Friday, January 29, 2010

TheoBlogger Award: Theology After Google

I just found out that I've gotten a TheoBlogger Award from Transforming Theology. This means I get to attend the Theology After Google conference in California on March 10-12 for free. Yup, it's an all expenses paid trip to sunny SoCal! I'm grateful for this opportunity for many reasons. There will be excellent content. There will be cool people. There will be great conversations. There will be warmer weather. Etc. It will be exciting to explore what a Google-shaped world and Church looks like, and how we can navigate that world more effectively. So expect some blogging and twittering on this one! Then on March 10-12, stay tuned for some live reporting from the event. Or, if you're attending this event, I hope to see ya there!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Exploring the Future of Denominations

Sarah Davis says:
We look at an empty church and say, "Something is wrong, there's something we need to do about this situation." Honestly look at ourselves and be comfortable with the evaluation, which says we're not alright. We don't have it all together. There are some things we need to do.
Tom Ehrich says:
Time is running out...I think it's time for change-minded leaders to lead, and for denominational officials to support them in the ensuing firestorm. Instead of fighting over who owns the building, we should be discerning who owns the mission. A congregation can't be allowed to die just because entrenched leaders won't allow life.
Philip Clayton says:
A lot of young men and women lose their idealism in seminary. (That’s a damning fact that I, as a seminary teacher, take very, very seriously.) If they have the good fortune to depart seminary with their idealism intact, they’re generally assigned to a traditional church that has virtually no youth or younger families present, an average age of 60, and a major budget crisis on its hands. The orders are, “Keep this church alive!” The church members like the old hymns and liturgies; they don’t like tattoos, rock music, or electronics. They are about as likely to read and respond to blogs as I am to play in the Super Bowl. So the young pastor folds her idealism away in a closet and struggles to offer the traditional ministry that churches want.
Mark Hanson says:
The future of denominations in general...depends on responding to the mission to which God calls us in the world rather than planning strategies for institutional survival.
Martin Marty says:
We can't live with [denominations] because they are seen as bureaucratic, institutional, self-serving, hyper-organized, and understaffed. On the other hand they do help us connect with the larger body of Christians; they are somehow a house for specific delineations of the Spirit.

Theology After Google

The Transforming Theology project is a network of people who are attempting to rekindle theological imagination in ways that could help transform the Church and world. They are an active and exciting group. In their efforts, they utilize modern technologies such as blogs, YouTube, Facebook, etc. as well as traditional avenues such as conferences, classes, in-person conversations, etc. Their most recent venture is a conference called Theology After Google.

The Theology After Google event is aimed at exploring ways of communicating new and progressive theologies in our rapidly-changing world. In their opinion, too much theology is being communicated through the old Gutenberg-shaped world of one-sided communication: books, academic journals, sermons, etc. Therefore, more theology needs to be communicated through the new Google-shaped world of interactive communication: blogs, social networking sites, new technology, etc. And that is the purpose of this event. It will explore ways of communicating theology that is more relevant, meaningful, and appropriate for our increasingly interdependent world. Not only is this conference important for learning how to use new technologies, but also for exploring how new technologies are shaping the Church and world. This outstanding event will help empower all of us to more effectively navigate our Google-shaped Church and world. Some of the exciting speakers at this event will be:

Tony Jones, Spencer Burke, John Franke, Helene Slessarev-Jamir, Adam Walker Cleaveland, Bob Cornwall, Dwight Friesen , Jon Irvine, Glen Stassen, Philip Clayton, Tripp Fuller, Ryan Parker, Bruce Epperly, Barry Taylor, Ryan Bolger

If you're interested in learning more, click here for more info. Or if you're interested in attending this excellent event, click here to register.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Hymn: "God of the Water and Land"

Our newest hymn re-write is to the tune of Slane (Lord of All Hopefulness).

God of the water and God of the land,
Work in us now and help us be Your hands,
Faithfully tending the seeds that we've sown -
In Your great garden, we're never alone.

God of all rhythm and God of all time,
Sing on the earth and make ev'ry verse rhyme.
Move through Your children and carry the song;
In ev'ry new moment, help us sing along.

God of the galaxies, God of the stars,
No light is beyond You, no darkness too far;
surpassing our knowledge and wildest dreams,
Your love knows no bounds and Your mercy exceeds.

God of each moment and God of each day,
Through joys and through sorrows, Your presence remains.
Walk with us and guide us and open our minds,
that in all our searching it's You that we find.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Of Lament and Hope"

We wrote our new song, "Of Lament and Hope," after watching the news coverage of the earthquake in Haiti. The juxtaposition of images of overwhelming destruction and worldwide aid reminded us of Psalm 13. It's a psalm of deep lament and resilient hope. The beauty of this psalm is that it doesn't offer empty platitudes or theological blame. It simply names the pain honestly and then looks forward in hopeful expectation. In that way, Psalm 13 is like a good blues song. It acknowledges the tough stuff, but manages to find the hope in life anyway. So, after reading Psalm 13 and watching CNN, this song almost wrote itself.

Of Lament and Hope

How long, O God
Will you keep me waiting here?
How long, O God
Til You recognize my tears?
How long will I bear grief in my soul,
Carry this sorrow night and day?
How long til I am whole?

God, look at me.
Don’t turn Your face away.
God, answer me,
Before darkness overtakes.
Before my path is overcome,
And all that oppose me rejoice.
How long will you be gone?

But as for me, I trust in Your love.
I rejoice in the help that You give.
To You I sing for Your goodness to me;
In You I trust, in You I live
In You I trust, in You I live
In You I live

To donate to relief efforts in Haiti click here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A New Kind of Christianity

Brian McLaren was recently interviewed by Spencer Burke about McLaren's new book, “A New Kind of Christianity.” Good stuff. Check it out!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sara Kay and CST @ The Java House

I (Sara) will be playing with Central Standard Time at The Java House in Iowa City, IA on February 12th starting at 8:00pm. Hope to see ya there!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haitian Art: Resilient and Joyous Spirit

During the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Haiti, it's helpful to honor the culture and spirit of the Haitian people. They are not just victims or statistics. The Haitian people have a nuanced and unique culture, which has produced some amazing art. DeWitt Peters, an American artist, traveled to Haiti in 1943 and fell in love with the art. In fact, he helped in the creation of an art school in Port-au-Prince called Le Centre d'Art. With the help of the Haitian government, this art school opened in 1944. This school helped to support local artists as well as give them more international exposure.

Today the largest collection of Haitian art in the USA is housed at the Waterloo Center for the Arts in Waterloo, Iowa. Kent Shankle, the curator at the WCA, said: "Haitian art is incredibly unique and a lot of that comes from the spirit of the people. They have a resilient and joyous spirit."

Click here to take a virtual tour of some of the Haitian paintings, banners, and metals.

Click here to read about part of Haiti's complex history.

Click here to donate to relief efforts of the Red Cross.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hymn: "In Haiti, There is Anguish"

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has written a hymn in response to the earthquake that has devastated Haiti this week. The lyrics are set to the tune of "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" (ST. CHRISTOPHER

“In Haiti, There is Anguish”

In Haiti, there is anguish that seems too much to bear;
A land so used to sorrow now knows even more despair.
From city streets, the cries of grief rise up to hills above;
In all the sorrow, pain and death, where are you, God of love?

A woman sifts through rubble, a man has lost his home,
A hungry, orphaned toddler sobs, for she is now alone.
Where are you, God, when thousands die; the weak and poorest poor?
Were you the very first to cry for all that is no more?

O God, you love your children; you hear each lifted prayer!
May all who suffer in that land know you are present there.
In moments of compassion shown, in simple acts of grace,
May those in pain find healing balm, and know your love’s embrace.

Where are you in the anguish? God, may we hear anew
That anywhere your world cries out, you’re there — in suffering, too.
And may we see, in others’ pain, the hope we’re called to share;
Send out your church in Jesus’ name to pray, to serve, to care.

Tune: Frederick Charles Maker, 1881
Text: Copyright © 2010 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Permission is given for use by those who support Church World Service or Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Message from Psalm 13 for the Church

Psalm 13 is often overlooked. It's not even in the lectionary. But this short Psalm has a powerful message about the importance of lament and hope.

Lament is needed in order to honestly name the things that bring us harm. Pain that isn't named, cannot be healed. Injustice that isn't named, cannot be addressed. Fear that isn't named, cannot be confronted. Etc. Therefore, lament is an important part of naming the things that need to be named so that life-giving change can occur. And that change - the change we desire and God envisions - is what gives us hope for the future.

We thought that Psalm 13 needed to get dusted off and held up as a vision for the "Mainline" Church at this time of transition. Difficult things need to be named and addressed so that hope for a better future can be claimed with boldness.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Perhaps We Shall Not Break Bread Again

Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese American writer, offers a fresh look at the life of Jesus in the book Jesus The Son Of Man. The product description says, "This portrayal of Christ is through the eyes of His contemporaries, men and women who knew Him as an enemy, friend or teacher. These people including Mary Magdalen, Simon Peter, Pontius Pilate and Barabbas are brought to life against the social, political and religious realities of Palestine and Rome at that period." Here is an especially powerful quote from the book:
Jesus took a loaf of bread and gave to us, saying, “Perhaps we shall not break bread again. Let us eat this morsel in remembrance of our days in Galilee.” And He poured wine from the jug into a cup and He drank, and gave to us, and He said, “Drink this in remembrance of a thirst we have known together. And drink it also in hope for the new vintage. When I am enfolded and am no more among you, and when you meet here or elsewhere, break the bread and pour the wine, and eat and drink even as you are doing now. Then look about you; and perchance you may see me sitting with you at the table.” After saying this He began to distribute among us morsels of fish and pheasant, like a bird feeding its fledglings. We ate little yet we were filled; and we drank but a drop, for we felt that the cup was like a space between this land and another land. Then Jesus said, “Before we leave this table let us rise and sing the joyous hymns of Galilee.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Church Edition

We are facing a crisis in the Mainline Church. It's a crumbling institution. Scores of members have left. Thousands of churches have closed. Denominational leadership is overworked and understaffed. Seminaries are laying off tenured professors and selling their buildings. In fact, my alma matter, Eden Theological Seminary, just sold its library along with other parts of its property. The list goes on and on. The Mainline has become a bit sidelinded. And the emergency is clear to most people who care about the Church. This time of crisis and transition needs to be addressed. If nothing changes we will fail for sure. But if we act creatively and innovatively, we might just succeed. It's time for an extreme makeover of the Mainline Church!

The task is upon us to join together in an effort to rebuild the Mainline Church into something more effective and efficient in our world. This seems like a big request. And it is. It’s going to take a group effort – and a whole lot of conversation and hard work. But I am convinced that nothing short of the survival of the Mainline Church is at stake. A time of great transition is before us – and we need to find ways of addressing this transition in order to do effective ministry in the future.

All generations of Christians have faced some kind of change, along with the challenge of addressing that change. But once in a while there’s a major shift that goes beyond the gradual change that always occurs. Instead of steady amounts of minor change, it’s a time of radical revolution. All times are transitionary, but not all times are revolutionary. I believe that we are in the midst of a revolutionary time that is unique in the history of the Church and world. Many folks are beginning to name this revolutionary time, “Postmodernity.”

The concept of Postmodernity defies simple definition – especially since its impact and implications are still emerging. But there are characteristics of Postmodernity that can be described: global consciousness, religious plurality, cultural diversity, pragmatic idealism, internet communication, de-centralization of authority, rejection of universals, attention to context, honoring distinctiveness, theological fluidity, rejection of dogma, embracing paradox, collaborative wisdom, centralizing marginalized perspectives, etc. All of these things are having a revolutionary impact on our world and the way our lives are lived. In order to do effective and faithful ministry in our Postmodern world, we’re going to have to explore and employ new and creative ways of being the Church in the future.

I believe that we need to reform the Church as we know it. Just as Jesus started a reformation of Judaism, and Martin Luther started a reformation of Catholicism, we need to start a reformation of “Mainline” Christianity. We stand in a long line of faithful people who had to address changing times with deep reformation. The following 25 ideas are meant to encourage the conversation about how we can engage in this reformation. My hope is that these ideas will inspire more ideas as we work together to reform the Church for our time.

1. Support young, creative church leaders in their effort to do innovative and effective ministries in our rapidly changing world. They must not simply be used to conserve existing structures and traditions. Their insights and passions must be employed effectively throughout the Church.

2. Make the work of academic theologians more accessible to the general population in order to help their work be more relevant, effective, and popularized.

3. Encourage academic theologians to use fast-moving and interactive mediums like blogs, Facebook, and YouTube – and not just peer review journals, academic books, and other mediums that are slow, non-interactive, and largely irrelevant to most people. Internet-based mediums allow authors and readers to interact and work collaboratively.

4. Work collaboratively to find effective and immediate ways to bridge the deep chasm that exists between theological seminaries and local congregations.

5. Address the rapid decline of membership in our congregations honestly, effectively, and immediately.

6. Focus on faithful forms of evangelism instead of trying to sell denomination through gimmicky branding and advertising.

7. De-professionalize theology so that all people can be encouraged and empowered to think theologically. For example, sermons and classes could be more conversational and interactive in order to encourage the theologian-ship of all believers.

8. De-professionalize church leadership. Now is an important time to re-examine the practical implications, ethical considerations, and Biblical perspectives of ordination. We need to explore shared ministries as we emphasize the priesthood of all believers.

9. Make “Mainline” denominations more nimble and effective in our rapidly changing world. This may require us to reassess our structures of leadership, manuals on ministry, systems of accountability, etc.

10. Explore ways to make worship styles and spiritual practices more adventurous, engaging, interactive, ancient-yet-innovative, and Christ-centered.

11. Find ways that “Mainline” denominations can work together more closely, if not merge together, in order to continue do effective ministries in the future. The petty differences of the past must not be a reason to resist relevancy in the future. We must find ways to address our common challenges and improve our common ministries. This isn’t just about ecumenism, it’s about survival.

12. Encourage failing congregations to find a conclusion of dignity. These congregations deserve to have their ministries honored as they transition towards closure. Where possible, these congregations could be consolidated into one viable congregation. This process would help small congregations consolidate while also freeing up the pastors and resources needed to begin new and creative ministries.

13. Make sure that the local and national leaders are hosts of creative conversations more than keepers of established structures.

14. Practice a deeper spirituality in our congregations. Increasing numbers of people are spiritual, yet the church is often the last place they look for spirituality. We need to rekindle our spiritual fire in the Church.

15. Write new music, hymns, poetry, novels, devotionals, children’s books, etc. in order to help bring progressive theology to the masses. If we fail to do this, the Prosperity Gospel, Pop Psychology Gospel, Fundamentalist Gospel, New Age Gospel, etc. will continue to fly off bookshelves, fill televisions screens, and be used in megachurches. If we succeed at sharing progressive theology in relatable ways, then we will help change the future of the Church.

16. Speak more relevantly and passionately about the big issues of the day from an overtly theological perspective. This doesn't mean speaking from a wishy-washy liberal perspective, a reactionary conservative perspective, or a mushy middle-ground perspective. It means speaking out of our faith tradition instead of predictable political stances.

17. Explore ways of being more overt and passionate about following God in Way of Jesus. We can claim the uniqueness of God-in-Jesus without being triumphantly exclusivistic. We can also be sensitive to the dignity of other religions without losing our ability to speak from an explicitly Christian perspective. We could make it more clear that the life and teaching of Jesus are central to the ways we worship, act, think, etc.

18. Employ practices of being the Church that are thoughtfully contextual instead of blindly universal. Each local congregation is unique – and we need to explore effective practices of ministry that are most appropriate for each location.

19. Encourage the Mainline Church and the Emergent Church to dialogue frequently and collaborate often. " “Mainline” folks could share their rich theological and liturgical traditions. “Emergent” folks could share their postmodern insights and practical invocations. Together, we can explore and employ effective ways of doing ministry.

20. Engage the relevant and accessible books that are already available: Transforming Christian Theology by Philip Clayton, The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle, Reclaiming the Church by John Cobb, A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren, etc. There are many conversation partners we can use as we explore the concrete actions we can take.

21. Invest money in planting churches that will engage in creative and innovative ministries.

22. Help pastors find ways to assist their congregations through the transition into the Post-“Mainline” world. This includes facing the death of the institution honestly and finding hope for the future realistically.

23. Provide comfort to and inspire hope in people who grieve for the “good ol’ days.”

24. Find ways to move from a spirit of maintenance to a spirit of mission.

25. Actively open the conversation about Postmodern, Post-Mainline ministry to everyone who is interested in listening, sharing, and exploring.

The list could go on and on. And I hope a lot of different people will add many other ideas. We need an effective list. The times are rapidly changing. So, we need to work together in order to realistically and faithfully face the revolutionary shifts that are taking place in our world and explore ways to do effective ministry in the midst of that transformation.

The Mainline Church needs an extreme makeover. So let the creative planning and urgent rebuilding begin!

Now, where is Ty Pennington?

Listening to God's Voice In Daily Life

Carolyn Arends is a songwriter in Canada that sings music that goes much deeper than most "contemporary Christian music." She uses many different images and metaphors for God in her music. For example, in her song, "I Can Hear You," she talks about how we can hear God all around us if we just pay attention. God speaks through birds, laughter, friends, etc. Listening to the Divine voice all around us makes every thing and moment potentially sacred. And if you're into process theology or open theism, these lyrics are especially good! Check out the lyrics and video below:

Leaky faucet dripping in the kitchen
Rubber squealing - watch out in the alley
Mr. Marley's probably late for work again
Birdie singing - telling me to get up
Such a soothing sound floating on the wind
I just keep listening
Funny how You speak to me
In such mysterious ways

I can hear You
I can hear You
It's so amazing how Your voice keeps breaking through
I can hear You

There's a church bell ringing out the hour
Like an old friend calling through my window
With the laughter of the children playing down below
You've got a way of getting my attention
In the rhythm of life, everywhere I go
Somehow You let me know
If I'll only stop to listen
You're in everything

I can hear You
I can hear You
It's so amazing how Your voice keeps breaking through
I can hear You

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Agape: "All Are Welcome"

David Scherer a.k.a. Agape is one of our favorite rappers. His music is fun, fresh, and faithful. In fact, one of his newest songs and videos offers an excellent vision of the Church. All are welcome. Everyone. Kinda sounds like what that wily character Jesus said all the time. All are welcome. Let the children come. And the poor. And the rich. And the rural. And the urban. And the tax collectors. And the prostitutes. And on and on. All are welcome. It's kinda radical, actually. Just radical enough to be something Jesus was all about! Check out how this song re-imagines Jesus' vision of God's preferential care for all people.
All Are Welcome
It says in the Bible that all are welcome, all are welcome and invited to the table to eat.

Come as you are, all our welcome.
Come as you are.

Even though I haven't read my Bible in a year,
do I still have a welcome place waiting for me here?
Even though you saw me at the bar last week,
do I still have a place that's safe for me to speak?
Even though I curs on the curt playing ball,
do I still have a place that will care for me at all?
Even though my parents are hippies of the new age,
burning incense, can this still be my place?
Even though I feel a little different than you,
can this still be a place were I can feel renewed?
And even though I shout during serves in my wheelchair,
can this be the place for me where people still care?
Come as you are, all are welcome.
Come as you are.

Even though I love somebody of the same sex,
do I still have a place to learn about God's text?
Even though my wife and I can't get along,
do we still have a place to come and sing God's song?
Even though I have a personality disorder,
do I still have a place to bathe in God's water?
Even though HIV is affecting me,
do I have a place to go where I can finally be free?
Even though I'm homeless and I struggle to eat,
do I still have a place to keep me off of the street?
And even though I can't speak English that well,
do I still have a place where I can come and get help?

Come as you are, all are welcome.
Come as you are.

Even though I speak in tongues and rise my hands to God,
do I still have a place here on the church squad?
Even though I sit, contemplate, and don't sing,
do I still have a place where can come and do my thing?
Even though we're all sinners and we fall short,
church should be a place where we can come to the Lord.
Break bread together, sings hymns together,
all of God's children, bring them together.
Even though sometimes I can't run the race,
I'm still God's child, so this is still my place.

Come as you are, all are welcome.
Come as you are.

Transforming Christian Theology: A Preview

Transforming Christian Theology is one of the most important books we've read in a while. If you're interested in growing discipleship, membership, theological prowess, and the relevancy of the church, then you may find this book important too. We've written a review of it here. But now it's time to let the book speak for itself. Here are a few experts. These are not necessarily the best parts - or even our favorite parts. Instead, these are a few relatively random samples that are meant to whet the appetite. So, if you like what you read below, check out this rockstarerific (outstanding) book. Enjoy!
Many around us are proclaiming that the church is dead and that core Christian beliefs are irrelevant in the contemporary world. We believe they are mistaken. But Jesus' message will be consigned to the dustbins of history unless we, together, begin to show how it remains relevant to our day (xi-x).

The Internet and other new technologies have democratized theology in a way that no one could have imagined just a generation ago...there are urgent Christian reasons to give theology back to the churches and to ordinary people. - even if the word theology has to be radically transformed in the process...We need to stop delegating theology to the specialists and return it to the people who need it...Doing theology is just thinking about your faith. Theology therefore belongs to everyone who is drawn to Jesus and wants to figure out what it means to be identified with him in this immensely complex, twenty-first century world (2-3).

Academic theology - the theology that's done in seminaries and divinity schools and academic journals - isn't going to help us rethink what "church" means in this radically new world. In fact, most academic theologians are hardly addressing the topic (3).

We have trouble talking about what is uniquely Christian about our lifestyles and ministries, and our inability in crippling those ministries. This book is a call to give the church back its tongue, to help everyday Christians find their voices again (7).

In order to be effective, we will have to be lighter in our feet and more adaptable and open to change than we have been so far. We need to accept a while new assortment of best practices that are emerging outside of traditional churches and structures, and we need to bring them right into the heart of church and social ministries today. Never before have the stakes of complacency and inactivity been so high (18).

The three central features of postmodern religion are the focus on practice, the turn to a more pragmatic idealism, and the stress on deep, life-changing convictions in a world of rampant religious plurality (32).

We are in the midst of the most rapid social and technological change that our species has ever undergone...Are church leaders utilizing these new technologies to support their outreach and ministries?...Not to know new media is not to exist in the world more and more people exist in (44).

We cannot control the changes that are already upon us, but we can meet them intelligently and respond to them with grace, innovation, courage, and far-sightedness. As managers and leaders, we can invite others to engage change constructively and faithfully...Instead of seeking to preserve the past at any cost, we need a commitment to adapting what we have been as church to what we need to be as church in the future (51).

Please allow the bright, young seminary students whom we are now educating to be involved in the forms of ministry that they are envisioning. Trust that God is working in them as well! Allow them to form cohorts and house churches and church plants. Allow them to hold worship services in pubs, to perform street theater, to host discussion groups in office buildings, to create sidewalk Sunday schools, and to try out the other innovative ways of being church that they are even now dreaming...We need to hear in visionary terms how the core message of the Christian tradition can still speak powerfully to our world (53).

As long as the two camps [conservative vs. liberal] represent an either/or choice, the church will not be able to speak with a unified and powerful voice to the contemporary world situation. We will continue to be rent asunder - the one side condemning the 'secular humanism' and the immoralities of our day and calling us back to first-century beliefs and practices, and the other side becoming more and more politically engaged but less and less able to ground the activism in the language of our tradition (64).

Clearly [Martin] Luther wanted to be an agent of change in the church and in society. But he knew that just altering one or another part of the current Christian practices would be superficial and temporary. The forms had to stem from fundamental changes in the church's understanding of its Founders - Christ - and his core teaching (77).

Doing theology means consciously reflecting about your real life as it has become intertwined with a real God. The trouble is that people are really good at repeating statements about God - usually statements they've learned in church - but they're not as good at linking these statements richly and deeply to their own lives (80).

Theology means moving from Scripture and tradition, by means of reason and experience, to application in the contemporary world (89).

Again, being progressive does not mean you wish to reject the past. But it does suggest a greater emphasis on innovation, on openness to change, on learning new things from new contexts, and on finding new forms through which the church and her action in the world may be manifested (122).

I presuppose that theologies are composed in the trenches, not in the ivory towers. For this reason, I invite ordinary people into dialogue, not just the specialists. I invite you to become producers of Christian theologies and not just merely consumers of theologies (124).

But mainline churches are not convincing society, or even their own members, that when Jesus' followers are involved with others in missional living, they're dealing with the most significant thing in their life (152).

At no time since Augustine and the Fall of Rome in the late fifth century has the church stood before such revolutionary times. Many well-worn practices will be abandoned, and many beloved congregations will close. But the Spirit of God will continue to move upon the face of the waters (153).

Transforming Christian Theology does not seek to have the last word. It's meant to function as the invitation to a passionate dialogue about theology and the way it shapes our life together as individuals and as the Church...It's our desire that theology - real, robust theology - be the work of the people (159).

The classic modes of communication in most churches are still based in the world of Gutenberg, the world created with the advent of the printing press. Technologically speaking, however, today we have moved into a Google-shaped world. Many worship services continue to be centered on the individual consumer of texts, be they read spoken, or sung...By contrast, today's communication is being shaped by technologies that center on collaboration and participation - technologies that make use of images, narratives, and art; and that function in a context of continuous flux and change...The challenge is not just how to use new technologies effectively; the challenge is creating a community that communicates to, in, and eventually from a Google-shaped world (168).

In this world of broken persons, peoples, and planet, our God is living, present, and active on a mission for the salvation of the world. We are called to join in (170).

Friday, January 1, 2010

Transforming Christian Theology: A Review

Philip Clayton is an academic's academic theologian. Just check out his resume. He specializes in theology, philosophy, and science. There's no question that Clayton is a top-level theologian. But this academic theologian has had a conversion experience. After looking at the crisis in the Mainline Church, he has decided he needs to address the crisis instead of deny its existence. With the Mainline Church losing scores of members, closing thousands of churches, downsizing many of their seminaries, etc., it's obvious that something must be done if progressive Christianity is going to have a future. So Clayton has decided to help it have a future. His mission is no longer to write abstract theology in the clouds of the ivory tower, but to roll up his sleeves and do theology on the ground of real life. In his book, Transforming Christian Theology, he says:
“The second step in my transformation is to walk the talk, which means that I must also change how I communicate my reflections on Christian belief and identity. I can no longer publish theology books that are written primarily for specialists. From now on I must write for a broader audience, one that includes ordinary people who are eager to speak clearly and passionately about their faith–and those who are struggling to find out exactly what in the Christian story they really do care passionately about. In this regard, my last book represents the end of one era for me, and this book heralds the beginning of the next. Perhaps this will irritate academic theologians and there may be backlash. But as I've argued, the urgency of the situation calls for some pretty radical responses. We can't afford business as usual” (6).
Clayton's main argument in this book is that we need to make theology a work and passion of the people - all people. Theology isn't some abstract pondering that happens between people with advanced degrees. Instead, theology is thinking deeply about following God in the Way of Jesus. Doing theology this way involves: exploring the intersections between our personal stories and God's larger story; making our assumptions explicit; recognizing our contexts; listening to other perspectives; revising our perspectives; being open to God's guidance and presence; using culturally relevant yet explicitly Christian language (without being exclusive to other religions); connecting faith to real life; embodying our theology; developing effective ministries for our changing world; exploring ways to transform society for the better; etc.

One concrete way that Clayton encourages people to do theology is to explore how each person and congregation would respond to the Core Questions of Christianity: Who is God? Who is Jesus? Who is the Holy Spirit? What is humanity and its role? What is sin, and what does salvation mean? What is the mission and function of the Church? What is the future we hope for? Each person and congregation will answer these questions differently. We don't all have to agree. But we do have to think through these questions and explore how they help us find direction for our personal lives and a mission for our congregations.

Clayton's book is a vitally important book for people who care about the Church - especially the Church in a progressive form. His book is filled with questions, ideas, insights, etc., on how to find our way out of the crisis that has hit the Mainline Church. This book is a resource of resources. So, if you want the Mainline Church to be more than a museum of a failed experiment, then this book is one important road map out of the current crisis. Transforming Christian Theology can help us explore ways to do faithful, effective, and relevant ministry in our rapidly changing world.

If you're interested in joining conversations about reviving the Mainline Church through theology, check out Clayton's organization and network called Transforming Theology.