Last night I watched, via livestreaming video over the web, a debate hosted by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity International University between Jim Wallis and Al Mohler on the topic of whether "social justice" is "integral" to the "mission of the church." If you are at all familiar with these two personas, you will immediately recognized which one represented the affirmative and which one advocated the negative. Jim Wallis is the best-selling author of God's Politics and President/CEO of Sojourners, which this year celebrates 40 years of "articulat[ing] the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world." Al Mohler is the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—the "flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention"—and one of the largest seminaries in the world. Mohler is also an author of several books.
James Cone is a prophetic voice to US American Christians, and particularly to black and white church communities. Cone understands his social location as both a constraint on his viewpoint, and as an invaluable opportunity for unique insight. His insight draws upon his identity as both a Christian theologian and a black US American man.
In his lecture: "Strange Fruit: The Cross and the Lynching Tree", Cone utilizes the terrifying and soul-scaring reality of lynching in the US as a powerful symbol of the extreme, unjust victimization that characterized the cross—as well as a powerful symbol of the limitless hope and liberation that the cross provides for those who see God's suffering solidarity with humanity in it. Cone reminds us that we cannot ignore the reality of lynching and yet glamorize the cross; they are both symbols of gruesome violence wrought at the hands of evil empires. He also reminds us through both these symbols, millions of people around the globe have glimpsed the eschatological hope that characterizes the Christian faith, and have been compelled to seek justice in this world for the marginalized, the oppressed, and the stigmatized.
This evening I listened to two brief teachings by Shane Hipps that ushered in the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I immediately sensed the Spirit chastening me and leading me into a new way of engaging in online discussion. Here are some random thoughts I quickly typed up to share for public accountability.
1) The Medium of the Internet
I was reminded tonight why I no longer read the comments posted on YouTube beneath videos of controversial personalities. The level of vitriol condensed and delivered in short 200 character bursts is shockingly grotesque—to say nothing of the language.
This medium of the internet emboldens us with relative anonymity to say things most of us wouldn't dream of saying in a face-to-face conversation. And I think I have at times fallen prey to this temptation.
Open Theism has a serious PR problem. In fact, it has several. For starters, the name is terrible. It simply doesn't clearly communicate the view's central tenet: the partially indeterminate nature of the future. Which is understandable, since the central tenet is obscure and unsexy. However, good PR is designed to fix that. Instead the name "Open theism" invokes the idea that it is a type of theism (which already sounds way too general) that is "open" to other theisms. "Open theism" sounds like the perfect name for a type of religious pluralism that considers every possible theism valid—making it very "open." Secondly, with the exception of Greg Boyd and perhaps a few others, the theology scholars who have written in favor of Open theism are not charismatic personalities. Most are pure academics. Already this creates a disconnect between the intended audience—Christian laypersons—and the author. This is only exacerbated when the academic author communicates as if he (and they are almost entirely men too) is writing to his academic colleagues. Finally, the most prominent Open theist authors are by and large not very culturally or technologically savvy. Therefore, you don't see the proliferation of well-designed, strategically-marketed materials promoting their view. By contrast, Neo-Calvinism resources are extremely well-designed and strategically-marketed. Therefore, it isn't very difficult to understand why that view is gaining more and more ground in the US each day.
Church planters from the 'Bible Belt' and denominations that lean toward Fundamentalism are often moved bombastically to proclaim their mission to Boston in the starkest of terms. They view themselves as soldiers called to fight in a war against the forces of atheistic darkness or secular humanism [dun dun DUUUN]. Take this excerpt from a promotional video for church planting made by the Southern Baptists:
"The patriots' [who fought in the battle of Bunker Hill] Commander-in-Chief said, 'Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes'. They made a commitment to engage the enemy up close and personally. This epitomizes the church planting scene here in Boston, Massachusetts. We have been losing some battles, but we have decided we can win the war. Our supreme commander Jesus Christ is leading the charge in this spiritual battleground."
They sometimes describe themselves as pioneers braving the cruel frontier of a spiritual wasteland. They will cite skewed statistics that point to a bleak Christian presence and a defunct church. Now, I'm confident this sort of portrayal of Boston is highly effective at raising money from worrisome conservatives in Alabama and Mississippi, but I'd just like to publicly proclaim that IT ISN'T TRUE.
Osheta and I just returned from Minneapolis, MN where we attended the Evangelical Covenant Church's Assessment Center for prospective church planters. We were so blessed by the experience and we are humbled and excited to join the East Coast Conference as church planters.
During the assessment, each candidate was asked to deliver a 10-minute sermon. The sermon I wrote and shared is on a subject so close to my heart, I wanted to also share it here on this blog. It is entitled: The Father Heart of God: Setting the Lonely in Families
There was a time in my Christian life when I lost faith in the church as a vehicle of social and personal transformation. Instead I planned to express my ministry gifts and calling in a parachurch context. I dreamed of serving as a director of a faith-based nonprofit. Certainly they are much better at transforming the world, I thought. In the last five to six years, however, my faith in the church has been restored. Not primarily because I have had the privilege of serving and belonging to better churches, although that is true too. My faith in the church as God's instrument of transformation has been renewed primarily because of a renewed conviction that what the world needs most is not a social service agency, but a worshiping community to which to belong that incarnates the love and justice of God. I have come to believe that the church is much more than merely a collection of people who think similarly and occasionally give to charity. Instead, I have found that the church of Jesus Christ is the mystical family of God that continues to incarnate God's love and justice in the world as Jesus her bridegroom shows her and commands her to.
At the same time, I have also discovered that my personality is much more conducive to a creative environment where I have freedom to exercise my gifts, dreams, and create new things—something established churches unfortunately tend not to be. So where can a called and creative minister thrive in God's chosen vehicle of social and personal transformation: the church? The answer Osheta and I have sensed God providing is church-planting. Church-planting is not only conducive to creative personalities, it requires them. Only creatives have the type of improvising skills to roll with all the various punches that accompany church-planting. So, for the last year or so Osheta and I have been pursuing this area of ministry and just this last week have crossed a very important threshold.
The evangelical church in the US needs to do a better job reaching men. And just as we are willing to play loud rock music to attract a younger crowd, or pretend we like hip hop like John Piper (as long as it's drowned in Reformed theological references), we also need to be able to meet men where they are. Many US American men are going to be stereo-typical. That's the truth—like it or not. They're going to be beer-drinking, sports-loving, less-in-touch-with-their-feelings. Let's not bury our heads in the sand and pretend this isn't generally true.
It is also a fact that Mark Driscoll, like him or not, has massive appeal with a large and growing number of young, evangelical men in the US. He may be brash, he may even be vulgar at times, but he has met these men where they are and delivered faith in Christ to them.
I certainly do not agree with Driscoll on much. In fact, I get the feeling he's a little too threatened by these "effeminate" worship leaders. (Methinks he might protest a bit too much.) Nevertheless, I want to address the backlash against his tweet, as well as the backlash against the backlash.
This past weekend, the Moore family got away from it all at Crawford Notch Campground in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We spent 3 nights in our spacious tent and grilled amazing-tasting food. We went hiking along the Saco river, Tyson and Trinity went tubing down it, and we saw a snake at one point. Then later, on our last night camping, the site adjacent to ours had a visit from a baby Black Bear that we all witnessed. Everyone had a great time, and no one got poison ivy (thank God!)
I have to say that one of the most enjoyable aspects of the time we spent in the woods was the complete disconnection from my 360° digital life. Out there in those woods, there was no wifi, no email—not even wireless mobile signal. It felt like a cleansing. For someone like me, who maintains near endless connection to the internet, it is vital that I unplug from time to time.
Theological Graffiti is a blog written by T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, urban minister, sometimes designer, writer, preacher, and theology geek. For more about me, visit my Personal Website or my Online Profile. Otherwise, enjoy the graffiti.