Category Archives: Church

There has got to be a better way?

“There has got to be a better way for wealthy churches to partner with churches that are in deprived communities. You know a number of years ago I heard an African-American gentleman who is the head of a ministry that is in a deprived community and he was speaking to the leadership of a very white very wealthy church and this African-American leader said to this very wealthy church that was supporting his ministry I need to confess something to you. I’ve been lying to you for the last ten years. Because you folks want to send short-term teams into my church and into my community and I make up stuff for you to do. I’ve had you paint the walls of my office so many times that the paint is starting to chip off and you folks go out into the community and you do all kinds of crazy things that I spend weeks mopping up after you because of the chaos you’ve created and I keep on telling you that I want you to do this stuff because quite frankly I need your financial support.”

Watch the rest of this challenging video clip from Brian Fikkert below.

Brian is the co-author of the book When Helping Hurts. You can download a free e-book version here.

The Geography of Power and Privilege

First pile of books plundered from library

First pile of books plundered from library

This is the year I have finally started my Masters in Missiology (the study of missions or the study of “what the heck are we meant to be doing and how should we do it” as I prefer) through the University of Stellenbosch. I have harboured a deep desire to study further for many years but due to time, finances and circumstances this has never been an option. Until now… so due to a happy confluence of circumstances (Sovereignty if you will) I am able to dedicate a significant portion of my time to academic study of the next two years.

Although these things are notoriously fickle at the hands of supervisors and further reading here is my first attempt at articulating the area I hope to look at in my research.

“The effects of the apartheid system continue to affect the mission and the life of the church in Cape Town. In particular the long-term structures around which our city was re-engineered through the group areas act continues to entrench the division of races and economics in our city. The flow of power and of privilege very much follows the geographical contours of inequality in our city. The church has had a chequered history with these divisions at times supporting it, at times opposing it but mostly a quiet acquiescence through the development of a parallel structure of power and geography that mirrored, upheld or even enhanced the division of race and power. The post 1994 changes have mostly not brought about any significant changes in the geography of privilege and power. The evangelical church, by nature conservative lags behind entrenching often unwittingly the now traditional structures of power that so divide our city. What can the church do? Or perhaps more significantly what will the church do? Will we meekly wait for the city and the world to slowly and grudgingly change (if indeed we can even truly see our city redeemed) or will we act in spite of what we see, will we become a people of hope, willing ourselves to run counter cultural to the well established lines of privilege and prestige in our city. How can the church be a movement of hope in overcoming the geography of power that shapes and moulds our city still today?”

The Silence of Cheap Grace

origin_6801732893

“If we communicate only that part of the gospel which corresponds to people’s “felt needs” and “personal problems” (‘Are you lonely? Do you feel that you have failed? Do you need a friend? Then come to Jesus!’), while remaining silent on their relationship to their fellow men, on racism, exploitation and blatant injustice, we do not proclaim the gospel. This is the quintessence of what Bonhoeffer has called ‘cheap grace’. After all, ‘(God) is especially moved to wrath when his own people engage in such practices. It makes them disgusting in His sight, an offence to His nostrils; and in the face of this evil-doing He cannot stand their religious posturing. He cannot bear to hear their prayers; hates their festivals; is weary of their hypocritical sacrificings; views their faithful attendance at His house with loathing, as nothing more than an uncouth trampling of its precincts: “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly”‘

David Bosch: Witness to the World p206

Photo Credit: joybot via Photopin

Why I once, sort-of, kinda liked Mark Driscoll

origin_5666901492These days finding someone who was a fan of Mark Driscoll can be harder than finding a white person who supported apartheid. So perhaps I should come clean…

I once, sort-of, kinda liked Mark Driscoll.

What was I thinking, you wonder?

But it turns out there was something to love about, in particular, early Driscoll. Something that made me look the other way on a whole bunch of other things that should have mattered a whole lot more to me than they did at the time.

What could I have possibly loved about Mark Driscoll?

In short, here was a guy who was in my broadly speaking theologically conservative camp saying the things that I felt in my gut; and wished I had the moral fibre to say out loud.

Early Driscoll challenged the status quo of a church preoccupied with itself. He told us to get out into your city, listen, learn, serve, get to know people by name. Go onto their turf, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Get out of your Christian culture bubble! Build friendships with those who don’t know Christ… and not just the ones who are like you. Engage the culture of your city. Enjoy your city. Care for the poor. Make good music. Brew good beer. Driscoll called us to structure our lives and our churches around the lost not the found. People matter more than programmes, he said; and your doctrine does not imprison you but rather it sets you free to be good news in the world. And he did all this without chucking in his evangelical theology. He was passionate. He was unashamedly missional. He told us to take risks and to not play it safe. He encouraged us to be both innovative and evangelical.

I never met Driscoll but God used him to breathe life and breath to my soul.  To be ok with risk and innovation and new things. To be ok with being misunderstood or excluded for the sake of mission. I am not sure Driscoll even intended all the consequences of his teaching in my life but God did.

Strangely what Driscoll also taught me is to be ok with my “gut.” When something is “not right” don’t keep quiet. Don’t just be sure you are wrong or have misunderstood. Verbalise it. Be the one in the room asking the uncomfortable question. Say the thing that others are feeling and not saying. That thing that needs to be said. Even if you are not invited to the table of acquiescence again.

A lot has been said about Driscoll’s “demise” and what a good thing that could be for the church. And with most of it I agree.

But the thing that saddens me most about Driscoll’s demise is that the naysayers win the day.  The play-it-safers appear to be proved right. The middle-of-the-roaders and the keep-doing-what-we’ve-always-done-rs are given the high ground. The don’t-rock-the-boaters and the-status-quoers are given more ammunition for their already impotent justifications. The too-scared-to-tryers or the-afraid-to-be-wrongers happily cheer from their isolated corner. The keep-it-respectables and the play-by-the-rulers are further entrenched in their unsullied convictions. Do what we’ve always done they say and you will not go the way of Driscoll. We’ve seen it all before and it never works they say. Do it our way, it’s the way we’ve always done it.

I wish Driscoll was not wrong.

But he is

But still don’t listen to them.

Your life is not your own. You have been blessed in order to be a blessing to the world. Give your life away in service to our Saviour. Dream big Kingdom sized dreams. Risk everything for mission. Share the gospel passionately. Share your bread with the hungry, your home with the hurting, your table with unlovely. Love deeply. Share generously. Embrace innovation for the sake of mission. Get out into your city. Into the dark, lost and forgotten places. Let the light shine in the darkest places of your community. Let your lives be a bold and beautiful declaration in word and deed that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus.

Don’t listen when they rebuke you, when they roll their eyes, when they shake their heads and say one day you’ll see.

Block your ears to the world of good advice and run. Run to embrace God’s bigger, better and altogether more glorious call on your life.

I think Driscoll got lost, I hope he finds his way here again.

Photo Credit:  mhcseattle via Photopin

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

origin_7979114341American soul and jazz poet,  Gil Scott-Heron,  once famously wrote during the black power movement of the 1960’s and 70’s that  “the revolution would not be televised.”

There would be no theme song sung by famous singers. The main parts would not be played by famous and beautiful white actors and actresses. There will be no corporate sponsors , highlights on the eleven o’clock news or commercial breaks. There would be no time to stay home,  get high, get entertained or tune out for a while, because the revolution will not be televised.  The revolution will not be televised because the television is controlled by those in power. The revolution will not be televised because it would interfere with the drugged on comfort entertainment culture more concerned with what will happen in the latest TV show than with fighting the injustices of the day. The happenings of those TV shows will no longer be “so damned relevant” “because black people will be in the streets looking for a brighter day.”

Scott-Heron’s point was that the thing that was going to change people and change communities was not something that would ever be able to be captured on television. If you stay home you will miss the revolution.

And yet I find myself wanted to say something similar to the church of my day.  We are living in a world that is used to everything being “televised.”  But hear me most clearly the revolution will not be tweeted, liked, pinned, blogged, hyperlinked or instagrammed. The revolution will not be found on your church webpage. It will not be forwarded by tweets or likes. It cannot be watched on YouTube or blogged about. You will not be able to get the app or season one off your friend’s hard drive. Please allow me to reiterate, the revolution will not be televised.

Using the word revolution may seem like cheap sensationalism (do you get any other kind?) and I was loath to use it at first. But the more I thought about it, the more apt it seemed. Jesus did come to bring about revolution. He came to overthrow the world order. To wrest back and to invade the kingdom of this world with the Kingdom of God. He came to overthrow the ruler of the air, to tie up the strongman and to win the decisive victory against Satan.

But it would not be the bloody, anti-Roman revolution that his disciples expected. The Jesus revolution would be more far-reaching, insidious and long-lasting than any mere political conquest could be. The Kingdom of Jesus is the Kingdom of the King who lays down his power, gives up his rights, who loves extravagantly and who forgives scandalously. This is not the revolution that is primarily concerned with swapping the features of the powerful at the top of the pile. It is the bottom-up, inside-out, upside-down revolution of the Kingdom of God. It’s greatest weapon is love and it’s greatest warriors are the weak, the forgotten, the broken and the lost. The revolution will not be a battle for power but a fight to serve.

This revolution will not be televised but everywhere it seems the church is fighting for the airwaves. Slicker websites, more likes, tweeting pastors, blogging elders. We are clambering to be heard, to have our brand recognized, to be invited to the table, to have our stories told and our cause legitimized. The revolution cannot be televised. Ideas and concepts about revolution can be branded and downloaded but the revolution can never and will never be televised. You cannot watch the revolution from your seat at the Sunday show.  You cannot subscribe to the podcast of the professional revolutioneers.

The revolution is happening all around you but you have to look in all the wrong places. The revolution came from Nazareth and what good can possibly come from there? The revolution may not be educated, clean or articulate. The revolution is found in every Christian who sticks their flag in the cracked concrete of the inner city or dusty street of the township and says there is a new king who is invading here today. They fight the good fight with shared meals, kind words, laughter, inclusion of the outsider, forgiveness, mercy, grace and justice. They will tell of a different story, a better story, a story of hope and of glory. They will tell this story with words, with hugs, with food and with football in the streets.

As a church we are in danger of being more concerned with the appearance of the Kingdom than with the Kingdom itself. We are fooling ourselves into believing we can watch, download, tweet, blog, pin or like the revolution. We are obsessed with the appearances of revolution and the trappings of appearance. But the revolution will not be televised, it must be lived, experienced, caught up in, participated in, sacrificed for. Anything less is simply the delusion of those who like the idea of changing the world rather than actually changing the world and being changed ourselves in the process.

It is my prayer that finally we will get out the building, shake our neighbours hand, get to know someone who is different to us, play with the kids in the street, buy a homeless guy a cup of coffee and go looking for signs of Christ at work in the unplugged, unphotoshopped, untweeted or liked world of the ordinary. Perhaps then all these other things will no longer be “so damned relevant” because Christian people will be in the streets looking for a brighter day.

Photo credit: Yvonsita via  Photopin CC

Corner Shop Christianity

In my community there is a corner shop on… well every corner.  If not quite every corner at least at the top or bottom of most streets there is a corner shop.  They stay open late.  They know your name.  You know where to get your bread, milk, cigarettes or 2 litre coke.  For some of them they have been in the area for generations, like the famous Mr Parkers on Roodebloem Road.  For us, though, Mrs Cassiem’s house shop is our local.  She knows my boys and they will run from our door all the way to her house before I have even gotten half way there.  We normally chat about the weather, her plans to extend her shop, how big the boys are getting and lately she has even given us some good health care advice.

20140509_122117

I cannot help but wonder if the church was more like a corner shop than the large franchise store in the main street.  What if on every street there was a place where people knew Jesus followers lived?  A place where they could find rest, help or prayer.  A place where people laughed, cried, ate together and shared life.  A place where kids were welcome.  A place where people knew they were loved.  A place where people knew they could go when they were desperate, when they had blown it or when they needed help.  What if throughout the east city area there existed scattered communities of light and of life and of hope?  What if on every street a home like this existed?  What if more of us intentionally chose to be move in and to share our lives in order to be these kind of people?

Light in the Asphalt Jungle

I
I had a dream.
And I saw a city,
A city that rose up out of the crust of the earth.
And it’s streets were paved with asphalt,
And a river of dirty water ran down along it’s curbs.
It was a city
And its people knew no hope.
They were chased and herded from place to place by the churning jaws of bulldozers.
They were closed up in the anonymous cubicles of great brick prisons called housing projects.
They were forced out of work by the fearsome machines and computers,
And by the sparseness of their learning.
They were torn into many pieces by the hostile angers of racial fears and guilt and prejudice.
Their workers were exploited.
Their children and teenagers had no parks to play in.
No pools to swim in,
No space in crowded rooms to learn in,
No hopes to dream in,
And the people knew no hope.
Their bosses underpaid them.
Their landlords overcharged them.
Their churches deserted them.
And all of life in the city seemed dark and wild, like a jungle,
A jungle lined with asphalt.
And the people sat in darkness

II
I had a dream,
And I saw a city,
A city clothed in neon-lighted darkness.
And I heard people talking.
And I looked at them.
Across their chests in large, golden letters-written by their own hands
Across their chests were written the words:
“I am a Christian.”
And the Christians looked at the city and said;
“How terrible…How terrible…How terrible.”
And the Christians looked at the city and said:
“That is no place to live,
But some of our people have wandered there,
And we must go and rescue them.
And we must go and gather them, like huddled sheep into a fold;
And we will call it a City Church.”
So they built their church.
And the people came,
And they walked past all the weary, broken, exploited, dying men who lined the city’s streets.
Year after year they walked past,
Wearing their signs: “I am a Christian.”
Then one day the people in the church said:
“This neighborhood is too bad for good Christians.
Let us go to the suburbs where God dwells, and build a church there.
And one by one they walked away, past all the weary, broken, exploited, dying people.
They walked fast.
And did not hear a voice that said:
“…the least of these…the least of these…”
And they walked by, and they went out, and they built a church.
The church was high and lifted up, and it even had a cross.
But the church was hollow,
And the people were hollow,
And their hearts were hard as the asphalt streets of the jungle.

III
I had a dream.
And I saw a city,
A city clothed in bright and gaudy darkness.
And I saw more people with signs across their chest.
And they were Christians too.
And I heard them say:
“How terrible…how terrible…how terrible.
The city is filled with sinners:
To save sinners,
To save sinners.
But they are so unlike us,
So bad,
So dark,
So poor,
So strange,
But we are supposed to save them…
To save them,
To save them.”
And one person said:
“Can’t we save them without going where they are?”
And they worked to find a way to save and be safe at the same time.
Meanwhile, I saw them build a church,
And they called it a Mission,
A City Mission:
And all the children came by to see what this was.
And the city missionaries who had been sent to save them gathered them in.
So easy to work with children, they said,
And they are so safe, so safe.
And week after week they saved the children
(Saved them from getting in their parent’s way on Sunday morning).
And in the dream the City Missionaries looked like Pied Pipers, with their long row of children stretched out behind them,
And the parents wondered in Christianity was only for children.
And when the missionaries finally came to see them, and refused to sit in their broken chair, and kept looking at the plaster falling, and used a thousand words that had no meaning, and talked about rescuing them from hell while they were freezing in the apartment, and asked them if they were saved, and walked out into their shiny care, and drove off to their nice, safe neighborhood-
When that happened, the parents knew;
This version of Christianity had no light for their jungle.
Then, soon, the children saw too; it was all a children’s game;
And when they became old enough they got horns of their own,
And blew them high and loud,
And marched off sneering, swearing, into the darkness.

IV
I had a dream,
And I saw the Christians in the dark city,
And I heard them say:
“We need a revival to save these kinds of people.”
And they rented the auditorium,
And they called in the expert revivalist,
And every night all the Christians came, and heard all the old, unintelligible, comfortable words, and sang all the old assuring songs, and went through all the old motions when the call was made.
Meanwhile, on the outside,
All the other people waited impatiently in the darkness for the Christians to come out, and let the basketball game begin.

V
I had a dream.
And I saw Christians with guilty consciences,
And I heard them say:
“What shall we do?
What shall we do?
What shall we do?
These people want to come to OUR church,
To OUR church.”
And someone said:
“Let’s build a church for THEM,
For THEM,
They like to be with each other anyway.”
And they started the church,
And the people walked in.
And for a while, as heads were bowed in prayer, they did not know.
But then, the prayers ended,
And they people looked up, and looked around,
And saw that every face was THEIR face,
THEIR face,
And every color was THEIR color,
THEIR color.
And they stood up, and shouted loudly within themselves:
“Let me out of this ghetto, this pious, guilt-built ghetto.”
And they walked out into the darkness,
And the darkness seemed darker than ever before,
And the good Christians looked, and said,
“These people just don’t appreciate what WE do for THEM.”

VI
And just as the night seemed darkest, I had another dream.
I dreamed that I saw young people walking,
Walking into the heart of the city, into the depths of the darkness.
They had no signs, except their lives.
And they walked into the heart of the darkness and said:
“Let us live here, and work for light.”
They said, “Let us live here and help the rootless find a root for their lives.
Let us live here, and help the nameless find their names.”
They said, “Let us live here and walk with the jobless until they find work.
Let us live here, and sit in the landlord’s office until he gives more heat and charges less rent.”
They said, “Let us live here, and throw open the doors of this deserted church to all the people of every race and class;
Let us work with them to find the reconciliation God has brought.”
And they said, “Let us walk the asphalt streets with the young people, sharing their lives, learning their language, playing their sidewalk, backyard games, knowing the agonies of their isolation.”
And they said, “Let us live here, and minister to as many men as God gives us grace,
Let us live here,
And die here, with out brothers of the jungle,
Sharing their apartments and their plans.”
And the people saw them,
And someone asked who they were,
A few really knew
They had no signs
But someone said he thought they might be Christians,
And this was hard to believe, but the people smiled;
And a little light began to shine in the heart of the asphalt jungle.

VII
Then in my dream I saw young people,
And I saw the young men and women
Those who worked in the city called Chicago,
Cleveland [Johannesburg],
Washington [Bangkok],
Atlanta [Nairobi],
And they were weary,
And the job was more than they could bear alone,
And I saw them turn, turn and look for help,
And I heard them call:
“Come and help us,
Come and share this joyful agony, joyful agony,
Come as brothers in the task,
Come and live and work with us,
Teachers for the crowded schools,
Doctors for the overflowing clinics,
Social workers for the fragmented families,
Nurses for the bulging wards,
Pastors for the yearning flocks,
Workers for the fighting gangs,
Christians.
Christians who will come and live here,
Here in the heart of the darkness,
Who will live here and love here that a light might shine for all.
Come.”
I heard them call,
And I saw the good Christians across the country,
And their answers tore out my heart.
Some said, “There isn’t enough money there.”
Some said, “It’s too bad there. I couldn’t raise children.”
Some said, “I’m going into foreign missions, where things don’t seem so dark.”
Some said, “The suburbs are so nice.”
Some said, “But I like it here on the farm.”
Some said,
Some said…
And one by one they turned their backs and began to walk away.
At this moment my dream was shattered by the sound of a great and mighty whisper, almost a pleading sound;
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am hungry in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am thirsty in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am a stranger in this asphalt jungle.”
And a voice said, “Come, help me, for I have been stripped naked, naked of all legal rights and protection of the law, simply because I am black in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for my heart is sick with hopelessness and fear in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, live with me in the prison of my segregated community, and we will break down the walls together.”
And the voices were many,
And the voice was one,
And the Christians knew whose Voice it was.
And they turned,
And their faces were etched with the agonies of decisions.
And the dream ended.
But the voice remains,
And the choice remain,
And the city still yearns for light.
And the King who lives with the least of his brothers and sisters in the asphalt jungle…
Yearns for us

Vincent Harding

 HT to Nigel for posting this first.

When our heroes have become too small

Every culture, organisation and church has a prevailing myth that tells the story of who we are and what we value.  And every myth is held up and carried along by its heroes.  These are the human vessels that carry our ideals, our dreams, our aspirations.  These are the men and women who put flesh onto our values.  They are the ones who have succeeded in living the ideals and the dreams we hold to in some significant way.

What is the prevailing myth in your church?  Who are the prevailing heroes in your church? Meditate on this for a while.  The question is not what should be the prevailing myth in your church or who should be the heroes in your church.  The question is; what IS the myth and who ARE the heroes?

We say mission drives our church but yet we spend most of our energy and time on maintaining our existing structures and programmes.  We say we want to see our community reached for Christ but yet we employ numerous staff members whose primary responsibility is to care for us and our needs through teaching, youth work or kids programmes.  We say we serve Jesus and not money and yet we create an elaborate system of church which requires a large amount of money to keep it going.  We create a system that actually hinders us from mission rather than propels us forward into mission.  We speak about what we think ought to be the prevailing myth but yet so often our lives are driven by a darker, less obvious shadow myth.

Who are the heroes in our church communities?  The dashing youth leader?  The talented musician?  The eloquent preacher?  The brilliant exegete? The successful business man? Any defining myth we create is carried forward by its heroes.  If you truly want to know what the defining myth of your community is then ask yourself who are your heroes?

The bible teacher as hero betrays the myth that knowledge about God is our functional salvation story.  Bible college is seen as the ultimate experience for young Christians.   The worship leader as hero betrays the myth that the high that shared experiences bring is our functional Saviour.  The successful business man as hero betrays the myth that we will find happiness or significance through money and success.  The family man or stay at home mom or home-school parent as hero betrays the myth that family is the most important thing in the world.  All these heroes and myths contains some truth but as is the case with all great lies, the object of truth has been stretched to breaking point, beyond it’s ability to hold the disproportionate value we have placed upon it.

What if the myth that defined our church really was the gospel.  The gospel of Him who left all the security, the pleasure and the comfort of heaven to lay down His rights, his preferences, His desires in order to serve us.  To become one of us.  To die for us.  What if the myth that defined our values, dreams and aspirations was this gospel story?  What if our goal was sacrifice and not comfort?  Risk and not security? Service and not pleasure?

What if our lives were defined not by our rights or our pleasures but instead were marked as those who joined their story with the great Story, who laid down their lives for the True Myth, who become heroes in the Ultimate Adventure and who risked it all for a share in the Kingdom of our Great King.  What if we really were known as the friend of sinners, the defender of the vulnerable, the light in the darkness, the peacemakers, the kind and the just?

What if we really did believe that a man’s life did not consist in the abundance of his possessions?  What if we really did believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive?  What if we really did believe that our Father in heaven will clothe and feed us as he does the flowers of the field and the birds of the air?  What if we really did believe that our God is a good God and that his Kingdom is better than all the pleasures and joys the kingdom of this world has to offer? What if we really did believe that the gospel is true?

I am not reaching for some utopian ideal of church.  I know that anything we touch this side of Jesus’ return will be marked by our brokenness and sin.  What we need though is honesty, an honesty robust enough to admit that our defining myths are too small.  We have shrunk the kingdom vision into easily containable chunks that we can use to control our lives.  Our heroes have become too small and our dreams are too reasonable.

We have shrunk the Kingdom to a coke lite, kid friendly version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.  We need an honesty that leads us not to self-inflicted lynchings of guilt but an honesty that admits that we have been living for the wrong myth and inspired by the wrong heroes.  Our myth is sadly most often the coke-lite version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.

We need an honesty that inspires us to join our story with the Great Story, to give up our small ambitions and our small dreams.  We need heroes that inspire us not to greater church attendance but who lead us to far wilder, less safe and more beautiful places where only our faith and our hope in the Great King can ever hope to sustain us.  For it there that we will win glory for His Name and find the life we so desperately crave.  “ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

Why your Bible teaching is not enough

This past weekend I went to a conference that in all honesty I would never have gone to a few years back.  And if by some miracle of teleportation I had found myself there, I am sure I would have been incapable of learning from those whose stories are so different to my own.  At times I suspect radically different.  (I say suspect because that really was not the point of the conference and neither I nor they presumably felt the need to get into our differences)  Perhaps even different to the extent of the basic tenets of the gospel different.  But yet I must confess there was something vibrant, something alive about their faith and their spirituality, something deeply attractive.  Something I wanted…

For all my good Bible teaching and wrestling with exegesis I suspect my life, my spirituality, my faith is often as dull, as rational, as safe and as attractive as a three-day old sandwich. You could eat it but given the choice you would probably choose not to. How can it be that having given years of my life to studying the biblical text, fine tuning my doctrine and training other to go and do likewise I can now find myself deeply attracted to the spirituality of those who I have regarded as having a “lesser theology”?

The obvious first point of examination must be the possibility that my theological convictions are wrong? I have tossed that idea around a bit lately and while I can conclude that I have moved on a few issues, it is more the moving of nuance than of relocating to a different theological neighbourhood altogether.  Perhaps, I am being naive but I am not sure it is my theological convictions that need moving.  It is my heart!

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Doctrine matters!  Right doctrine leads to right living – breaking down the walls of exclusion, eating together, loving one another, joy, hope, freedom and life.  Bad doctrine leads to division, strife, confusion, bitterness and hatred, just read Galatians if you are not convinced.

If this is true, and I would stake my life on it being true, then how can it be that those whose of us who have spent most of our lives studying, teaching and contending for what I would regard as good doctrine have lives that are so profoundly mundane and unattractive?

I suspect that what we need is not more information but rather some deep contemplation, sustained meditation and some profound experiences of the Spirit as we seek to live the information that we already know.  We have become drunk with our quest for more knowledge.  Like giddy schoolgirls we flock to hear, download and read yet more and more information on our latest theological crush.  And somehow as we “just teach the Bible” we expect that transformation will just magically happen.

What makes these “lesser theological lights” (by my tribe’s standards anyway) so effective and vibrant and attractive?  Faith.  They actually believe in a God who wants to redeem and restore all of creation.  So much so that they actually act on it.  They base their lives around it. Make intentional choices to be downwardly mobile, committed to prayer, reaching the lost in the toughest neighbourhoods, speaking out against injustice, racism and exploitation. When God says that money enslaves and that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, they listen, they obey and they build lives on the words of Jesus.  Faith.

It is after all not Bible teaching that matters but Bible living.  It matters not how well you exegete the text but how deeply the text exegetes you!  Will you follow where the text leads you? Will you meditate deeply on the implications of the text for your life, your aspirations, your lifestyle, the lost and the broken or will it merely become another interesting sermon to be tucked away until next we meet?  Will you follow the text to where it leads to the end of you and your resources?  Will you follow the text where it leads to a deep dependence upon the Spirit to lead you, guide you and sustain you for mission and in fact for life?

Strangely, I remain committed to my tribe theologically. Some days I wish I was not so convinced. But yet I long for my tribe to do so much more than contend for, teach, exegete and understand the truth.  I long for the days when evangelicals will be known for their spiritual vitality, their love for the poor, their stand for justice, their care for the planet, their love for homosexuals, their lives of simplicity and sustainability, their radical generosity, their fight against consumerism and wastefulness.

Not at the expense of the gospel proclaimed. But precisely because we have believed the gospel proclaimed we are no longer conformed to the standards (comforts, securities, importances) of this world but rather our minds are being renewed by that gospel.  Precisely because we have believed the gospel we will give our lives away in service of the last, the least and the lost just as Jesus gave his life away for us.  We intentionally join our small story with God’s Great Big Beautiful story of redemption, resurrection, restoration, hope and beauty.

Telling the story of the King with the local voices of the street

I am increasingly aware that many people in our area are non-literate people.  Not illiterate, but non-literate.  They can read, but they do not read.  They primarily get their information and ideas from non-literate sources.  Music is one of these key non-literate sources.  Music and literature are two totally different types of source materials.  As a result the way they are taken up and inform the cultural stories told in our neighbourhoods are vastly different.

While never replacing the Bible as a source document I think we need to recover some of these other forms of communication so that people might hear the gospel in their own language and cultural form.  Just as Bible translation (hearing the Bible in their own language) is a key component of mission work everywhere, so perhaps we need to reconsider supplementary modes of communicating that truth.   Hearing the gospel in their own cultural forms of communication.  Cultures throughout history have shaped their culture and understanding of the world through story-telling, music, artwork and drama.  As evangelicals we have often been too shy to seriously and robustly engage in other, non-literate, modes of communication lest we downplay the centrality and significance of the Scriptures. We must resist the temptation to reduce this to an either-or shoot out between faithfulness to Scripture and appropriating new cultural forms.  The reality I suspect is a far more dynamic and integrated process.

One surprising mode of alternative communication that is gaining ground in reformed circles is hip-hop and spoken word.  As a young man this was (and I still is in many ways) my meat and drink.  I resonated deeply with the rhythms, the lyrics, the substance and the edginess of hip-hop and more particularly of late spoken word.

“In the early 1970s a musical genre was born in the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of the South Bronx. Gifted teenagers with plenty of imagination but little cash began to forge a new style from spare parts. Hip-hop, as it was then known, was a product of pure streetwise ingenuity; extracting rhythms and melodies from existing records and mixing them up with searing poetry chronicling life in the ‘hood.” (Kurtis Blow: The History of Rap)

Hip-hop became the  voice of a generation that refused to be silenced by urban poverty, injustice or lack of access to the resources of the music industry.  Instead it became the voice of the streets.  Young black men and women who had no voice for their social and political concerns in a society still ravaged by racism and injustice, created their own voice.

Hip-hop became the voice of the disenfranchised streets.  Using complex wordplay and socio-political commentary it spoke to the fears, the anger and the world of the marginalised youth.  It gave young people a voice, a sound that belonged to them and began a movement that spoke to their harsh, edgy and yet hopeful, world.  While most of the history of rap and hip-hop will reference the DJ’s, the clubs and the records produced, perhaps the true impact was in the thousands of crews that grew up all over neighbourhoods of New York (and then spreading to other cities and countries), finding their voice and forging local communities gathered to celebrate the sharing of their stories through their unique mode of communication.  A mode of communication that  embodied their language, their joy, their pain… their story.

While the world has moved on… dramatically so.  The internet for one has dramatically changed how we receive, tell and hear the stories of our world.  But for all the good of globalisation I wonder if we have lost something significant when we lose our local stories and our local story-tellers.  Hip-hop as a vehicle for our stories and our hopes and our frustrations has not died in my neighbourhood, despite what the superstars have done to it. But too often we no longer tell our local stories, we no longer have our local MC’s, our local crews or B-boys that tell our stories.  Its far too easy to plug in your iPod and download other stories, slick, well-produced and mostly insipid stories.  But what if we dreamed of our local stories again?  What if we dreamed of finding ways to tell our local stories  again?  What if we rediscovered these modes of telling our stories and infused them not only with our small stories but the greater bigger and altogether more glorious gospel story?

What if among other cultural forms hip-hop and spoken word could become a powerful tool to reclaim place as a powerful component of our stories?  And what if we recovered place as a powerful component of telling the gospel story?  Not merely the gospel as some esoteric disembodied set of principles but as the true gospel, the good news for these people in this place.  The God of all the earth wishes to bring good news to this people in this place through his “new-life people” as they tell his story through all available means, making sense of the one true and great story, by translating it into the language and communication modes of this people in this place.

I know it is not local but I love the work these guys are doing in using appropriate cultural modes in order to retell God’s story.  Perhaps this can inspire some of us to dream about what it could look like to tell our story of His Story here in the East City…