This Pope is even good for Protestants

I love this new Pope!  Not because I agree with everything he says or does – nor should I. I’m not even Catholic.

Not a week goes by without someone asking me about the new Pope. Every time he reaches out to some unexpected soul, I am going to get asked about it. Pope

A kid in a wheelchair – did you see that?

A Muslim women – what do you think of that? 

A prisoner – is that like a normal thing or … that just him? 

It started on the day of his election. I got a call from an Australian radio station that wanted to have me on to get a non-Southern hemisphere perspective. [you can hear the audio segment below] I thought it was pretty random at the time (they had seen my blog-post earlier that day where I said it would be a game-changer).

It was not to be an isolated incident. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t ask me about the new Pope.

Last week I was watching a football game at a sports-bar. A couple from out of town sits down next to me. A little chit-chat reveals that I am a local but not originally from here.

How long have you lived in LA?  4 years.

What brought ya?  School. I am a student. 

What do you study? It’s called Practical Theology – it’s like a mix between sociology and religion. 

Oh yeah? What do you think about this new Pope?

This is literally 2 minutes into the conversation.

 

On the TNT that will come out this evening, our third caller asks about the Pope and Marxism … we never get to the fourth call.

[ side-note: On our 2013 Review show Tripp's pick for moment of the year was during that game Au Contraire Mon Frere where he (in contrast to Tony Jones) said that the new Pope was the real deal.]

I have irreligious friends on Facebook that will email me an article about the Pope and ask what I think.

 

Why do I bring this up? Well, for over a decade I trained and loved being an ‘evangelist’ and ‘apologist’. I loved giving a reasonable presentation of the faith. I trained others in how to ‘give an answer when asked about the hope that is within you’.
Though I have emerged as a different kind of thinker, the delight of a stranger asking a question about something related to faith never goes away.

Here is the thing: I have spent hundreds of hours preparing to answer questions that people just don’t ask anymore. In apologist circles we were talking about the shift we were experiencing before the events of September 11, 2001.  Since then, it has been monumental. The world is very different than it was 40 – even 30 – years ago.

In an age of Facebook, smart phones and global terror … people are just not that interested in the stuff that I was trained to answer. They are asking a different set of questions.

That is why it is so notable that somebody – every week – is going to ask me about the Pope. So it seems to me that it would be a good investment of time – if you are someone who, like me, is evangelistic or apologetic at all – to keep an eye on the activities of the Pope. I might go as far as to say that it would be a better spend of time than watching another ‘debate’ between creation and evolution …

Who knew that a new season in the Catholic church would open doors for Protestant ministers?  I get to both talk about all the good things that he does which provides an opportunity to distinguish my own expression of the faith in issues of women’s ordination, human sexuality, and economic matters.

I would love to hear your thoughts, concerns, corrections or questions. 

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One – the Gospel According to Mike Williams

A Gospel Freed From Christianity “ONE – The Gospel According to Mike” uncovers the good news in a way never before examined in traditional religion by removing layers of sectarian doctrines and denominational views that have been piled upon it for centuries.

It’s a gospel unhidden and unfettered by the dogma of theologians and institutions. It is a gospel freed from Christianity. A gospel based solely on scriptural and Biblical foundations.

Mike Williams lets it all out in the chat with Bo – it is a wild and wholly hour of Mike at his best!

For more: visit www.gospelrevolution.com or www.onemikewilliams.com. You can find Mike’s radio show podcasts on Itunes here. 

You can get the book on Amazon. Feel free to leave a comment or call the SpeakPipe to let us know your thoughts!

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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5 Biggest Changes for Pastors in the Last 50 Years

I’m preparing to facilitate a conversation with some colleagues in the new year about ministry and honoring tradition. I want to begin – and thus frame – the conversation with the changing culture that we are products of, interact with and attempt to minister to.

It is a different way to approach the topic of tradition, admittedly, but my thought is that we start where we are and then trace threads into the past to uncover their significance. I almost always find it unhelpful to start in the past – say at the Protest Reformation – and then slowly work our way up. It is simply too limiting (in scope) and cumbersome (in process) for the contemporary expectations of ministry.

I have been reading a little Gordon Kaufman. He has me thinking about the ‘nuclear age’ and how deeply that shift, from the end of WWII, has impacted us sociologically, psychologically, and spiritually. I take this as my launching off point.

 So here are my Big 5 – in no particular order. I wanted to throw them out here and see what others who are older, or wiser, or more insightful might add to the list or modify.

 Pervasive Pop Psychology  - My dad tells a story about interviewing retired pastors 30 years ago. He asked them when things seemed to change. All of them, without exception, pointed to the window from 1968-1970. They talked about Woodstock, Vietnam, and Nixon among other things.

Many of them also talked about people’s awareness and pop psychology. I will always remember the story of a son who came home from college to visit his folks on the farm. He tried to talk to his dad about his feelings, motivations, childhood memories, his subconscious, etc.  His dad responded, ‘Son, what the hell are going on about?’ He just had no frame of reference for it. Similar stories were repeated, in differing configurations, over and over by  the ministers.

Pop psychology has permeated every facet of society. From Oprah on daytime TV to Self-Help books – it impacts what people expect from a pastor and what they want from things like premarital counseling.
In my first 10 years of ministry, I often said that I would have more prepared for the actual way I spent my week if I had gotten a degree in psychology  rather than in Bible.

Biblical Scholarship - speaking of the Bible, I am shocked as to how much different those conversations go than they did 20 years ago when I was trained in Apologetics/Evangelism.  Between the Jesus Seminar, the Da Vinci Code and Bart Ehrman popularizing the stuff many pastors knew from seminary but were not allowed to say in the pulpit, it is a very different playing field.

It is an odd split: people often know little of the Bible – because they know so much stuff about the Bible. We can’t assume even a Sunday School understanding or a surface devotional reading. But at the same time, the culture wide awareness of critical Biblical scholarship is shocking. That was not true 50 years ago.

The Internet - The Internet changes everything. From the way people spend time to the way that they shop for a church. Facebook has changed how people connect to each other. Google has changed the way people access information. It is impossible to overstate how big of an impact the Internet has had on Western society. If you are still doing church the way you did 50 years ago – and think that it will have the same effect – you are fooling yourself. You may have the same seed, but the soil itself has changed. It will not grow the same crop or produce the same fruit.

Two little examples: When kids who grew up in your church come home from college and sit in on Sunday school (for example). They will assume that they get to share their opinion. They don’t sit quietly and honor the elders by talking last. They will raise their hands and talk first. Is it that they are over empowered? No. It is that they assume that they get to help shape the discussion and their opinion is valid. They don’t sit quietly and try to get up to speed or catch up on what they have missed.

  • This is the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.  A church website is 1.0 – the staff puts out the information that it wants people to see. You read it like a newspaper. It is not interactive. Facebook is 2.0 – it creates the environment but does not generate the content. Young people live in 2.0

Doug Paggitt talks of ‘the pastor as Google’. I love this. People don’t go to Google for Google. It is not a destination. It helps people get to their destination. If it does this well, people trust Google and go it often. Pastor used to be like encyclopedias. They were a resource, a destination for information. Now, the pastor’s office is not a destination, the art of pastoring is help people find theirs. If we do that well, they trust us and come back the next time they need direction.

Pastor as encyclopedia is a repository of information. Pastor as Google is a resource that knows how to find the information.

24 Hour News & Christian Media -  Cable news and Christian radio probably have a bigger impact on the people who fill the pews that any pastor can be expected to have in a 30 minute sermon once a week.  There is no other way to say it, the narrative that is being put out on media outlets like Fox News (Clash of Civilizations) or Christian Radio (the 6 Line Narrative) is so pervasive and so monolithic that it can feel as if your parishioners are being pastored far more by their TV and car radio that you will ever be able to.

This is also part of why our country and culture have become so:

  1. polarized
  2. adversarial

I am horrified by this trend more than all the others combined. I think that it hurts the heart of God and I know that it hurts our Christian witness.

Fractured Globalism  and PostModernity - People have great troubles conceptualizing and articulating how fractured, dislocated, overwhelmed and powerless they feel in the global marketplace. Things are not simple now. Things have never been more complex and overwhelming. Look at the food on your table? Do you know where it comes from? Think about your Thanksgiving dinner last week and imagine how many miles and from how many countries those ingredients were trucked to end up on your table. You might be shocked.

Think about your car. Was it all made and assembled at the same plant? Or even in the same country. The automotive industry was fairly straight forward 50 years ago. Now it is an example of inter-national, multi-corporation conglomerates. We have been de-centered, and people feel it. The way we conceptualize ourselves, our connection to family, the way we picture the world working, the universe and thus God. The best book I have read on the subject is “Identity, Culture, and the Postmodern World” by Madan Sarup.

The PostModern Turn - speaking of PostModern, this may be the biggest of the 5 changes. It is funny to me that some christians still want to debate if the category is real just because it can not be succinctly or universally defined (how very modern!)  Look, call it what you want: late-modernity, hyper-modernity, high-modernity, or some other thing – what can not be denied is that something big and deep has shifted. Blame it on the philosophers (Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault, etc) if you want. Make up a new name for it if you must. But please stop pretending that what we are looking at is nothing radical or unexpected. Even the ostrich thinks that it is time to pull your head out of the sand!

One interesting reaction, and this applies to denominations, is the counter-modern responses that want to go back to an imagined past and reclaim a romantic pre-shift relationship between the Christian religion and

  • society
  • the economy
  • science
  • other religions

You can see this in counter-modern responses like Radical Orthodoxy (retreating to the hills of Thomism), Post-Liberal thought, Hyper-Calvinism and the Tea-Party in politics. Even if you pastor with an established denomination (and many don’t) you have to contend with these fractious groups that will impact your congregation.

Those are my 5 Big changes for Pastors over the past 50 years. I would love your thoughts!  What would you take out and what would you add?

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Evangelicals sing to You

by Bo Sanders

Three interesting conversations have recently merged in my little corner of the interwebs:

  • The Republican presidential primaries have brought to the limelight some very complex subjects like race, economics, and religion that are handled with stereotypical banter, generally at increased volume.

Santorum is an uber-Catholic, Romney is Mormon, Newt wants the Evangelical vote and all of this is contrasted to Obama’s social-justice-Jeremiah-Wright past. The religion aspect of this election year is going to be fascinating.

I point out that in our national militarism mentality and our cultural myth of redemptive violence, that PSA is playing a role in our religious silo that is spilling over in unhelpful and even harmful ways.

The author calls them evangelical – in contrast to pentecostals who speak in tongues – even though I am not sure that the Vineyard (which both of her congregations are) are wholly representative off all the different camps that come under that tent.

Last week I posted that I was ‘worried about worship’ and one of my concerns dealt with the epistemology behind the band-centered worship expereince. I said

“ Is this situation inflamed by an epistemology employed by evangelical and charismatic churches? I don’t know how else to say it but …. if you think that you are singing to God (vs. about God) and the God is actually listening to you and evaluating what is going on, then are you more critical of both the sour-notes and distracting ‘self’ behavior or overly elaborate performances?”

As I read the review of Luhrmann’s new book in the New Yorker magazine (“Seeing is Believing” by Joan Acocella) I was amazed at the obvious parallels to what I had attempted to address. Unfortunaly, the New Yorker requires that you subscribe to the magazine in order to read the article… so I can’t just link there for you. If, however you get the chance to pick up the magazine or copy it at the library, it is well worth your time.

Without the article to link to I will just offer a couple of related thoughts:

The three step plan to Hearing the Voice of God (the Father) is exactly – 100% – my experience of being raised evangelical. So many people that I talk to who were/are charismatic or evangelical have this exact same experience [she also mentions there lack of social service, lack of political involvement, and lack of theology]. The thing I still find shocking is that so many of those outside those groups do not know that is what it is like inside, and how often those inside don’t know that this is not everyone else’s experience of the christian faith.

David Bebbington in Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Routledge, 1989) did a masterful job of find some common theme that ran through evangelical history. This was a tough job (not always obvious) and has resulted in much debate about if these can even be called one grouping in any coherent sense. I am leaning more and more toward saying that Evangelicalism is not an official membership but is rather a dynamic relation between experience and expression. These two things are facilitated by an epistemology that is more central than any doctrinal or theological markers. Over the last 400 years what has been defining is not the political involvement (it has changed) or what was believed (it has adapted) but the experiential component (enthusiasm) that manifests is a distinct expression.

I have been out of the worship-band culture (Hillsong, Matt Redman, etc) for 2 years. I recently preached at a church with a worship band. What stood out to me so forcibly was the word “You”. I didn’t know why at first but as the service progressed I was struck by how many (all) the songs were addressed to ‘You’. You are holy, you are famous, I need you, etc. It stands in stark contrast to songs sung to God or about God like: a mighty fortress is our God, Oh God our help is ages past, and even Holy is the Lord God Almighty.

I often get to hear Mainliners talk about the alien experience of stumbling upon a christian music station on the radio. I also get to hear visitors to our pipe-organ-hymns-only church wonder about the lack of intimacy and excitement. I think it has less to do with the music style and more to do with the epistemology of singing songs to a ‘You’ and all the assumptions that would accompany that subtle change.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this – agree or disagree

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Jesus loves you … some more than others?

In recent weeks both Tim Tebow and Marc Driscoll have been hot button topics of conversation in my circles. The whole thing peaked this week when Tebow was knocked out of the playoffs and Driscol was interviewed on a popular British radio show.

In the Driscoll interview (he was going after the host because his wife is a pastor) he said something that is hugely troubling about its implications for the value of certain types of people. Driscoll was asking about how many young single men have come to Christ in the past year. Not how many people, but how many of them were men. Still not satisfied, he asked about what kind of men they were – were they strong men?

 

Do you see the sequence? (some might call it a pecking order)

He asked not about numbers of people who came to Christ, not about Church health or the British context (ie. implications of having a Church of England)

  • How many were men … specifically young single men.
  • Not men in general, but a specific type of man (strong)

Some may want to simply dismiss this as an eccentric fascination of an isolated mentality. I beg to differ.  I see this as a ongoing, if below the surface, mentality that is pervasive in the North American Protestant-Evangelical-Charismatic camp (also known as ‘my people’).

I have written recently that we may worship success more than any God – and I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about the fallout of the 20th centuries rejection of the Social Gospel or the inherent downside of anti-intellectualism that is still widely pervasive – what I am saying is that Driscoll’s views and Tebow’s fans are not an anomaly. They are the logical end expression of an underlying belief about who God is and how God works.

 

The Driscol-Tebow controversies are merely the public manifestation of an underlying theology surfacing in examples that bring to the public’s attention to what is always bubbling just below the surface – or behind the closed doors of the sanctuary.

The Gospel as it is configured in some quarters is surprising to those who are outside this stream. Does Jesus love everyone? Technically, yes. Is there a type of person that Jesus loves more … or a part of that person (soul, gender, etc.) that Jesus is more interested in?

If this concept is completely foreign to you – I may need to come at this a different way:

I had a chance to talk to a faithful saint who suffers from a chronic degenerative disease. She found a piece that I wrote about why we need to move away from old understandings about curses. She had undergone more than a decade of people ‘discerning in prayer’ that someone had placed a curse on her when she was younger and then attempting through intercession and deliverance to break the enemy’s power over her.

She was intrigued by my insistence that God was not picking and choosing who to intervene for and which situations to interfere in. She had heard last week’s interview with John Cobb where he said that we believe that God is doing in every situation all that God is able to do that in situation.

This is a radical assertion and a sharp departure from the common belief about how God can and does work in the world.

I told her about an old interview that Tripp did with Bruce Epperly where Tripp paraphrased him by saying “God does not hold out or run out”.   Think about the implications of those two statements:

In every situation God is doing everything that God is able to do

God does not hold out or run out

I love this view of God. Some people get really upset because God is not as powerful as the Zeus-Caesar (theos) character they have been told lives up in the heavens watching us all and intervening/interfering according to ‘His’ will. But we are actually saying that God is powerful – its just that God’s power is a different kind of power from the unilateral and coercive power that has classically been ascribed to the Divine Being.

In this past week’s TNT I said that I thought something really positive came out of the pushback we got from our cross-efforts with Rachel Held Evans and Kurt Willems. It became clear that Process-Relational thought really is saying something quite different than classical theologies based on Imperial assumptions and Greek metaphysics.

This is not a simple tweak of the existing system (like Open theology). This is not a program that you just download and install into your already in place operating system. It is not a patch that employ to get rid of the bugs and kinks in the classical program. Relational thought is a different operating system (to use the fun Mac v. Microsoft Windows analogy).

I am excited about the upcoming Theological Conversation Jan 31-Feb 2  between the Emergent Village and Process-Relational thought. I am not under the impression that P-R is for everyone or that many folks will ‘convert’. But I am hopeful that we can engage, in a significant way, the ongoing and persistent glitches that  (while they may rarely come to full blown Driscoll-Tebow levels) are perpetually just below the surface.

 

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