Things I Don’t Believe

Oh, I’m going to step into it now.

It’s a good thing nobody reads this blog.

Okay, here I go.

I don’t believe in the God who condemns people to hell simply because they didn’t choose to say the right words before they died. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe in the God who condemns people to hell. Full stop.

Do I deny the existence of hell? I can’t, without being faithless to the witness of the scriptures. But the more God draws me into his grace, the more I suspect that hell will either be lightly populated, temporarily populated, or perhaps not populated at all when all is said and done. And with Robert Farrar Capon, I wonder if in fact hell won’t be the pity party in the midst of the banquet of grace which goes on for all eternity. A pity party that God will frequently interrupt in order to bring his pitiful guests back to the table of celebration. Until all have finally come back.

I don’t believe in the God of correct doctrine. The God who carefully parses our theology, and kicks those who color outside the lines into the cellar (Google “Dead Milkmen, Methodist Coloring Book” for the reference). The God who wants us to choose sides against our fellow brothers and sisters, branding those on the wrong side heretics.

Do I then deny objective truth? Am I so post-modern that I believe that whatever one believes is equally true as long as it is sincerely felt? No, but I have tasted the poison of my own failure enough in my life to realize that any doctrine is simply an approximation of the truth, colored by our own biases and mental wiring. And so I choose to be generous in my understanding of orthodoxy, and assume that you are my sibling in Christ despite all evidence to the contrary.

I don’t believe in the God who chooses some people to be with him and dumps the rest into the fiery furnace. God may in fact be the great predestinator, but if he is, it’s because he predestined everyone to be forgiven on the cross. I also find it remarkable that our response to his free gift could in any way, shape, or form affect the outcome. We’re not all that important in the grand scheme of things.

I don’t believe in a One True Church, unless you are talking about the church catholic, with a small c, which includes the church Catholic, and Orthodox, and liberal Episcopalian, and even Calvinist, among others.

I don’t believe that God’s word, in the form that we have it today (the Bible, for those following along at home), is inerrant. I don’t believe that you need to read the figurative parts of the scripture literally, and the poetic parts of scripture as prose. I do believe that the bible that God has given us is good enough to lead us to him, even if it may have some defects which reflect the cracked vessels he asked to write it.

In the end, I continue to scratch my head that so much of the movement started by the radical, itinerant, rabbi from Nazareth who would hang out with anyone (especially the really bad people) continues to draw lines, choose teams, and pluck specks out of eyes. And sometimes even pluck out entire eyes.

And I continue to be amazed that this very same church, for the most part, misses the fact that the Christ who rose to glory did so by rejecting the very judgement and violence that we so wish he would have meted out instead.

Michael Spencer obituary

The Associated Baptist Press has a good obituary for Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, today.

I never knew him personally, never even corresponded with him. But his writings on his blog have had a profound impact upon my faith over the course of the past several years. His writings were instrumental in helping me come out of the fog of a mid-life faith crisis and take on the new wineskins Christ had been preparing for me: more ancient, more grace-filled, critiquing evangelicalism without completely rejecting it. I can truly say that he was my mentor in many ways even though we never met.

I thank God for his life, and his voice will be sorely missed.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For…

I think I understand Bono now.

I’ve got this church, with a fair number of friends in it, but nothing that actually resembles “Christian community.” The last vestiges of that blew apart when our small group suddenly, and without warning, imploded. It’s evangelical in most of the good ways and a few of the bad, and the folks in the church have good hearts and desire to follow God.

But I’m not growing there (though spiritually I have been engaged in perhaps the greatest growth-spurt of my life – outside of my church). And I also worry that in the end, my theology may find me outside of what is “acceptable.”

Then there’s this other church which I attend on occasion. Big church, but very friendly. Sermons are knocked-out-of-the-park fantastic. Great facilities, good children’s program, theological position which is much closer to mine than the church I go to. But I don’t know anyone there. And did I say it’s big? And it’s still basically evangelical, whereas I am finding myself more and more in the post-evangelical, ancient-modern, missional/emerging part of the Church catholic.

And yet a third that I have just discovered, though it has been around for more than a century in our city and many centuries overall. In fact, it’s about as close as you can get in the Protestant world to a direct line back to the early church. You know, the one with the Book of Common Prayer. I LOVE the liturgy, feel united with Christ in the Eucharist, and in general enjoy the flow of the service. But I wonder if I could really ever feel at home there, and seriously doubt that my wife could do so.

And finally there are my desires. My desires to be a part of a real community of faith – something which I have tried again and again to find only to be disappointed and disillusioned at the end of every experience – at times because I have let the community down and at times because the community has let me down.

I desire to find a place where I could be mentored in learning a spiritual rhythm to teach my family, rather than having to make stuff up as I go along.

I desire to find a place where two years isn’t considered a long time to be in the same “small group” and there isn’t the assumption that because you aren’t growing numerically it must mean you’re not growing.

I desire to find a place where we can love the poor and the lost, the outcast and the unloved, together.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

The ‘Community’ in Missional Community

The second characteristic of missional community as I define it is “pursuing community on a daily basis with others both inside and outside of the community.”

The reality is that at least in the United States, this is not how the church lives today. We live our lives – individually – during the week, and then commute to our regional mega-church (or even local less-than-mega-church) on the weekends for our fill of “church”. The more committed may go to church more than once per week, and even involve themselves in small groups, but with a few exceptions, we don’t see the kind of daily Christian community that we see in the Book of Acts.

Which is both a shame and a major threat to the continuing existence of the Church.

I’m going to go out on a post-modern limb here, but I am becoming more and more convinced that the modernist structures of church which have, at various times, served the church well in the past no longer function. Instead of making disciples, we meet the needs of our consumer congregations. Rather than influencing the world, we tend to lock ourselves away in the “Christian ghetto” in an attempt to try to protect ourselves from being influenced by the world (or even worse, we use the machinery of the state to expand that “protection” to others who do not even want it). And instead of reaching the lost, we by and large grow our congregations by poaching existing believers from other, “less hip” churches.

Now, that being said, I want to make it clear that I do not consider the faith of those involved in traditional churches (be they evangelical, mainline, Catholic, Orthodox, or what have you) to be defective, nor state that those churches do not have a valuable role and purpose. In fact, I am involved in one myself. However, my point is that in the long-term, the traditional church structure as it exists today will continue to decline, and only a radical re-imagining of the church will allow the Gospel to continue to expand in the post-modern world.

Like the monastic movement which kept the faith alive through the middle ages, we may be entering a period where a newly imagined church will be required to keep Christ’s lamp lit through a difficult period of transformation for the world. And the existing church structures, increasingly co-opted by the principalities and powers of consumerist culture, simply are ill-equipped in the face of the challenges ahead of them.

I believe this is where the community aspect of missional community comes in.

It is in community that we can pursue new rhythms of live – accountably – which will help us swim against the tide of consumerism which has enveloped our society.

It is in community that we can support one another financially in the event of economic calamities, so that our brothers and sisters in community can continue to be fed at the banquet table of the Lord.

It is in community that we can raise our kids to hold fast to the powerful good news of Christ in the midst of a world which increasingly doesn’t care.

It is in community that we can show the world a different way – a way that I believe is so attractive that it will challenge many to start caring and join in.

It is this last point which leads me to the question of “who is this community for?” I would argue that the community is not only for those who are members of it, or even more broadly for “Christians.” But in fact, the community exists BOTH for those inside and for those outside of its boundaries. In this sense, the types of missional communities which will sustain the Church in the 21st century will be those which model the radical inclusivity of Jesus in their dealings with the world.

It is this very inclusivity – the bringing of the church to people rather than attracting them to “church” once a week – which will allow the church to embed itself into our post-modern world as another – and I would argue better – alternative to the rampant consumerism which is killing our planet and driving us off an economic cliff.