared to get ahead of this trend by positioning new churches and church planting resource centers for this future growth. In the mega-cities, cities with populations of potentially more than 30 or 40 million people, there will be "next to nothing in working government services" (p. 93). This has huge implications for the church in regards to community development. Churches should be adept at the strategies and success criteria for effective community development. And the fact that millions of people will in effect be "living and working totally outside the legal economy" (p. 93) brings unbelievable risk, but also provides unbelievable opportunities for churches in regards to social justice. If churches, new and old, can be an advocate for the poor and oppressed, for compassion, for justice, they will invariably align themselves with prevailing success. Jenkins is so convinced that this is a key to growth that he goes on to state that "rich pickings await any religious groups who can meet these needs of these new urbanites" (p. 94).

In what unique ways will global church planters of the 21st Century need to be trained and equipped to be effective in Jenkins' brave new world? Because large urban areas will play such a vital role in the future of the church (p. 212), it is imperative that effective global church planters understand urban ministry, and, more definitively, how to exegete the city. They will need to be able to understand what makes a city tick, the politics, the demographics, the geographic layout of that city, why that is important and how to interpret that information. Everyone can read demographics - not many people can effectively interpret them. Effective global church planters of the 21st Century will not only need to understand theology, Bible and pastoral ministry, but will need to be adept in the area of missiology. If the "day of Southern Christianity is dawning," (p. 3) then to understand and be able to interact with other cultures is crucial, especially in urban areas where diversity and pluralism are more prevalent. And because the residents of those cities will have "next to nothing in working government services" (p. 93), it will be imperative that the churches and church leaders understand, believe in, and can appropriate a theology of the poor and oppressed. The churches of the future will need to be at the tip of the spear when it comes to social justice and advocacy for the poor, the overlooked, and the devalued. As the overwhelming needs of the communities scratch and claw at the resources of the churches, it is imperative that community development principles that seek for transformation be a tool in every church planters' tool box. And, lastly, since the clash of Islam and the West is happening now and, in more stringent ways, indicative of the future, church planters will need to be master peacemakers. They will need to navigate the treacherous waters of multi-religious city politics with grace and wisdom, always seeking to be a blessing to the city.

I struggled with Jenkins very broad view of what it means to be a Christian (p. 86), and even his inclusion of Mormons as "semi-Christian" (p. 66). And at times his fawning over the Roman Catholic Church and its tradition seemed to uncover his biases. But although these were detractors, they did not take away from the force of the argument - that there is a tectonic shift of global proportions taking place right under our feet. Christianity is sweeping the world in unprecedented and unfettered ways in Asia, Africa and Latin America. As the West fades from its glory days awash in Christendom, there are new movements that can truly say that they are heralding the next Christendom, one very different from that of history, yet just as important. With unparalleled risks, yet unbelievable opportunities, this shift will define and shape the world of tomorrow.

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Missional Church - Part 2 Sunday, March 19, 2006 |

Tim Keller weighs in on the concept of being a missional church. In this article, he establishes the need for a missional church and then lists 5 elements of a missional church. This is a healthy article even though it is written from the vantage point of a Western perspective as illustrated in his point about the shift (in the West) from Christendom to post-Christendom. He points out that

"...in the West for nearly 1,000 years, the relationship of (Anglo-European) Christian churches to the broader culture was a relationship known as "Christendom." The institutions of society "Christianized" people, and stigmatized non-Christian belief and behavior. Though people were "Christianized" by the culture, they were not regenerated or converted with the Gospel. The church's job was then to challenge persons into a vital, living relation with Christ.

There were great advantages and yet great disadvantages to 'Christendom.'" [ Read More ]

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The Internet Saturday, March 18, 2006 |

Contrary to popular belief, the internet was not invented by Al Gore. Here is a 1972 documentary on ARPAnet, the early internet. This documentary tracks the early development of what is now a huge part of our lives.

My favorite commenter - F.J. Corbato. Check him out.

[ HT: BoingBoing ]

Missional Church - Part 1 Monday, March 13, 2006 |

Understanding what it means to be missional must start first with an understanding of the gospel. Many of us, especially in North America, have always believed that the gospel had more to do with my personal relationship with Jesus, receiving Jesus as Lord, or accepting Christ. But is that the picture the New Testament paints?

In his article, "What is the Gospel? Participation not Consumption" James Brownson writes that this is too narrow, too much of a reduction of the Gospel. Instead of speaking of the Gospel in terms of the impact on my personal life, on the other hand, the Gospel

"...involves the basic change from viewing salvation as something we receive (or, to use the dominant North American metaphor, something we consume), to viewing salvation as something in which we participate. When the Bible speaks about the gospel, it speaks primarily about who God is and what God is doing, because salvation in the full biblical sense means participating in God's saving purpose for the whole world."

He goes on to say that,

"the biblical understanding of salvation is that our lives become swept up into something larger and greater than ourselves, into God's purposes for the world. In other words, the receiving of salvation and the call to mission are not to be conceived sequentially, as if one followed the other (first salvation, then grateful obedience). They are instead to be understood as two sides of the same coin. To receive salvation is to be called into something larger and greater than us, to be invited to participate in God's saving purpose and plan for the world. That is why the gospel, in biblical parlance, is primarily about God, and only secondarily about us." [ Read More ]

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My house as metaphor for redemption Saturday, March 11, 2006 |

My family and I live in the inner-city of Memphis. The gunshots that woke us up last night at 2am are indicative of the drug culture that infests our neighborhood. Crystal meth is the drug of choice. Easy to find. Not difficult to make, actually. But the effects are devastating. This picture shows the almost cartoon-like affects that meth has on a person over time. Besides being highly addictive, meth creates massive psychological and physical problems.

"You have literally changed the landscape of the brain," says Paul Brethen, director of the Matrix Institute in Rancho Cucamonga, a drug research and treatment office. "Cocaine doesn't do that."

Before I moved in a few years ago, my house was a meth lab. A veritable corner store of crystal meth that fed the addictions of who knows how many. It has been quite an ordeal for my wife and I to get it livable, much less clean.

But what's interesting is that this once-factory of addiction and destruction is now a haven for peace and mercy. Children come over to listen to stories about missionaries. The elderly are cared for and looked after. Neighbors in transition can sit around our kitchen table. In a kitchen that once cooked meth, now there is relationship, trust and hope. It is a haven of redemption.

My hope is that the sent people of God would see all of their "spaces" as havens of redemption. Whatever our hands touch, wherever our feet walk, whatever connection or relationship...there exists a potential haven for redemption.

Trends in Urbanization |

As the sent people of God, we are uniquely positioned to understand, prepare for and deal with major trends that affect our world. For the first time in human history, the majority of the world's population lives in cities. Urbanization is not just a trend - it is a fact.

In the 20th century, it was a given in Latin America that if all your country's roads did not lead to one major city, then you could not consider your country to be a "real" country. New York has a bigger economy than Russia or Brazil. Five cities in the world today generate 85% of the world's patents.

From an article on population and an urbanizing world:

Managing urban population change will be one of the world's most important challenges in the next few decades. In less developed countries, where 80 percent of the world's population resides, central issues will be how to cope with an unprecedented increase in the number of people living in urban areas and the growing concentration of these urbanites in large cities with millions of residents. In more developed countries such as the United States, the urban future will involve dealing with complex changes in the composition of urban populations while also containing urban sprawl beyond suburbs into what remains of the countryside.

In Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the unprecedented population growth that characterized much of the 20th century has evolved into unparalleled urban growth. The United Nations (UN) projects that world population will expand from 6.1 billion to 7.8 billion between 2000 and 2025 — 90 percent of this growth will occur in urban areas of less developed countries.1 By 2020, a majority of the population of less developed countries will live in urban areas. [ Read More ]

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Keller on Ministry in Global Cities Friday, March 10, 2006 |

My friend in Shanghai always loses out when I post something new on Keller - he's not able to access Blogger blogs because they're "too decadent" according to a not-to-be-mentioned Communist government. *ahem*

But that can't stop us from digesting the gems that Keller puts on the shelf for us... like this new article in The Movement on ministry in Global Cities. Steve McCoy posted on this article and clipped this excerpt as well:
City-center churches should have as equal as possible emphases on: a) welcoming, attracting, and engaging secular/non-Christian people; b) character change through deep community and small groups; c) holistically serving the city (and especially the poor) in both word and deed; d) producing cultural leaders who integrate faith and work in society; and e) routinely multiplying itself into new churches with the same vision. There are many churches that major on one or two of these but the breadth, balance, and blend of these commitments is rare in a church. Nevertheless, this balance is crucial for ministry in city centers. [ Read more... ]
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Urban Perspectives - Bob Lupton Sunday, March 05, 2006 |

Bob Lupton, one of my heroes in urban ministry, posts a monthly reflection about life and faith in the city. It is called Urban Perspectives. 30 years ago, he moved into the inner-city of Atlanta as a response to God's call to live among and serve the urban poor and oppressed. These reflections are poignant vignettes of the life, love, difficulties, frustration, joy and all-around experiences of living in the city.

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how to kill a church planting movement |

I recently read one of the most inspiring, humbling, and exciting books on church planting. It is called Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World by David Garrison (here is a link to his website). Here is an excert from his book excerpted by Missions Frontiers, a chapter about the 7 deadly sins that can inhibit church planting movements.

(HT: Steve Addison)

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funny spoof on trends in social networking Saturday, March 04, 2006 |

Demetri Martin, from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, brings the funniest spoof on curent trends in social networking like MySpace, Facebook, etc. Informative and spew-your-milk-out funny...

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missio Dei |

What I'm chewing on right now:

Mission may be understood as being derived from the very nature of God. It (is) thus put into the context of the doctrine of the Trinity, not of ecclesiology or soteriology. The classical doctrine on the missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit (is) expanded to include yet another "movement": Father, Son and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world....mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God....Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world: the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission....There is church because there is mission, not vice versa.

David Bosch, Transforming Mission (p. 390) as quoted by Darrell Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church (p. 20).

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The Future Friday, March 03, 2006 |

From this month's issue of Fast Company comes an article that takes a look at the demographics of the future:

Your future is older, browner, and more feminine than you might have realized. That will make for some major lifestyle changes...

Check it out and see how the changes will affect you.

The Next Christianity |

Want a great article on the big-picture trends in global Christianity? Philip Jenkins has written a great intro. From the article:

In looking back over the enormous changes wrought by the twentieth century, Western observers may have missed the most dramatic revolution of all. While secular movements like communism, feminism, and environmentalism have gotten the lion's share of our attention, the explosive southward expansion of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America has barely registered on Western consciousness. Nor has the globalization of Christianity — and the enormous religious, political, and social consequences it portends — been properly understood.
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