Monday, June 09, 2008

My Story So far

I have learned the most about me. I discovered that my worldview is Post-Modern. What a freeing discovery! Although I do not embrace the concepts of syncretism and pluralism as part of my theological understanding, I do embrace them socially and politically.

I find that my many years of pastoral ministry have exhibited this journey. My first years could simply be defined as ministry born out of “a reaction to modernity.” This was fleshed out through a passion for apologetics, memorization of most of the New Testament, study in the original languages, and the history of the Church and its development of theology. The passion for this gnosis became a polemic because it was reactionary. My own personal experience was that the importance of orthodoxy was elevated over orthopraxy in Western Christianity. This happened across Western Christendom but especially within my own camp: American Evangelicals. The Evangelical community became a Christian sub-culture that is good at cursing the darkness of modernity. However, the world moved on into post-modernity. The “cursing of the darkness” became an embarrassment to me. It is irrelevant to our culture. Therefore, although it might create disciples of the Christian sub-culture, it is no longer an effective means of proclaiming the good news to the post-Christian world. When I began to evaluate the rhetoric of the Christian sub-culture I decided I needed to compare it to the value system of the post-modern world. I finally admitted that even my passion for apologetics, during my “fighting modernity” stage of my ministry, was merely me trying to assuage the guilt of arrogance by trying to show that believers are not kooks. I did that by emphasizing the teachings of Jesus Christ and the prophets –especially those dealing with justice and mercy.

This journey was freeing because I realize that the Christian Sub-Culture in the West had abandoned the most important teachings of Jesus and the prophets. (I actually get regular email from a group describing itself as “right Christians” that directly oppose Leviticus 19:34 and call it a Christian value to make stricter US border policy.) I find the missional concepts of evangelism that are designed to reach the post-modern world are much more in line with the teaching of Jesus. Story-telling in my preaching is more in line with the way Jesus taught. But more than that, it reconnects me with the good reasons why I became a hippie in the 70’s in an holistic, Christ-centered way. It feels like a full circle with real purpose and meaning. More than that, it helps me deal with the painful experiences I have faced in 22 years of pastoral ministry. It re-connects me to our Anabaptist roots.

It seems to me, that every time we arrive at a central position in dialectic, it becomes a new extreme and a new dialectic is formed. Then the new dialectic moves us to another center, which in turn becomes another extreme; and then an even newer dialectic is formed and so forth. In other words, emphasis on orthodoxy was the correct response to modernity. However, we got so wrapped up in it that it led to what I call Neo-Gnosticism. The dialectic created is leading us into the emerging church movement. I need to remember that some day it will become an extreme, and another dialectic will form and another new center will be created. (Hopefully I will be in heaven by then and not have to learn it all over again!) As it is right now, the Church has in many ways become irrelevant. There are millions of Christians in the West who will get to heaven, but it seems they have forgot that the Church exists for the good of the world.

So, there are general principles, perceptions and practices that I feel the church needs in order to be invited back to the table. This list is not exhaustive or a comprehensive answer to all of Western of Christendom, but personally developed out of my passions and understanding. I believe this is what God is leading me to focus on:


  • Orthodoxy is irrelevant if it does not create Christ-like behavior.
  • Jesus came to save the world from its sin.
  • Jesus will always be with the Church, empowering her to preach good news.
  • The Church exists for the good of the world.
  • The Church is called to reflect Jesus to non-Christians.
  • We do not have the privilege of bringing our world back to Jesus as if we were like the early believers preaching in the streets of Jerusalem. Instead we are more like the early believers preaching in the streets of Rome or Corinth, where the good news is not generally known.
  • Jesus is the only way to the Father.


  • To Prevent:

· Christians hate homosexuals

o Racism used to be taught from conservative pulpits, if they were wrong about racism, are they also wrong about homosexuals?

· Christianity is Imperialistic:

o God is a Republican.

o America has a manifest destiny

§ Emphasized in the Religious Right’s decrying of UN involvement

§ The erroneous view that if we did it, it must be right

§ The erroneous view that the Constitution is as divinely inspired as the Bible

· Christianity is irrelevant.

  • To Proclaim:

· Jesus loves the homosexual as much as us.

o Just as Christianity was instrumental in overcoming slavery, Christianity was instrumental in overcoming racism.

§ We need to confess our own part in racism as sin.

o We need to confess our creation of homophobia as sin.

o We are all sinners and singling out homosexuality is merely cursing the darkness.

o God is the one who sets people free, and sometimes it may not be until they get to heaven.

o Jesus never taught that homosexuality was okay, normal or a viable option. But on the other hand, He never bothered to elevate it as a litmus test of true spirituality or biblical authority.

o We cannot judge another servant of the master, because in the Master’s eyes (not ours) they stand or fall.

o Terminal sexual deviations will not bring the judgment of God on our society; they are the judgment of God (Romans 1).

§ Just as we understand disease to be a judgment, we never hate the person infected with that disease.

§ Disease is often non-specific in who it attacks.

§ Let us be as merciful to the homosexual as we are to the cancer patient.

· God loves the whole world, no exceptions:

o We need to be about a 2 kingdom theology that overcomes the political belief in the manifest destiny of America.

o Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat.

o We need to admit that Columbus was probably more interested in gold than sharing Jesus.

o Even though Israel does have a manifest destiny, its destiny, along with ours is to be a blessing to the entire world.

o America needs to confess its sin of dominating the world economy for its own welfare instead of the good of the entire world.

o American Christians need to influence the government to do justice.

· Christianity is still relevant

o It is still the only world religion doing good works in almost every area of deep poverty (for example the caste system of Hinduism actually sanctions the poverty of the poor).

o The teachings of Christ Jesus still inform us how to live.

o When Christians are acting like Christ, good things happen.


  • Do justice.
  • Be humble.
  • Love Mercy.
  • Work with other faiths and religions to overcome injustice.
  • Expect the power of the Holy Spirit to draw people to Jesus.
  • Create authentic community centered on our mission.
  • Be unapologetic about justice.
  • Distance myself from the arrogance of the Religious right.
  • Be more open-minded than the liberals.
  • Explore more of the mystery of God.
  • Have Faith
    • Pray in faith
    • Do not be afraid of evildoers
    • Do not fear the rhetoric of the Religious Right
    • My ministry is at God’s privilege, therefore hold it with an open hand.
    • Be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication, let my requests be known to God.
    • Trust in the fact that God is leading me to know Jesus, and the fellowship of His suffering.
  • Remember the leaven of the Pharisees (for me this is important).


M C Abe said...

Good stuff, Phil. I think you bring up important issues. I think the church needs to start churching (i.e. loving) the world, rather than standing apart and hoping people will somehow wander in and want to be told about their sins. Faith is not just about going to heaven, it is about abundant living. Without Jesus, we can not have the abundance of everything that is to overflow through us into the world. Marla

M C Abe said...

Good stuff, Phil. I think you bring up important issues. I think the church needs to start churching (i.e. loving) the world, rather than standing apart and hoping people will somehow wander in and want to be told about their sins. Faith is not just about going to heaven, it is about abundant living. Without Jesus, we can not have the abundance of everything that is to overflow through us into the world. Marla

M C Abe said...

Good stuff, Phil. I agree that the new emerging church is very comfortable to Anabaptists. I rarely even say I am Protestant anymore, since I realize it is so different than what I actuallly believe. I like the points you made. I think the church should be about loving the world in Jesus's name, and doing that by deeds.
I also have become really fascinated by the words that Jesus uses of "abundant life". It seems that life that is not totally tuned to doing the Father's will, as did Jesus, is not abundant, but lacking.
I like your point on homosexuality as well. Good work! Marla

Simon said...

I don't usually think of myself as a slouch, but I had to look up a lot of the words you used in that post.

I agree with what you're saying. I've started to become aware of the sources of information I listen to, and the effect they have on me. Any ideologies that bring bitterness or fear are suspect. Paul states that our lives should be free of these things. Many a Christian around me is tied up in struggles of bitterness, against abortion, polluters, the green movement, church legalists, etc.

I've long thought about apologetics that if God wanted to prove himself to the world through logic or science, then that would remove much of the burden on us to prove him through our lives. Reading Dawkin's essays have convinced me that proving God via logic may very well be a waste of our energy anyway. I sometimes question my motives with this position, however, when I take it solely to distance myself from what non-Christians might perceive as aggressive lunacy, without accepting that I do believe strange things I cannot prove.

Revnerd said...

I appreciate your point about anger toward legalists. It reminds me of the closing scene in "The Devil's Advocate" when Satan says, "Pride, it'll get them every time."

M C Abe said...

I have to agree with Simon, it was fun to feel like I was at seminary again, with the terminology you used. I decided the key to academia was to replace any easy word with a little known jawbreaker and people would think you are erudite, err, smart.
I like your point,Simon, that God doesn't seem to care if we access God intellectually. God seems more concerned about heart, soul and mind. The only "proof" of God is the signs of His presence or passing, and it seems that people often refuse to believe those.
I was glad for the straight forward recognition that patriotism is not godly. I am sick to death of that.
Also, as we read about the emergent church, we are seeing that the "new ways" are really the "old Anabaptist ways." The young adults are starting to get that, but are others?