Friends 2007: QRoH Notes [33]

The emergent Malaysia site has new articles up in our Articles Section. What we hope to put up is not just specifically emerging church & emergent conversation related material. But the broader concerns which has got us talking and thinking in the first place.

Here’s some appetizers:

Hooked On The Numbers
“… A long time ago, in another life, I worked as a pastor. The highlight of my week then was finding out the worship attendance of the most recent worship service. If the numbers were up, I felt a certain joy, a hidden gladness, a secret pride of my church and my ministry.

If the numbers were down, I would think up all sorts of reasons to explain why the numbers had dropped, for example, “it’s the holiday season, and many of our folks are away.” I felt apologetic when friends visited on Sunday and the numbers were down. I was hooked on the numbers.”

A Spirituality For Activists
“… I am excited by this development. This is no manifestation of the old “social gospel.” Many of the new generation of Christian activists were not yet born when the term was coined. Many of them come from churches committed to evangelism.
But there is a new generation emerging that intuitively recognizes that you can’t separate evangelism from social concern. They realize that you can’t just preach the truth. You must live it out as well, and live it out in every sphere of life.”

Understanding Spiritual Formation
“… There is often confusion when the terms spiritual formation and discipleship are used. Many people regard both terms as similar. On the superficial level, they are similar. Both are aspects of sanctification. Discipleship is the process of making disciples. Unfortunately, in the last two decades, discipleship has become a program. In some churches, if one has completed a certain number of courses, he or she is a disciple. Discipleship has a strong emphasis on head knowledge and behaviour modification. Spiritual formation is more holistic in that it aims at both head and heart knowledge with character formation by the Holy Spirit. It can be regarded as ‘discipleship plus’”

and of course a couple more related to Brian McLaren since he’s the guest speaker.

A Generous Orthodoxy
“… I must say that Brian is very generous in his assessment of the state of the church and other Christians. I wish other and other were as generous towards him. Fortunately there are other.However, in terms of orthodoxy, I saw how he cleverly tred his way between theological landmines without setting them off. He also skirted the edges of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy without being pulled in. Though I do not agree with everything he wrote, I have enjoyed his explanations and tried to see things from his point of view.”

The Secret Message of Jesus
“…My understanding of the Kingdom of God is that it is the rule of God in our lives, starting now and extending into eternity, involving all spheres and dimensions of our lives as we follow our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Basically, McLaren said the same thing. What surprised me is that from the way the book was written, it was assumed that other Christians who will be reading his book do not share the same understanding of the kingdom of God as I do. How do these other Christians understand the term, kingdom of God, I wonder? Would I have understood the kingdom of God differently if I am not who I described above. Would it be a secret message then?”

The Church on the Other Side
“…As a young pastor turned church planter ministering in these times of fast changing realities (whether we call it post modern transition or not), I am challenged by McLaren’s book to reconsider many ‘sacred cows’ I’ve inherited in the course of my church life, seminary education, and interaction within the Malaysian Christian community in general. These ‘sacred cows’ include the search for the perfect church model/structure (usually with a “Big is better” mentality), or the particular evangelistic programme that will solve all our problems (usually copied wholesale), or some revival experience that will rev up the whole nation at one go (usually one mass event), or clinging on to a particular theology or tradition that is considered most faithful to God (most of the time without considering the differences in historical and cultural contexts).The list goes on! Certainly, there is much value in these things, and through them I have discovered helpful tools for ministry. My philosophy of ministry has also been expanded and my heart has been warmed by the passion behind these efforts.

And yet I am concerned that in our desperation to make things happen in our churches, we are tempted to grasp at any available answer or to resort to ‘fix it all’ solutions. However, the real answer lies in having a proper understanding of the momentous changes that are happening in the world today. Only then will we be able to develop an effective response that integrates theology, mission and church ministry. In this regard, McLaren’s book serves as an excellent resource for struggling pastors.”

I got an email today which made me think again about the terms “emerging” and “emergent” … for me I found it helpful to keep my usage of the language to “emerging churches” and “emergent conversation”. It just makes it easier for me to navigate in my own mind how to work through the issues raised thus far.

I’m not sure how Ray Anderson’s book An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches is being received in USA or other countries. But his approach is to me useful to deepen how we do theology and ministry here in Malaysia. The main value is to keep theological reflection close to everyday church & ministry praxis. This is crucial in at least our discussion here in Malaysia where we get the debris of whatever is going on in the English speaking world. Some see “emerging churches” as some kind of anti-institutional and trendy kind of movement, others might hear the word “emergent” and have their heresy hairs standing up, often we are tempted to see this all things revolving around these two words “emerging” or “emergent” in “either/or”, black and white, or “dangers to avoid”/”solutions to our problems” categories which to me misses the whole point of the conversations and innovations thus far.

Therefore, based on my consistent use of the term “emergent conversation” to connect my thinking more in terms of the theological (even philosophical) aspects of the way we work out what it means to be a Christian and Church today, while the term “emerging churches” is what all this looks like in concrete and communal form … this distinction (not division) I think resonates with what Ray Anderson says in the following :

“This is why I argue that we must recover an emergent theology, not merely explore the edges of an emerging church in its attempt to make the message culturally relevant.

Here is my case: An emergent theology is messianic. That is, it is a theology that is anointed and Spirit-led to point the way forward. An emergent theology is like the finger of John the Baptist, pointing into the world and saying, “Here is the lamb of God” (John 1:29). Emerging churches are missional. That is, these are churches that only exist as the continuing mission of Christ (the Messiah) in the world. Emerging churches are like Jesus arising out of the water of baptism, anointed by the Spirit, and moving into the streets and market place to heal, promote justice and seek peace.

An emergent theology is revelational. It is a theology of the Word; it is the bread come down from heaven; it speaks truth and opens minds and hearts. Emerging churches are reformational. They seek to put new wine into new wineskins; they want to renew the church that already exists and translate the older formulas of the faith into new paradigms of contemporary communication.

An emergent theology is Kingdom coming. It is a theology that proclaims a new order of God’s reign already present as a transforming spiritual, social and economic power of liberation and rehabilitation of humankind. Emerging churches stress Kingdom living. They seek to be the gathering of all who seek the blessing of being ‘grace-filled’ believers and the empowering community that sends them forth as Spirit-filled disciples.

An emergent theology is eschatological. It has the mind of the risen and coming Christ as well as the heart and soul of the historical Jesus. It is a theology that keeps hope alive by preparing the way of the future into the present while, at the same time, keeping faith alive by “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Emerging churches are incarnational. Their language is that of the people; their message is communicated through culture; their presence in the world is ordinary so as to get within arms length to embrace others with extraordinary love.”

If that is what the “emergent conversation” and “emerging churches” is all about which I think it should be then — three cheers and let’s move on. if it’s just about spinning in circles whether it’s theological and philosophical arguments and dabbling in ministry innovations devoid of depth then I sure didn’t sign up for that. So far, my limited experience as a quiet outsider has been more positive than negative while not blindly following whatever I see is blowing in the air (honestly I’ve been there and done that in a different “life” which is another story)

In the light of the above, then this Friends in Conversation 2007 event we are organizing is not so much of promoting a specific church model or branding … the goal is to create space where we can collectively engage in a listening and learning process to see where we can go from where ever we are as Christians and as Church with a “proper confidence” in Christ towards the future. This is what I’ve signed myself up for.

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