I almost ended my series of reposting other people's posts :-) but then I couldn't resist this excellent piece Friends in Conversation - A Quiet Revolution of Hope from Kevin (who's progressing to a Brian McLaren hairstyle *smile*). I added some flavour by throwing in some pictures of a segment he alluded to.
"Brian McLaren in Malaysia! That must have been the main draw for me. But I was looking forward to listening to what the conversation partners, comprising of some of the top Christian minds in Malaysia, had to say too. It’s exciting to think about what such a conversation can lead to, and I hope that this event will launch the Malaysian church into new adventures with God in the years to come!
I need to get the DVD to listen to the session recordings again though. There were just too many thoughts and words flying all around the sanctuary in CLGC. Some of them really got me thinking hard. But I’ll need to listen carefully and prayerfully at least one more time to be able to digest them. I have to acknowledge that I learned more from the local partners in conversation, with the likes of Sherman Kuek, Dr. Ng Kam Weng, Tan Soo In, Dr. Voon, Rev. Fr. Dr. Jojo Fung, Dr. Herman Shastri, and Elder Tan Kong Beng among them, more than Brian McLaren himself. I guess it’s all down to the fact that I’ve already read quite a number of his books, and most of what he said was already quite familiar to me. Maybe I’ll write more about the contents of the conversation another time, at least after a second listening when I get the DVD.
I believe that this conversation has impacted me in many ways. And it’s not just about the things that were said during the event. Firstly, I have to admit that in listening to Brian and the conversation partners, as well as in mixing with many of the other participants in the conversation, I have been taught a great deal of humility. There is just so much more that I do not know; so much more that I have not experienced or even begun to put into practice in my own life. And there are so many people from whom I need to learn and follow even as they follow Christ.
It was through this conversation also, that my own faith was affirmed. After struggling with it for quite awhile, listening and engaging with people who think mostly (not entirely!) alike in terms of how we understand the gospel and what it means to follow Christ has given me the encouragement that I need to carry on. Maybe I’m not going down the wrong road after all. Maybe I’m not that heretical! Yes, I realize how much I need a community that can affirm my faith in this particular way. Maybe I should participate in more of these conversations with brothers and sisters from Emergent Malaysia. It will also help me to sharpen my own understanding and correct any maverick ideas that I may have!
Through the worship sessions, the songs that we sang inspired me to continue my own journey in carrying the cross daily and following Christ wherever He may lead me. It is time to live out the gospel of love, redemption, reconciliation and justice -- the kingdom of God -- in the context of my workplace in MMU. Praxis calls…
Of all the experiences during the conversation, the one that has left the deepest mark on me came at the closing of the event. All the participants stood in a large circle in the sanctuary.
A huge candle was lit and passed around. And we shared a meal of bread together, just as how Jesus shared a special meal with His disciples on that fateful night before He was arrested.
What made the experience so unforgettable? Why did it leave such an indelible mark on me? The session was led by Rev. Father Jojo Fung, a Roman Catholic priest. Every time I think about it, that same sense of awe that I had then returns to amaze me. In that short moment, it felt as if the body of Christ was one and undivided. It gave me hope for the Church in Malaysia and in the world.
posted by sojourner @ Monday, March 19, 2007"
I'll need to warm up after being absent from blogging couple of days due to some days off at Kuantan. I think walking on the beach did me some good. And I managed to do some substantial theological reading while watching TV and sleeping (all not at the same time *smile*). Had lots of good food too.
Alwyn's does a nice wrap up post I think on our recent event Friends in Conversation which has pretty much dominated my blog for quite a while... Here's some of Alwyn's thoughts in his post The Last Word (where relevant italics and bold emphasis can be SEEN clearly). The post gets an affirming comment from our resident philosopher aporetic :-) who seems to be emerging more into the open again.
Love your neighbour as yourself - the new commandment which helps sum up the Law. Love your enemy - the (also new) commandment which makes us perfect.
Brian McLaren's last word at the QRoH conference was a reminder of the power of loving thy neighbour. I imagine he wanted to sum up his two days generally as a call to love all at all times, especially the unlovable or unloved-before.
If you forget everything else about the conference, if you experience sudden theological amnesia, if you lose all your books, if you're not sure what to think anymore - don't be unsure about peace-making, about replicating the love of Calvary in the community, about being genuinely unambiguously kind. Even to those who beg to differ.
He told a story about two previously warring African tribes engaging sharing a meal, with one tribe not minding being laughed at, another laughing because it didn't realise the other could even talk. Reconciliation and friendship after violence, expressed in the virtue of laughter.
If people with strained relationships can sit down and share a meal, that's an excellent first move to embody a Gospel of hope, peace and world renewal. If you can share the basics in communion/community with another near you, you can begin to love the person as yourself. If you can love your neighbour as yourself - if you can care for him/her as intensely as you would for you - then you can care for your enemy in the same way.
Because (I suppose) it soon dawns on you that loving your enemy and loving your neighbour (as yourself) are not two separate acts but one grand act seen in two angles.
This ultimately 'betrays' McLaren's over-arching motive in writing, in speaking, in visiting churches and peoples all around the world. This last word, this final "don't-leave-conference-without-it" beseeching is McLaren's first and greatest item on the agenda : to model the so kind, so paradoxical, so sacrifical, so self-condescending love of God. Like someone commented somewhere (I think it's Sherman), McLaren doesn't have a theology - he is his theology.
Here are some quotes from blogs where I think what they say represents what I feel are adventures in getting the point from the Friends 2007 event. There are times where we will miss the point or need time to process ... but these gems are pretty good.
"... the Friends in Conversation event, you have to understand, was a difficult and risky step for me. One it meant me making a choice for myself to step aside from 'family' decisions, and two, it meant me coming out in the open and admit it, so yes, I've had some issues with 'church', and for far too long I've been sweeping it under the carpet." - An uncommon departure
"... on a more personal level, today was a good day for me. Far from being weary, my time away has enabled me to be refreshed by the conversations today ... evoking thoughts and feelings that I have not felt for sometime. Privately, I was thinking again about the basic tenets of my faith .. my Salvation, His death on the cross, the stark realisation of my own failings, vulnerability and helplessness ... and the word GRACE seemed to be echoing in my head all the time. While it is true that for me, I found grace outside the church yet I cannot deny that it was GOD that had extended it to me, and for that I am grateful.
I came. I listened. I have no regrets.
Perhaps it IS true that God works in many, mysterious and wondrous ways." - Who?
"I began this blog with this description of myself - one "who embraces God's gift of life -to eat, drink and make the most of my job and whatever else wonderful that comes my way." While this attitude towards life remains true, dialogues at "Friends in Conversation: A Quiet Revolution of Hope" recently made me think about greater issues than myself.
I've not had so much "food for thought" in awhile. What caught my attention, quite dramatically, was the small group discussion in which I participated late Saturday afternoon. The day sessions comprised plenary and panel discussions on the topics of "Gospel" and "Church." It would, at that point, have been easier to go into small groups that were discussing the Gospel or the Church.
The one I ended being part of was to discuss the "World." Now, why did I sign up for this? I don't remember why actually, except that I must have thought it was a session that would tell me what God was doing on a large scale and around the world. As a Christian, I believe it is good to be in touch with "the waves" that God's creating around the world. Knowledge helps shape our thoughts, attitudes, behaviors and actions." - A Quiet Revolution of Hope
"The conversations are still going on, more vibrant in fact, after one week since QRoH. I fell really sick after the first day and missed the session on World the next day. But for me, the conference ended just on the right note - with Sivin reading out the Franciscan Benediction which echoes some of my own introspection:
May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships
so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. " - QRoH - A Compilation
I think the time Brian had at the seminary was a very fruitful one in the classroom and outside the classroom. The topic was 'The Church Emerging In The Post-al Age'. My young friend Ben Ong has some wonderful gems worth sharing below from his post Gems from an encounter with Brian McLaren. It made me pick up a Stanley Grenz book to read last night. :-)
"That morning, I met up with Brian McLaren at the PJ Hilton while waiting for Sivin and company (i.e. Bob Kee, Kia Meng, Yew Khuen, Jaime Sim). Recognised him from behind, heheh...
There were some interesting thoughts during his session at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia on Monday, 5 March.
For instance, "The turtle was found to be fully functional, and when the ring was removed, it was able to grow into the normal shape."
* * * * *
Dr Voon, during the Conversation segment, remarked on the loss of the relational aspect in our relationships, citing SMS as an example of how we tend to choose the cheapest way to communicate, regardless of relational value.
She also commented that the church has become somewhat utilitarian, wanting people for their abilities but not necessarily for who they are. A typical conversation might go like this:
Church leader: Wow, you're a pianist; you can play piano during worship!
Visitor: Wait a minute... do you want me for me, or for what I can do?
* * * * *
In commenting on shifting worldviews and perspectives, McLaren shared this interesting thought/quote from Max Planck, the great quantum physicist:
"New ideas thrive, not so much because they are good in themselves, but because their enemies die out."
* * * * *
But above all, the words that resonated most with me from that day, were not spoken during the official session (as with all the best thoughts in life), but in the Unser on the way to STM, as we were passing the A&W restaurant.
The conversation had moved to the late Stanley Grenz, who came under much fire because of his opinions, and not many stood by him.
On this, McLaren said, "It's not so much what your enemies say, but the silence of your friends..."
Let us not be silent."
Here's another gem in our national language Bahasa Malaysia :-) Adakah saya untuk diri saya? I'm motivated to improve on my grasp of this beautiful language.
Saya bersetuju dengan artikel yang ditulis dalam blog Warkah Pascamoden. Anda boleh melihat artikelnya di bawah.
Brian McLaren juga mengingatkan saya dalam sesi perbincangan bahawa kita dicipta dan ditebus bukan untuk diri kita sahaja tetapi untuk jiran-jiran kita dan dunia ini. Adakah keselamatan yang diberikan baginda Isa AlMasih hanya untuk membawa jiwa kita ke syurga sahaja? Kita mempunyai peranan dalam membantu jiran-jiran kita untuk merealisasikan kerajaan Allah dalam hidup mereka agar mereka dapat melihat Yesus dalam hidup kita.
Memang patut kita mempertahankan kebenaran AlKitabiah (Apologetik). Umat Kristian diseru untuk memberikan jawapan yang kukuh supaya mereka dapat memahami iman Kristian sebenarnya. Akan tetapi kita lupa masalah-masalah yang dihadapi oleh jiran kita. Contohnya, bila adanya dialog antara agama, kita sangat petah dalam perdebatan kita. Tetapi bila nak bantu jiran kita bila ditimpa bencana banjir, di mana kita?
Saya rasalah kita memang lupa peranan kita membantu jiran-jiran yang ditimpa masalah. Sebaliknya kita berada di suasana yang selesa bersama dengan kawan-kawan kita bermain, membeli belah, tengok wayang dan sebagainya. Kita ni lebih suka pergi ke gereja yang bertaraf "Mega Mall". Kita pergi gereja di mana lagu-lagu pujian dan khutbah yang memenuhi citara kita. Di manakah misi kita untuk jiran kita?
Perbuatan kita boleh mencerminkan identiti dan iman kita dalam baginda Isa. Hanya perbuatan yang diiringi dengan kasih diluahkan kepada jiran kita menyedarkan mereka identiti kita. Bantulah jiran kita dengan hati yang ikhlas tanpa mengharapkan apa-apa balasan dari mereka.
Saya juga berpendapat kita boleh berkerjasama dengan jiran-jiran yang bukan seiman dengan kita untuk kebaikkan bagi masyarakat kita. Kita tidaklah perlu risau kerana ia dapat membantu kita untuk mengenali jiran-jiran kita dengan lebih mendalam lagi.
Marilah kita ikut jejak baginda Isa AlMasih yang mempunyai belas kasihan terhadap mereka yang miskin, tertindas, sakit dan sebagainya. Ya baginda sering mengajar dan menyampaikan berita kerajaan Allah. Baginda juga mengiringinya dengan perbuatan kasihNya.
Berikut adalah artikel dalam blog seperti yang dikatakan tadi :
Brian telah mengatakan sesuatu yang telah meninggalkan kesan kepada saya:
Manusia boleh memilih daripada empat opsyen berikut dalam menjalankan tanggungjawab mereka kepada “jiran” mereka yang berlainan dari mereka.
1. Memaksa mereka menukar agama/kaum/bahasa dan lain-lain dan diasilimisasikan
2. Menindas dan mengetepikan mereka
3. Tidak mempedulikan dan mengasingkan mereka
4. Kasih dan mengenal, melayan dan melindung.
Sebagai rakyat kerajaan baginda Al-Masih, seorang kristian mesti memilih opsyen keempat.
Dalam zaman sekarang yang dibelenggu terrorisme samada tindak-tanduk hegemoni Amerika di dunia terutamanya Iraq mahupun serangan pengebom berani mati di khalayak mangsa-mangsa yang tidak berdosa, titah baginda Yesus kepada rakyat kerajaannya mesti dipatuhi:
Markus 12:29-31 Jawab Yesus: “Hukum yang terutama ialah: Dengarlah, hai orang Israel, Tuhan Allah kita, Tuhan itu esa. Kasihilah Tuhan, Allahmu, dengan segenap hatimu dan dengan segenap jiwamu dan dengan segenap akal budimu dan dengan segenap kekuatanmu. Dan hukum yang kedua ialah: Kasihilah sesamamu manusia seperti dirimu sendiri. Tidak ada hukum lain yang lebih utama dari pada kedua hukum ini.”
Kasih-mengasihi tidak haruslah pada permukaan sahaja. Sebaliknya orang yang dikasihi harus dianggap sebagai kaum keluarga sendiri. Kenali jiran dengan mendalam. Layanilah mereka dengan hati senang. Lindungilah mereka sekiranya mereka dalam bahaya.
SEORANG KRISTIAN BERTANGGUNGJAWAB DEMIKIAN TIDAK KIRA KAUM, AGAMA, STATUS SOSIAL ATAU KEWANGAN!
“Kalau engkau hanya membantu semasa sendiri dan sejenis, engkau tidak berbeza daripada orang lain yang menolong semasa sendiri sahaja”
Dalam konteks dunia hari ini, konflik agama merupakan konflik yang terbesar. Rakyat jelata baginda Al-Masih mempunyai tanggungjawab sosial untuk membantah sebarang kekerasan yang digunakan untuk menindas golongan yang tidak berupaya. Namun sekadar protes tidak memadai. Teori mesti diiringi dengan praktis. Apa gunanya berhujah panjang jika tidak diringi dengan langkah-langkah yang kukuh dan konkrit dan meninggalkan kesan?
Homili-homili di dalam surat Yakobus, saudara kepada baginda Yesus amat penting untuk direnungkan. Salah satu nas berbunyi:
Yakobus 1:26-27 Jikalau ada seorang menganggap dirinya beribadah, tetapi tidak mengekang lidahnya, ia menipu dirinya sendiri, maka sia-sialah ibadahnya. Ibadah yang murni dan yang tak bercacat di hadapan Allah, Bapa kita, ialah mengunjungi yatim piatu dan janda-janda dalam kesusahan mereka, dan menjaga supaya dirinya sendiri tidak dicemarkan oleh dunia.
Yakobus 2:26 Nah, sebagaimana tubuh tanpa roh adalah tubuh yang mati, begitu juga iman tanpa perbuatan adalah iman yang mati.
Bukalah minda dan dada.
Jangan kita ulangi Perang Salib yang dicetuskan oleh Kristian Katolik terhadap Timur Tengah pada Zaman Pertengahan. Jangan kita lupa kekejaman orang Katolik Sepanyol yang menakluki Amerika Tengah dan Selatan dan membunuh kaum tempatan.
Bayangkanlah betapa indahnya sekiranya kita mengamalkan Pemerintahan Allah dalam cara kita melayani mereka yang berbeza daripada kita. Satu dunia tanpa peperangan dan kekejaman.
Idealisme? Tidak, sekiranya semua manusia mula mengasihi satu sama lain.
Dan perubahan bermula daripada diri sendiri.
Posted by Daud Ting at Sunday, March 11, 2007
[David BC Tan & Alwyn Lau in conversation!]
My friend David BC Tan nudges "Further along the conversation..." while I left a comment at the end :-)
The recently concluded QROH seminar with Brian McLaren made me look back through my own archive of writings on emergence. A post dated 29 Oct 04 had this to say:
Pointing to the problems of making truth claims to a culture cynical of adjectives like objective or absolute the church will only find its good intentions rejected. "...arguments that pit absolutism versus relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people: They're wonderful modern arguments that backfire with people from the emerging culture," said McLaren.
The alternative as every emergent reader would know is not to ditch our allegiance to Christ or Scripture, but build authentic communities that draw people the way Jesus himself drew the masses, especially the marginalised, to himself. I think we can all agree with that. There is no question about the need to live authentically as a vibrant community expressing kingdom values in all its demands. But the niggling question is, is that all, and if not, in what way do we have to think about being 'relevant'?
The seminar certainly succeeded in avoiding touchy theological points but instead focused on the larger issue of Kingdom imperatives. No argument there. The Church needs to hear a lot more about being a community contributing to God’s Kingdom within our social reality - without resorting to triumphalism or tokenism. In recent years men like Mark Noll, David Wells, and Ronald Sider have also lamented the scandal of our evangelical digression. On this score Brian is on the same page. Where they differ however is the coherence of a theological mandate founded upon a 'fixed centre' (Pascal), which seems the least important in Brian’s dialectic.
Some of Dr Alex Tang's 9-point observation squares with quite a few evangelicals who fear Brian’s deconstruction of truth (after Grenz) and his emphasis on a less precise notion which is described simply as “being in sync with God” (NKOC) – which arguably sits better with a postmodern sense of spirituality. A whole bunch of people are understandably disturbed, some of whom have articulated their concerns in a hard hitting compendium titled, Reclaiming the Center. It's not a boxing ring for the timid, this book. While Brian claims not to have denied the basic tenets of faith (i.e., Nicene Creed) they may unfortunately be diminished due to the emergent worldview (is there one?) he professes, and because of what appears to be waffling on his part. However Scott Mcknight in an excellent piece attributes the misunderstanding to prophetic rhetoric (or 'exaggeration' as Brian admits). It would be assuring if Brian's considerable literate skills clarify the specifics, as theologian John Frame reminds us, God and the devil are in the details.
I was amused when at the forum Dr Voon Choon Khing to everyone’s delight said she couldn't understand the flak Brian was getting: "Give the man some respect; he’s not stupid." I too believe Brian to be a sensitive and intelligent man whose soul-searching over real issues has ignited our imagination. As a creative thinker, Brian’s vision can be infectious. Where he gets it right about the church in community, I sense compassion and a genuine desire to loose the church into a world that badly needs salt and light. The ongoing argument is tiresome, but I also happen to believe that serious real estate is at stake in the long term. So what price relevance? Theological reflection demands a rigorous and robust engagement, therefore this part of the conversation is just as needful. Well. As Pas Fong Yang said, the church is reformed and reforming.
Nevertheless I belong to the 'old' school. As much as I subscribe to aspects of Brian’s perspectives on the new kind of Christian and his articulation of Jesus’ secret message, it is my conviction that knowledge is not the main or only cause of the Church’s present complacency: it is loving Jesus by obeying Him, which is the crux of true discipleship. It is loving God by loving our neighbour, which is the heart of servanthood. Sadly, obedience, that act of dying to self which is so antithetical to every generation (perhaps more so in this present one) has been bartered for personal fulfilment and heaven on earth. Similarly, old-fashioned holiness is no longer a virtue to pursue while God Himself has been domesticated and no longer feared. That’s a hard message for a world more inclined towards soft options and multiple choices. Perhaps that’s what’s missing. Brian’s 'nemesis' D.A. Carson notes:
"People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated."
We need to dream the dream of God, as much as we need to have the mind of Christ. We need to reform the way we do church as much as we need to reaffirm the authority of God’s unchanging Word. We need men like Brian as much as we need scholars like Carson. As long as we’re talking, I’m hopeful.
posted by David BC Tan @ 2:38 AM
At 8:22 AM, Sivin Kit said...
I agree with you different people play different roles in whether in visionary and/or scholarly ways. I think in the coming days we will see more people working on the details perhaps more sympathetic to Brian's imperfect but "seeking to be holistic and integrated" vision. I think the late Dr. Grenz has been a little too under-rated in the English speaking evangelical circles (like how most people in the pew in Malaysia have under-rated Dr. John Stott or Dr. Alister Mcgrath both whom I find more helpful to me than Dr. D.A. Carson matters of theological engagement)
I think your last statement is noteworthy .. "As long as we’re talking, I’m hopeful." but this requires critics to be slower with their "anathema-like" approach.
There are those who are working in the details (or have already talked about these issues but have not been popular writers or scholars within English speaking evangelicalism). For example, Reading a older book "The Soul of Ministry" by Ray Anderson totally blew me away by the similarity in methodology but with more theological precision. Of course, now names like Miroslav Volf and Le ron Shultz is gaining some hearing. Scot McKnight will be coming out with a book later this year.
As someone who's been trained and are on friendly terms with "old schools" (never fully at home with it and yet appreciative) and "new schools" (trying to be part of the construction of it), I find myself looking for models/examples of people whether older or younger who can model can work on these manners closer to our Asian & Malaysian sensibilities (without being ignorant of global realities - whether it's culture or crisises) I confess, it's only natural to be drawn to some and not others. More when we meet face to face again.
At 1:09 AM, David BC Tan said...
Thanks for expanding the horizon here. Like you I believe in theological engagement although admittedly the tone of voice varies from person to person. Thanks also for pointing me to new names to follow up on, some I've heard and read of, but whose books I have yet to read (or own!). I know there's talk about a statement of faith (Shults)but I don't think my idea of precision means one - unless of course emergent is going the institutional route which would be a misstep.
Your mention about Asian and Malaysian 'sensibilities' is interesting. It's easier for me to locate these ideas geographically
than culturally, having grown up and studied almost exclusively in a western frame of mind. Seriously, what's a Malaysian model? :)
At 12:38 AM, Sivin Kit said...
Malaysian model is doing theology with "Makan" :-)
Everyday, I'm reading more feedback and responses to Brian's visit last week. Here's one from my new friend (who's much more experienced and wiser than I am) Todd Nelson in a nice little post McLaren in Malaysia. I recall listening to Todd talk about his experiences in the USA and light bulbs were popping in my head gaining greater insight on Christianity in the USA. So, it's interesting to read his take on last week.
"On March 3rd and 5th, I got the chance to meet and converse a bit with American pastor-teacher-author and spokesman of Emergent Village, Brian McLaren. He was invited by our mutual friend and Malaysian pastor Sivin Kit to stop over in Malaysia on his way to Australia. (That's Brian and Sivin in the photo.)
I’m glad I went to the conference and the dinner that Sivin and several others organized. I listened closely to Brian's provocative talks, interpretations of Scripture, and wide-ranging stories. I wrote elsewhere that his approach to theology and evangelism intrigues, inspires, and troubles me, all at the same time--which is, I think, the kind of reaction he is hoping for from pastors like me (I’m only five years his junior.) I found Brian to be very down-to-earth, approachable, and eschewing of any VIP treatment. He genuinely wants to interact and learn from others--especially in the "two-thirds world". This is refreshing. I also appreciated the insights of the several Malaysian church leaders and thinkers who engaged him in public conversation.
Brian's visit prompted me to hurry and read one of his many recent books before he arrived, A Generous Orthodoxy, and to look again at Reinventing Your Church, his first book. I bought that book (now republished as The Church on the Other Side) back in 2004 as part of a small bundle of books for the elders of our brand new church to read and discuss. And in 2006 I bought A Generous Orthodoxy to see what all the fuss was about regarding Emergent ideas and Brian McLaren. When I heard he was coming to KL, I thought I should at least go ahead and read what I bought! Maybe I could ask an intelligent question. (Turns out I did a lot of listening and thinking and processing instead.)
What attracts me most about Brian and the whole emerging church movement is the combination of humility and passion--humility expressed through listening in conversations with Christians and non-Christians about truth and ultimate reality, and passion expressed in reaching present and emerging generations with the Good News of Jesus through patient and serving relationships.
I don't necessarily agree with everything Brian writes or says, but that’s ok. The conversation can sharpen us both, if we’re willing to listen to one another and keep conversing, rather than shut down too quickly and lazily label the other as an opponent. Too many of us Christians operate this way over theological, political, and moral issues.
Thank you, Sivin, and thank you, Brian, for your "quiet revolution of hope". I believe Jesus is calling us all to be revolutionaries in His cause--to participate in passionate actions and humble conversations for the purpose of world transformation. And all the while, we must stay in intimate connection with Jesus lest we get off track. "Thy Kingdom come, Lord, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
Posted by Todd Nelson at 3/12/2007 08:38:00 PM"
I think it's easy to just be engaged on more conceptual conversations which a number of the previous posts I've pointed to tend towards. So when i read Janelle's my tint of hope I thought it was refreshing. Read on ...
"How would you consider something to be good or bad? Why would two person go to watch the same movie and each coming out with different opinions? Why would some people like a speaker but others consider him to be boring or rude? Why would some people consider certain fashion to be cool while others think it is boring? A certain seminar could be meaningful to some but totally a waste of time to others. Whatever it is, this is the diversity and the creativity we see in God's handiwork. Each having their differences in taste and view point.
I think something is meaningful to someone because that person could relate to it and found it useful while others maybe refuse to relate and have their own mind set already.
I was one who had a very closed mindset about other denominations, their beliefs and practices. I was "critical" and never believed in traditions until lately my view pooint about this has drastically changed. Thanks to people like Sivin and Sherman. I have learnt to appreciate them. Infact, I practice some of these spiritual traditions myself in my quiet time.
The question that was in my mind was, could the churches in Malaysia be unified? Can it be put in the Kingdom context. Can we as Malaysian Christians live out church the way God has intended it to be and be unified in our mission. Which is God's mission. Currently, they seem so disunited. Each denomination trying to promote their belief and practices and things like "if you are of a different denomination then you cannot come to our church to partake communion with us".
I saw that tint of hope when I attended a conference last weekend. "A quiet revolution of hope. Friends in conversation". (To read more about the event itself, read Sivin's blog). There were people of defferent walks of life. Different denominations coming together to talk about kingdom and church and what really matters in Malaysia in relation to us (Christians). Current issues etc. There were Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Evangelical Free Church, Protestants, Pentecostals etc. Although there were only a handful comepared to the thousands of Christians around Malaysia but they represent the voice of Christianity. We have Fathers, Bishops, Pastors, leaders and just church goers. The conversations were good but what impacted me the most was to see these different walks of life coming together talking about the same things. I see their heart for the church and for the things in the heart of God. Although they have different view point, I am hopeful that God is at work and I just had a glimpse of the unity of the body of Christ in Malaysia to want to see God glorified in Malaysia. Those little differences did not seem to matter much compared to the bigger picture.
A highlight for me was the closing when we broke bread with each other. I was standing in a circle looking at the different people, holding my piece of bread and remembering the significance of this. Identifying myself with the body of Christ in Malaysia and with Christ. Remembering that everytime we do this, Jesus was in our midst. I nearly cried. I am hopeful. As long as we are in conversations with each other, even though we may disagree, the fact that we have these conversations, shows that we are interested in the body. We are interested in God's plans for us. A little light of unity in the body.
Posted by Janelle on Monday, March 05, 2007 at 9:45 PM"
I'm still trying to catch up with the after event conversations ... here's one by Egalitaria worth some time - Conversations: A Revolution of Hope
"Thoughts have been clamouring to get out. Having been involved with the recent weekend event, and meeting Brian McLaren face to face with the privilege of personal interviews (not interrogation!), it’s only natural that I feel the need to articulate in writing my ideas of religion and Christianity. Note that these are only my interpretations and understanding of these new concepts, and may need (a lot more) retuning and refining!
Brian McLaren, as many would know, has been one of the foremost writers and speakers representing the Emergent Network in the
United States. Over the last weekend some of us have had the opportunity to be in conversation with him and many other leading
Malaysian Church leaders, people like Father Jojo (Jesuit priest), Rev. Wong Fong Yang, Tan Soo Inn, Sherman Kuek and so on. We had a great weekend talking about the Gospel, Church, Discipleship and the World. What a refreshing time to rethink all our conventions of "Christianity"! So many of the things discussed resonated deep within my heart and were manifestations of things I have always thought of but was never quite willing to explicitly say.
The question I asked him when we first met on Friday night (amongst many many other questions) at dinner was,
"What started you on this journey".
And he replied, "It started when Bush get elected into office."
I personally found that so hilarious and pertinent that I used that story when facilitating the final session on engaging the World.
Essentially the Emergent story is based on the need to present an alternative Christianity that most of the world has been exposed to these recent decades. The typical "Christianity" that has been presented has been a largely Western, Evangelical, Proselytising Christianity that focuses on saving the world through little booklets and tracts, short of forcing anyone to conform to a church culture and accepting in entirety the historical creeds, in long words and theological jargon that twists the mind and tongue. Made worse is the Christianity professed and marketed in America, the Christianity of television evangelism, "charismatic" repetitions of phrases shouted with the purpose of indoctrination versus a real inward reflection.
Finally of course, the Republican faith has done no better in reflecting the Church, by justifying foreign policy of war and imposition of regulation and (a certain interpretation of) democracy in the Middle East. Without a deeper analysis and reflection, much of the world can be and has been convinced that this is the only true version of Christianity. One that supports the victimization of others, supposedly based on biblical principles.
So does the Bible really support such action? If not, what does the Bible say? If "Christian" really means "follower of Christ", should we not look at the things that he did and said in exemplifying a godly humanity?
The premise is that Jesus did NOT primarily come to this earth to die. He mentions "Kingdom of God" most times in his speeches. His vision was for the kingdom of God to be acted out, principles of life which would transform systemic evil that existed in this lifetime to goodness and holiness – emphasizing humility, sacrificial love, compassion, justice, and so on, to counter a world that was encroached upon by Roman dominance, deceit, lying, pomp, and pride.
I find that most Christians can agree with the execution/practical implications but not the theoretical premise behind it. For example, the need for Christians to engage with the world is not a new concept. In fact, the Catholic Church has done a great deal of work in social justice, acting on behalf of the poor and sickly. Think Mother Teresa. There needs no argument to convince that the Bible has stated a case clearly for principles of justice, equality, speaking up for the oppressed and so on.
But maybe more important and revolutionary is that all of this stems from the understanding that Jesus actually came to the earth to present a Kingdom of God in the here and now primarily. If so, then it gives a whole new meaning to the constant mantra we’ve often heard and believed, "If you believe in Jesus, you will be saved". One that begs the definitions of each component of that statement – belief, Jesus, salvation.
Belief - belief and trust and faith in a person who has given you life principles that you can live by and experience abundance, just as how I believe in my mother. Salvation – salvation from the horrid injustices, poverty of spirit, depression, bitterness, hatred, institutional evil in this world but turning to a life that is marked by light, love, compassion.
The implications of this are far-reaching. It makes one rethink many things, a paradigm shift of how we should be living today.
1. Jesus' Death ... Did Jesus have to die? Perhaps it was a historical necessity rather than anything else. Anyone who proclaims a Kingdom alternative to the Roman Empire at the time would have been executed and killed. Anyone who proclaimed a Kingdom alternative to the sort of bigoted Pharisaic regulation-oriented “religion” would have been condemned to die. In that sense, yes Jesus died because he proclaimed something so revolutionary that most people would not have accepted. But yet he had to say those things.
2. Grace ... The concept of grace is huge, in Christianity. The fact that we can never do enough good deeds to "get us to heaven" is justified by God’s tremendous grace swooping down upon us to “get us there”! But, as pointed out, perhaps we are not asking ourselves the right question. Maybe the question is not all about “getting to heaven” but "living heaven out on earth today". We acknowledge incapability and inadequacy at being perfect, but God’s love is so great so we do the best we can. Grace still applies very much in this framework. But it is not so much a "grace that will get me to heaven and the finishing line”, but a “grace that allows me to admit my weaknesses and help others along and practice humility in living a godly life".
3. Evangelism ... I have always hated the way we have “done evangelism”, through evangelistic rallies and convincing people to say the “sinner’s prayer” and believe that Jesus is the son of God, that he died and rose again, and accepting him into your heart as Lord and saviour, this 1-2-3 step ABC that everyone has been convinced is necessary for the Christian faith. I beg to differ. Evangelism should now mean the telling people to look at Jesus because here is a man who taught such wonderful life changing principles, and being hands and feet to people through real and solid helping "save" lives of poverty, rejection and discrimination.
4. Jesus' resurrection... I haven't quite got my head around this one yet.
5. Eternal life... Haven't figured this one out yet either.
6. Relating to people of other faiths ... Anyone who looks to Jesus as a teacher, prophet, great man, can be a follower of Jesus, can they not? Or must the person go through the strict process of believing Jesus is the son of God and so on and so forth? And where does one cross the line? Perhaps it is a spectrum of possibilities, a continuum that one goes through and experiences daily. And because one cannot clearly define a particular point of "engaging in an active relationship with Jesus", then perhaps we are all one and the same – people struggling to follow Jesus and all that he represents.
This inspires me to an even greater degree to do the work of Jesus here on earth. What this means is different to each person. Perhaps a lawyer feels that he needs to engage in human rights in order to stand up for the oppressed and underprivileged (of course this does not apply to the huge law firms of the world), the social activist to look at issues faced by the discriminated against, the businessman to ensure he uses his money wisely to responsibly care for the environment and sustainable development, the politician to represent the views of the people whose neighbourhoods must be well taken care of. It is indeed kingdomic principles that we need to wake up to. The right questions must be asked, in order for the right answers to be made clear to us.
For now, we see yet through a glass darkly."
Looks like the conversations over at Dr. Alex Tang's blog post A Quiet Reflection on QROH continues with much life and vigor :-) It will be interesting if Jason Clark joins us. For now, eavesdrop and enjoy ... Please remember to read the original post for context.
" Alex Tang said...
Hi Yew Khuen,
Thank you for the kind comment. I agree with you that I wish Brian has had more time to unpack his ideas.
Basically, you have hit the nail on the head. The emerging church is a protest, as C.A. Carson says, to the ineffectiveness of the institutional church. What I have not heard anyone in the United States say is that the emerging church movement is an attempt to re-evangelise the United States. It is trying to do contextualize the Christian faith in a rapidly changing culture. It is never meant to be a challenge to the status quo but an attempt at reformation. In doing so, they are trying to legitimize their position by building up a theology. You mentioned Grenz, Wink, Kierkegaard, Nietzche, Willard & NT Wright.
The emerging church drew most of their ‘postmodern’ theology from Grenz but Grenz is not really postmodern. Wink, Kierkegaard, Nietzche, Willard and Wright are actually very “modern” in their thinking.
Yes, it is difficult to talk to a varied crowd and I am sure there are people who do not understand why this conversation is even necessary.
Yow Khuen, I look forward to our next meeting.
Alex Tang said...
There is a lot of work done about contextualization, especially in the missiology sector. And there are many people who begin to see the issue of the emerging church is the issue of contextualization. That is why David Hesselgrave criticized Brian’s model of contextualization. David is a renowned professor emeritus of missiology. I do not know whether Tony Jones has finished his D.Min. from Fuller’s.
“But I see myself at this stage encouraging critical creative work and construction in our context.” I am happy to hear you say that. But it is not enough to encourage. You will need to do some critical creative work and construction. We need to approach this at two levels. One is from the academia level where one has to do research and publish papers and books. The other is from the grassroots level where one has to becoming the community of the followers of Christ.
Actually there are more than three levels of engagement. It is natural to think of the pastoral level and the academic level. Do not forget that we have a large group of people who are on the same level as the pastoral people but who are not pastors or full time workers. Many of our “laypeople” are well educated, well read, and some even have theological training. These people will create the different levels as they engage with their workplace, their community, their families and relatives, and their denomination. As you wrote, “Each engagement with a different focus and accent.” I am very excited about this. For the first time we are regaining what the Puritans, the Quakers, and the Brethrens have been telling us. Forget the artificial division of clergy and laypeople.
We do not have to wait for Jason Clark to come over. We can invite him to join our conversation here :)
Alex Tang said...
Interesting way you used Brian’s presentation in his Gospel talk and link it to the framing in the World talk. Actually framing comes from the work of Donald Schon and Martin Rein. This was developed further and connected with the meta-narratives. Framing is often misused as the rich and powerful rewrite history. Paulo Freire ( I am sure you are familiar with him, others ‘google’) gave the power back to the people.
By a “theological construct” I mean, for example Karl Barth’s Christology or Wright’s Atonement. It is a propositional, definable system of belief. It is easy to build theological straw man.
“Standing with him” means at least agreeing with him or try to support Brian’s ideas. No, I do not mean theologians who has become postmodern. NT Wright, Grenz, Franke, Bryan Walsh, Brueggemann, and Webber, are mentioned by Brian to support his ideas, not the other way round. Again, these guys are not postmodern.
Andersen’s book is interesting but he needs stronger support for his propositions.
Alex Tang said...
Thank you for your insightful contribution. I agree with you that there will not be a theology of the emerging church. It is far too diverse for one.
I like the "Theology is contextual, so let's all do theology contextually!" (now, is that a truism?) I believe that is what Brian is trying to share with his theology of model making. Again we come back to the universal (truth) and particular (culture) of the Gospel. The danger is making the particular the main emphasis. Then we have idolatry. This is what the systematic theologians are afraid of. It is as you mentioned, the “chaninging of the rules” that worry them.
I don’t know whether we qualify to be the “anonymous Christians” that Karl Rahner refers to, but hey, we’re talking :)
Hi Alex, hey I think you've gone way ahead of me there: I've never heard of Schon, Rein and Freire - guess I got a lot of catching up to do.
I'm surprised, though, you said that Grenz, Walsh and Franke aren't postmodern. But hey this would be another conversation. ;>)
Sivin Kit said...
some quick comments before I sleep (and look how linear I will present them!).
1. I'll try and see whether I can get Jason Clark to give some comments.
2. As far as encouragement and construction, I think we're all participating in this. Encouragement is more immediate (and often lacking). Construction needs more time (and patience)
3.Here is where it's important for conversation. I use the word "pastoral" not exclusively for clergy. Thus, I affirm your comment: "Many of our “laypeople” are well educated, well read, and some even have theological training. These people will create the different levels as they engage with their workplace, their community, their families and relatives, and their denomination."
And I believe in their "pastoral" and "priestly" role in their respective locations. But this shift in appreciating the priesthood of all believers is more to help us relook at current practices and values. I think we have seen how merely changing the forms does not necessarily get to the core of the matter. In churches where there are no clergy/laity distinction, my friends share with me other "ugly stories" of how we fail to handle the issue of power. That's another topic.
4. The other buzz word is "postmodern". During the event, and even in our conversation here, I find it to be a red-herring at times. For example, the question for me is not whether Grenz or Wright, or whoever is "postmodern" (whatever that means). My question is what are the question they are asking and what context are they engaging. And if that's the question asked, then Grenz did make a shift to seriously engage his postmodern context and interact with "postmodern" philosophers. This can also be said of NT Wright in some of the lectures I've heard lately where he is no friend of modernity and refuses to sleep with postmodernity and uses the image of "walking through" postmodernity to the other side.
5. On the issue of reading into. I did ask Brian did he get his ideas from Marx for his last session (a friend of mine asked me becoz he felt what he seemed to have heard it before). Brian said "no". I confess, I'm not that well read and thus am not able to guess where maybe Brian's sources. Most of the time he mentions them, other times perhaps it's more hidden.
6. I think in many ways, we seem to be asking questions that Brian did not intend to answer by his quest. For me, I see him as a model of a reflective practitioner (a phrase he uses on himself) and not a academic scholar. This does not mean we can't critically engage his thought academically but I wonder whether those energies could be channeled to perhaps engaging the authors of "The Missional Church" where they clearly set out their theological vision. I read both books the missional church and church on the other side almost the same time. The missional church book fired my theological imagination, Brian's first book showed me how one works it oout pastorally and in less technical language. Together they have been very formative to get my own thinking going.
7. I think when we talk about the theology of the emerging church it's useful to contrast an earlier movement in the last century in the English speaking world -e.g. what is the theology of the evangelical church? Does everyone follow John Stott's theological vision? Is it Pat Robertson? Or Alister McGrath? How about the Latin Americans like Rene Padilla? Or Asians like Stephen Tong? In short, the diversity is more of a reality of the various streams within the wider world of Christianity.
8. As for Idolatry, I think Calvin said it well, "the human mind is an idol factory". so, for me whether it's universal or particular the danger lies in both ends. The moment we fall in love with our concepts of the one whom we worship more than the one who created us and relates to us ... we are all in danger. This doesn't mean we do not formulate any means of understanding God but we begin to learn to use language with more humility and with an open posture and hearts more open for the inbreaking of God's kingdom in our understanding. This is an ongoing process in conversation and in community with the saints/sinners of the past and the saints/sinners present. Of course, I'd have to mention Christ, Canon, Creed and more ... but this will make this comment a little too long if I continue unpacking those words. More another time. :-)
Alex Tang said...
It's like Sivin said, postmodernism is such a nebulous term that it is so hard to define.
Second, is that the people you have mentioned are not consistent in what they say. Maybe it is the context in which they say it. Or maybe their thinking is evolving. So it sounds great to walk past postmodernism into ?what. Quantum modernism?
Alex Tang said...
1. That will be great if Jason can join us and give us his input.
2. I like the encouragement and construction. As long as we do not be too reductionist in our thinking.
3. Yes, I know what you mean. One of the thoughts that Brian stirred in my mind during the conference and I have filed to explore another day is the spirituality of power.
4. Agreed. It is a buzz word. Any suggestion on what other words we can use?
5. On the issue of reading into, it is interesting that I am not the only one who thinks of Marx.
6. Okay, missional church.
7. I think we all agree about the diversity. It was some time before the word “evangelical” come into being.
8. goodnite :)
Hi Dr Tang,
Wow, it's been some time since I've engaged in a lengthy discussion in somebody's blog comments section. But this is getting too interesting to ignore. :p
I just have a note in relation to what you mentioned about the universal (truth) and the particular (culture). Yes, an over-focus on the particular isn't the way it's supposed to be. Further to that, though, an engagement in the particular often (if not always) necessitates the theological thinker to re-examine what he once thought was universal. I think this reality is what makes many theologians shudder.
This is especially when we come from traditions that "fossilise" what we think to be universal. Whilst what we think is universal may be so, there's an inclination to forget that our ARTICULATIONS of that which is universal themselves aren't universal. These articulations are encouched within a cultural reality and are also never exhaustive of the universal in its entirety.
To do theology contextually is indeed an endeavour fraught with danger. But because all theological articulations are inevitably contextual, the entire theological arena is itself fraught with danger. And all the more, we cannot retreat from the necessity of walking this path. We play the game, and in the process of playing the game, find that we have to re-examine (and modify or change) some of the rules of the game because we find that some of the existing rules either 1)misrepresent the nature of the game itself, 2)reflect a way of playing relevant to the way the game used to be played before but is now acknowledged to be archaic because of the growth of wisdom in that field, or 3)ignore the reality that there are other players of the same game in other parts of the world and in different points of history playing the very same game using a different set of rules we never knew about.
Alex Tang said...
That's why I am so excited about it. Yes, it is good that you recognise we are playing a game, a very dangerous game.
Lamin Sanneh influenced my thinking very much on this. There is a real danger of us fossilising the universal. And I believe this is where many theologians and denominations at at this stage.
Like you say, we are playing a games with changing rules in relation to culture, historical, socio-economic development, ideologies, powers and principalities, and what is worst, in a neo-colonisation of a superpower mono-hegemony. Sounds familiar? Like the New Testament church all over again.
(photo by Christian Today Malaysia Edition)
For the full interview go here ... Interview: Brian McLaren Engaged with Malaysia’s Christian Leaders. I'll pick out some excerpts to wet our appetites.
"... I like the way that these [conversations] are being set up. Through the conversations I have had in Malaysia, I have learnt so much.
... it is hard to explain what is “emergent”, but it is often described as friendships and networks. It is not really an organisation. There is no budget, there are no staff, but it is friends that try to stay in touch; on the internet or also by gathering together like this.
Despite all this, people tend to think that it is an organisation. But it is really a conversation and an extended friendship.
About the vision, what I can say is that we need to talk, because we have a lot of problems. We need to help one another and we need to have a global conversation.
... I think a lot of the criticisms are at the point of misunderstanding. For example, a lot of it was associated with the word “post-modern”, which is very controversial. It is a word with a thousand definitions. So a lot of people are making assumptions about me based on the assumptions on that word.
...Another issue is the way we counter people from other religions. I believe, as a Christian, Jesus is the saviour and the Lord. But I also believe, as a Christian, I have been called to love the neighbours of other religions - to enjoy them as a neighbour, and to work together with them for a more just world. But to some of my critics, they think that this should not be compromised."
A number of us found Dr. Alex Tang's quiet reflection post helpful providing an invitation for further interaction. I still have not sat down and written down my own reflections :-) in a more systematic way. Have fun eavesdropping on this current one first.
" Bob K said...
I really appreciate your reflections abt McLaren. It is very refreshing to hear/see a more critical assessment of the message McLaren brings to us, the Church, as a whole, without the atypical flippancy that most criticisms of the emergent conversation seem to take upon.
I can understand that the challenges which McLaren throws to the Church and Evangelicalism specifically can be very difficult to digest and occasionally challenges what seems to many already set in stone. That is why I am happy that while you still affirm the foundations of Evangelicalism, you have found yourself able to embrace McLaren as a person and able to open yourself to some of the more critical posits presented.
Perhaps this is where your praxis of the theology of modelling is put into action and that makes you part of the process of defining what is still somewhat vague in what is emerging in the Church this century.
Sivin Kit said...
I think unlike many who came .. you came most "prepared" and I'm glad you had the chance to have more interaction with Brian.
I think due to the nature of the event .. where I saw Brian as more of a conversation initiator (and thus the attention was meant to point away from him), we had less chance to directly engage his thoughts.
Overall, I appreciate your quiet reflections :-) I think they are helpful and hopeful to get us thinking for ourselves.
I'm glad my camera taking skills are of acceptable standards. I think the final picture looks good. And the final paragraph captures the special blessing for you and many of us ...
"There are still a lot of questions and even more answers are need. I value Brian as a friend. Hey, we had Yee Sang on Chap Goh May. I believe that he has an important message for us here in Asia. At the very least, I can tell my grandchildren (when I have them) that I once shared the stage with Brian McLaren."
I'll interact with your points over at my blog in a different way. :-)I'll leave you with this link to wet your appetite.
I think we're more used to engage with the British way of presentation? :-) Enjoy
Alex, were you reading my mind? (grin)
I think your 9 reflections are very helpful in setting some kind of 'agenda' for thinking more about what Brian said.
(And, sigh, this was just going to be a short comment but), moving straight to point 5 regarding his lack of a theological model, I *suspect* that:
- he isn't very keen developing anything even resembling a 'systematic theology', not because he think it's bad but because he feels that isn't a priority; he MAY even ask, "What was Jesus' "theological model"?
- he's more concerned about throwing out new ideas and trajectories, as opposed to 'fleshing them out' Biblically, hermeneutically, etc.
- he prefers that others more qualified than him (with a theo degree, unlike him) would take up this task
- he'll likely say that all Christians/theologians are influenced by psychology, sociology, politics, etc. and might even insist it's a good thing, 'good' being measured by how closer it brings us to obedience and the kind of aggressive yet quite kindness characteristic of a 'new kind of humanity'
All the above is speculation about how Brian might respond, but hey didn't u manage to ask him about this when you were with him? ;>)
(I only popped him one direct question: Have you read Greg Boyd's Myth of a Christian Nation? He said yes and it's a good book. Not the best book, but a good one)
Alex Tang said...
Thank you for your comments. It is important that after all the excitement and after the "mountain top" experience of any religious event, we need to reflect on what has been said.
I like Brian. I hope he likes me.
However we need to engage in what he has taught us; firstly to understand him, secondly, to critically reflect on what he said, thirdly, to accept or reject what he said, and finally, to act on our critical reflection. As Sivin said, the end of the conference is just the beginning.
Thanks, Dr Tang, for the post-Conversation reflection... it's much appreciated, as it helps me recap much of what had been spoken throughout the three days.
Wow, you read ALL of Brian's 10 books?! I guess I must confess now... I've not read a single one of Brian's books. *mournful look*
I think Brian's purpose wasn't so much to establish an apologetic for the emerging church movement; this perhaps explains his silence on this issue. In fact, it probably isn't very consistent with the ethos of the emerging church to establish a self-protectionist apologetic for itself.
I think there is probably a lot in Brian's reservoire of understanding which he wasn't able to share with us in the light of the limited time given. Also, he probably wasn't very interested in taking on a prescriptive approach.
If I read Brian's words and heard his talks correctly, I think he was more interested in affirming what we're already doing in Malaysia, particularly those of us who're primarily interested in contextualising our faith. I think Brian would agree with me when I say he's NOT asking us to do something that we're not already doing.
One classic example of this contextual concern is your Asian approach to spiritual formation... S.H.A.L.O.M!
Alex Tang said...
Thank you for the opportunity to interact with Brian. You have been a gracious host.
No, as I said in my post, this is not a criticism of Brian or of your organisation of the conference. In fact, you and your team did an excellent and fantastic job. Well done!!
I understand very well that the objective of the conference is that Brian initiate the conversation which will be carried on by the local conversation partners.
Thank your for your links to the open theology blog. It is an interesting concept that people can build up a theology by contribution from anyone, as sort of wikipedia or wikitheology. However, there will come a time when any theology must be subjected to the vigorous examination of the academia.
Here is a caution.In our headlong rush into post modern/ emerging church ideas, be careful that we do not end up anti-intellectuallism. This is a real danger that we must be aware of.
I look forward to your interactions with my points in your blog.
Not really, I have my fair share of both American and British presentations in both medical and religious context so I can differentiate between the two.
BTW, I have email a copy of my post to Brian for his comments. I want to be fair in my observations.
Alex Tang said...
No, I was not reading your mind. Is that one of the new spiritual gift? :)
I have enjoyed your postings very much.
Straight to point 5.
he isn't very keen developing anything even resembling a 'systematic theology', not because he think it's bad but because he feels that isn't a priority; he MAY even ask, "What was Jesus' "theological model"?
Even postmodernism has some rules and guidelines or it is just total chaos. Modernism has foundamentalism while post modernism has web of knowledge. It is epistiomology that is important. Brian has to develop the epistemiology of the emerging church. After 10 years, he cannot say it is still not a priority. BTW, Jesus does have a "theological model". His mission is to train the disciples, bring in the kingdom of God and die on the cross. His theological framing is the Law and the prophets.
he's more concerned about throwing out new ideas and trajectories, as opposed to 'fleshing them out' Biblically, hermeneutically, etc.
I agree with you in this.His time is limited and he has so much to say. To be fair to him, he threw out his main outline and his main points.
he prefers that others more qualified than him (with a theo degree, unlike him) would take up this task
That may be true but again after more than 10 years, where are the theologians? Is there anyone prominent standing with him other than Andersen. I have searched the database for PhD and DMin dessertations on the emerging churches and there are only a handful only. Why? Is it because it is hard to study something that has no one focal point but many?
he'll likely say that all Christians/theologians are influenced by psychology, sociology, politics, etc. and might even insist it's a good thing, 'good' being measured by how closer it brings us to obedience and the kind of aggressive yet quite kindness characteristic of a 'new kind of humanity'
That is exactly what he is saying. He is saying that all of the theologies of 19th and 20th Century theologian are modern, contaminated by culture and the new knowledge (psychology, etc). It does not seem to work because our cognitive knowledge does not translate to our actions, which is to be obedient and loving. That is why he is suggesting a new kind of Christianity.
Alex Tang said...
You are right in that Brian is not trying to present an apologetics for the emerging church movement. In fact, I have a distinctive feeling that he was trying to avoid the use of the words "emerging" and "postmodern". However, some of the other pastors of the emerging churches are not so restrained. This is helped by the publisher Zondervan and the Leadership Network which are publishing books about the emerging movement as fast as they are written. Anyone ever wondered why such a small group of people can produce so many books and generate so much publicity?
I agree with your reading of Brian's words and talk. He is interested in affirming what we are doing. But he is also interested to know whether what he is doing and teaching in North America can be applied in Asia.
Thanks for your post and reflections. Really appreciate your interaction, and the discussions taking place on this page itself! In danger of too much self-consciousness, may I say that you really help us to model a way of conversation that would be so helpful for Christians to move ahead, not get stuck in false dichotomies/dualisms/polarities.
You know, I also wish Brian could unpack his ideas a bit more for the rest of us - or even point us to source literature that forms the basis of a lot of his stuff. So hopefully he'll drop by KL again some point soon.
You mentioned that there's not much academic work published specifically on the emerging church movement(ECM) even after over 10 years. My conjecture is that the ideas that fuel this "movement" (that's a bad word in these circles, by the way :)) aren't all that new - ECM is a form of contextualisation, as has been observed by various postings around QRoH. So, while I haven't read them myself, I suspect understanding the foundation for the ECM would entail going back to some of these source "ideas" (some that I've heard being quoted includes Grenz, Wink, Kierkegaard, Nietzche etc - I've read Willard & NT Wright). But you'll be pleased to know that there has been one or two recent books exploring/proposing a theology for the emerging church (Sivin can help here?).
Interestingly, there were some participants I know for a fact who found even the stuff he presented to be way too deep. So going into more elementary explorations would've completely lost these poor brothers/sisters. I guess it's hard to pitch it with such a varied audience. All the more reasons for the conversations to continue beyond last weekend!
Hope to see you in KL again sometime, or when I head down south..
Sivin Kit said...
Alex, I must state clearly that I appreciate this post. I think this is the kind of conversation and tone which is contextual to our social location as well as seeking to be faithful to the Gospel. I REALLY enjoyed interacting with you too ...
I see it in 2 ways (surely there's more):
1. It will be interesting to observe and even interact with how those participating in this conversation work on the contextualization (which I was surprised to know is not a welcome word in some quarters)in the USA and North America (especially since they have a strong publishing ability and influence) Examples of this is found here Emersion Books. It seems to be people like Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt would be leading the way in their context. So, Brian is one of the participants and an important voice but probably not the "systematic" one.
2. I think in a broader scale (and perhaps more academic)the place and people to engage with would be the Gospel and Our Culture Network USA and perhaps those in UK as well ... Another 2 blogs I've keeping an eye on would be Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank and the church and postmodern culture: conversation. I think there's a place for critical engagement with the ideas found there. But I see myself at this stage encouraging critical creative work and construction in our context.
3. I thought it was two but then now I realize there is three ...I think there are different levels of engagement (e.g. ranging from pastoral to Academic). I recall a model by Grenz and Olson that was very helpful in their book Who Needs theology? which seems to be behind my mind right now. Each engagement with a different focus and accent. This is my observation and intuitive guesses after thinking about this day and night for the last 7 years consciously and unconsciously (and of course especially in the last few days pre and post Friends 2007). :-) So, in my mind I have this "fuzzy" model of how I do it, now I'm catalyzed by your post to put it our clearer.
Let me send my son to school first and I'll talk more. :-)
p.s. your post is not seen in anyway as a negative criticism. On the contrary, it's very helpful to move the conversations forward. Thanks for your contribution.
Sivin Kit said...
Oh yes .. I think my friend Jason Clark would be a conversation partner who would be helpful from a UK context. We're trying to work out a possibility for him to come to Malaysia. I think that would enrich our constructive thinking here.
Jesus does have a "theological model". His mission is to train the disciples, bring in the kingdom of God and die on the cross. His theological framing is the Law and the prophets.
I take it that you want to see (explicitly) the methods with which Brian derives his conclusions, right? Point taken - so there's no hint of it in any of his 10 books?
But wouldn't you consider what Brian presented in his Gospel session as the 'framing' part? So it could go something like:
1. Kingdom of God as world transformation, world-loving, THEREFORE
2. Church and Mission primarily involves loving, knowing, healing, serving, etc.
3. Culture is both the domain of God's activity and source of bridge-building and/or 'knowledge integration'
4. Christian as agent of love, reconciliation, etc.
It's kinda like Grenz & Franke's model, which leads me to suggest another reason : Maybe Brian's work is an elaboration and 'building up' models which already exist(?). Stil, I confess it's speculation again on my apart...I guess I'm still trying to understand what you mean by a 'theological model'...
After more than 10 years, where are the theologians? Is there anyone prominent standing with him other than Andersen. I have searched the database for PhD and DMin dessertations on the emerging churches and there are only a handful only. Why? Is it because it is hard to study something that has no one focal point but many?
I think we need to tease apart the phrase 'standing with him'. Do you mean the theologians who've adopted 'postmodernism' and/or those whose work, if put in layman's language, might sound like what McLaren talks about? In that case, I think people like NT Wright, Grenz, Franke, Bryan Walsh, Middleton, Brueggemann, McClendon, Raschke, Webber, even Pinnock (with his missiological focus) may be included.
I do not think there will be many people who will selfconsciously write works with titles like "Emerging Theology" because, as you rightly imply, it's really not like, say, presuppositionalism or Dispensationalism which has a 'fixed' canon/focal point of principles (such that one can easily tell, "Oh THAT'S Wesleyianism, or that's NOT Open Theism, etc.").
What did you think of Andersen's book, btw? I haven't read it...hope to one day...
I don't know if it's really possible to frame a theology of the emerging church. It's like asking me to present a theology to justify contextual theology. Essentially, contextual theology is about approaching things using a different methodology from that which is conventional, as it were, changing the rules of the game (for good reason, of course). So how do we use the old rules to justify changing (at least some of) the rules of the game? That would mean pandering to the old rules of the game all over again. Some people feel safer sticking by the established set of rules, some others see its deficiency and decide to move on to explore hopefully better alternatives.
As I see it, it's simply about seriously engaging our cultural contexts in our theological understanding and articulation of things. In our world (at least the world I come from), we say "Theology is contextual, so let's all do theology contextually!"... I think this is what the emerging church is saying too. Whilst we will try to describe how we've redefined the rules of the game in our contexts, we will not prescribe the same set of rules for others in different contexts; otherwise we'll simply be repeating that same old cycle of theological imperialism again. Now, if there is no one indefinitely fixed framework, how do we then know if our localised theological methods are largely faithful to the faith of the larger Body? The key lies in CONVERSATIONS.
It's not that we must always agree with what the emerging church is doing - in fact, there probably isn't ONE WAY of doing things in the emerging church for us to agree or disagree on. What makes them emerging churches is that they're "moving on" to engage seriously with their contexts and effecting the necessary changes to implement what it means to BE CHURCH in these contexts. Many of us are already engaged seriously with our contexts and are doing what the emerging church is doing even if we don't call ourselves "emerging people". I think Karl Rahner would call us the "anonymous emerging Christians"!
Just as in the realm of contextual theology, we get theologians seriously engaging their contexts through liberal positions, liberation positions, feminist positions, and a myriad of other positions, it's probably true with the emerging church too. But just because there are a couple of liberals or feminists or liberation people within the emerging church we may or may not disagree with doesn't naturally mean we should absolutely discount the cause for which the emerging church movement stands.
So let's keep the conversations going! :)
3:39 PM "
Dr. Alex Tang has been very much engaged in this conversation especially the last few months and even more so as Friends in conversation 2007was approaching. And now, after the event, the conversation continues. Here is A Quiet Reflection on QROH by him which has some good responses from those of us under 40 :-)
"The conference, Friends in Conversation: A Quiet Revolution of Hope was held in Petaling Jaya on 3-4 March, 2007. The main speaker is Brian McLaren. Aside from the conference, Brian also gave a lecture at STM on 5 March 2007.
Jamie Sim reported the event in Christian Today online magazine here
Alwyn Lau’s reflections are here, here,and here. I am sure Alwyn has much more to say. David Tan comments on his blog. Another comment is found in Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. It is encouraging to note the conversation is still going on and people are engaging with the experience.
I have prepared myself for this conference by reading all 10 of Brian’s books (which he has autographed), and also whatever I can find on the internet. I engage in conversations with people involved with the emerging church movement. My objective is to learn as much about the emerging church movement as possible. I thank my brothers in the JB Pastor Fellowship for their concern; especially those warned me and sent me emails and reading materials about the dangers of the emerging church. Fortunately, this conference allowed me to have a lot of time of interactions and quiet conversations with Brian McLaren.
Here are a few of my observations:
1. Brian is a gentle soft spoken man. I believe that he is a committed Christian seeking to follow and serve Jesus as we all are doing. I do not believe that he is a charlatan with his own selfish agenda.
2. I do not think Brian is "a threat to the gospel" as reported in a report. However, his interpretation of the inclusiveness and exclusiveness of the gospel is slightly wider than what most evangelicals would allow. However, we need to understand where he is coming from in his definition of gospel. Brian is an excellent communicator and as he tells his stories and illustrations, that we can be so caught up with enjoying the way he tells them that we missed what he is telling us, and more importantly, what he is not saying. It is good that he tells of the two versions of the gospel. One is the gospel of self which can be roughly translated as "I am saved so to hell with the rest of the world." The other version is the kingdom of God. Brian has not mentioned that there are other versions of the gospel. He also needs to clarify whether he means that the kingdom of God is the gospel. He is not too clear in his talks on that. And he also needs to clarify what he means when he uses the word, "kingdom of God."
3. Brian's emphasis is on contextualization of the gospel rather than attempting to create a systematic theological definition. As a friend of mine points out, this is akin to Lamin Sanneh's concept of "translatability." The gospel is both universal (truth) and particular (culture). Other scholar who may have shaped Brian’s thinking is Lesslie Newbigin (who is a guy in spite of his name) and David Bosch. Brian is in fact being a missionary to the North American church. However, it is relevant to us in Malaysia and Singapore or other part of Asia to examine this "translatability" of the gospel especially in a pluralistic, materialistic, and multicultural context. It is important that we examine the universal and the particular.
4. Brian was a pastor and his approach is mainly pastoral in nature. One needs to understand his approach from this direction. While giving us three illustrations about the emerging church, Brian did not give us much information about the emerging church or on what exactly is an emergent church. He then talks about deep ecclesiology in such a vague way that we are free to interpret the term to mean whatever we want to. It would have been helpful for Brian explain his diagram in respect to "liquid", "ghost", and why the vertical arrow is bidirectional. What makes this ecclesiology "deep"? There is a danger that we are so engrossed by high sounding words that we fail to understand what it means.
5. I have problem with his theological construct on which he builds his emerging churches. The emerging churches are strong in practice but weak in theology. This is a weakness that Brian has to address if his theology of model making is to be accepted by the church. Another friend of mine comments that Brian "artificially contrasts between the 'bad' timeless propositional model which is a caricature and then puts it beside his model which is vaguely described. The assumption is that his theology has all the qualities which the earlier models lack." While it is obvious that Brian is influenced by N.T. Wright, we need to, in comparison look at the ecclesiological theology of Barth, Erickson, Luther, and Calvin. His theology is very much influenced by sociology, psychology, politics, pragmatism, secular individualism than by biblical propositions. However I do not think that he is "New Age", of which he is accused to be associated with by another friend of mine. Still at this moment his theology construct is still weak.
6. Though he claims to be post-modern, he is very 'modern' in the way he thinks. I do not see how one can think of God, the Trinity and the gospel without being propositional. In his last talk in the conference about the world, he gives his analysis of the problems of the world. His reasoning reminds me of the theories of Karl Marx and Nietszche. His answer, as in all his other three presentations is simplistic without much offering in the sense of how do we translate his concepts to action.
7. His definition of theology as "an ongoing creative enterprise of making models of the universe based on beliefs about God" was presented at the STM lecture. I was disappointed that the many STM theologians present did not engage in this definition. It sounds too universalistic and scary for many evangelicals. I would like to know what limitations does he place on his model making and what hermeneutic role does the Bible plays in his theology.
8. He is concerned about the weaknesses of the institutional church, and I share his concern that we are losing a large number of our younger people from the church. Would the model of emerging church be an answer?
9. Brian is articulate, intelligent, and well meaning. I have enjoyed his company. I believe we should listen to what he has to say. The least we can do is to offer him Christian hospitality which means that we listen to one another. However, we must critically reflect on what he says. We need to examine his propositions in the light of the Word of God. Finally, we need to come to our own conclusions, not depending on the conclusions of others.
This is not a criticism of Brian and should not be taken as such. These are some of my reflections and of a few other pastors and theologians I have spoken to. There are still a lot of questions and even more answers are needed. I value Brian as a friend. Hey, we had Yee Sang on Chap Goh May. I believe that he has an important message for us here in Asia. At the very least, I can tell my grandchildren (when I have them) that I once shared the stage with Brian McLaren."
Again thanks to Jaime whom I believe made many new needed contacts through this event gives her report on the event here in Influential Speaker Brian McLaren Engages with Local Christian Leaders. Here's some excerpts:
"Approximately 140 Christians from different denominations and age groups participated in the event, and they indeed demonstrated unity among Malaysian Christians throughout the event.
The conversation has not only provided the opportunity for Christians from different denominations and fields of ministry to hold open discussions on specified topics, but also has enlightened the young minds of many participants, who were mostly in their 20s or 30s, on the viewpoint of their Christians leaders."
I was delighted to see a substantial young presence for the event. But I was even more humbled to see numerous senior leaders of the Malaysian church present. I think this serves as a great encouragement for us.
"The speaker, McLaren was also very encouraged from the conversations he had with the local Christian leaders.
"I think it [the conversation] has gone very well. I like the way that this being set up. For me having such conversations in Malaysia, I learned so much," McLaren told Christian Today after the event."
I'm glad the event provided a chance for a more mutual two way learning process. I believe this kind of conversation is what we need today and towards the future.
Thanks for these videos by Dr. Alex Tang. I'll chip in some random reflections
It's refreshing to have a guest speaker who comes as an equal to engage in conversation with us. And in many cases Brian showed himself to be a good student listening in order to understand our context. And that started the moment he step in the car when we picked him up from the airport.
When Brian was sharing about his encounter with this particular theologian and talked about the gospel. My mind wonders to numerous life changing conversations I have had with people who had a gift of helping me see things I have been blind too.
Dr. Ng Kam Weng systematically shares his response and helped set the tone and focus of the first round of the interaction between conversation partners. There was a lot of ground covered in that 1 hour of conversations.
My friends David BC Tan posted this excellent piece Brian McLaren's hope with a nice picture of Brian speaking (and a interesting funny caption - "taichi"). Read on for a perspective from a more "senior" leader :-)
"It's hard not to feel the sense of anticipation in the crowd during the last 2 days with Brian McLaren. No doubt some of us were all ears listening out for key points that might well raise red flags. But there was little or hardly any controversy. There was nothing really new to my mind, possibly because some of us have been around, read some books, lived through the throes of liberal theology, hung out with McGavran (for which we still suffer from a hangover), surfed the Third Wave. In fact, not too long ago, the late Schaeffer asked if the Church had a future in the book,The Church at the end of the 20th Century. Not surprisingly, he pointed to orthodoxy, a genuine relationship with Jesus, compassion and community, as key.
You could say McLaren is restating the same truths for our postmodern generation. Except that the man has a knack for the incendiary. Just as well I suppose, because his books made a lot of people sit up.
Not at the recently concluded seminar however. Then, the messages were 'tame'; provocative only in the way he gently dusted off cobwebs that have settled on our ideas of Church. The only thing I suspect that was a mite too unsettling was his "al-Queda" analogy to the empire language of Jesus - but only if taken out of the larger context of his talk.
I loved the TV-style forum. On stage with "the usual suspects" (as some noted) the conversations were largely amiable, and notable in its ecumenical consensus. Dr Herman Shastri of CCM had a story about a former boy soldier from Liberia who makes crucifixes out of spent shells, and that moved me deeply. Some questions from the floor had a jagged edge I dare say, but then no blood was drawn.
My own take is that McLaren has brought a global perspective to the fore in his explication of the Kingdom of God. Which always merits a hearing, familiar as it is to some of us old fogies. It’s something that has to be said more often. But what if people do not want the Kingdom, but a passport to heaven - which may explain why the Church is in the state she is in today.
Yet I also sensed a bit of self-flagellation (unconscious perhaps?) in remarks about the Church losing her way. In our small group discussion, someone said something like Christianity indeed has done so much that’s wrong "especially to Muslims, and let's admit it." It made me wonder if the little that was mentioned about the Church’s failures ought not to have been balanced against all the positive things that God has graciously done through her in spite of everything. So many of our young people and adults know too little about church history they throw the baby out with the bath water, no thanks to the media.
Nevertheless there’s a stirring, as I mentioned to Sivin when some of us met for a sort of debriefing and dinner with McLaren on Monday. Cool! There we were, followers of Christ from so many different churches, sharing, talking – fellowshipping - which pleased me no end. We nodded with agreement when someone spoke up that such a gathering would have been inconceivable in Malaysia 20 or 30 years ago. Isn't that a quiet revolution of hope?
"We may have tried to make people 'nice' – quiet citizens of their earthly kingdoms and energetic consumers in their earthly economies – but we didn't fire them up and inspire them to invest and sacrifice their time, intelligence, money, and energy in the revolutionary cause of the kingdom of God. No, too often, Karl Marx was right: we used religion as a drug so we could tolerate the abysmal conditions of a world that is not the kingdom of God. Religion became our tranquilizer so we wouldn't be so upset about injustice. Our religiosity thus aided and abetter people in power who wanted nothing more than to conserve and preserve the unjust status quo that was so profitable and comfortable for them.
What would happen, I wonder as I sit in the light of the glorious stained-glass windows of a cathedral in Prague or Vienna or London or Florence, if we again tasted the good news of Jesus – not as a tranquilizer but as a vibrant, potent new wine that filled us with joy and hope that a better world is possible? What if, intoxicated by this new wine, we threw off our inhibitions and actually began acting as if the hidden but real kingdom of God was at hand?" - Brian McLaren (The Secret Message of Jesus)
More reports and loads of pictures on Friends in Conversation at Sivin's, Alwyn's, and Dr Alex Tang's. Now these guys really know how to cook, so go there for a blow-by-blow account."
All the way from Malacca from a new friend from the Catholic Church there :-) Here's most of what he said in his blog post.
I wanted to take my time to write this entry. After all, it was a two whole tiring days in PJ CLGC. The conversations were not that provocative or controversial. But I got interesting insights and some good reflections
Important points noted
1. The Catholic Church seeks to reduce "deep ecclesiology" by empowering the laity and making the church more accessible to the mass (Vatican Council II and on a local context PMPC III)
The Protestant Churches are moving towards "deeper ecclesiology" and seeking to be united in theology and management. A public theology is implored.
Since we are at opposite ends at this point of time moving in directions towards each other. Perhaps we could set aside some egos and shut up and learn from one another?
2. Ecumenism is very much lacking when the Malaysian churches are more interested in IRD due to political and local circumstances.
What? Ecumenism is supposed to be a western concern and IRD an Asian concern due to the melting pot we live in? It's equally important. How do we have IRD when we cant even be ecumenism is not burning in our hearts too? How can we answer queries as to "Kristian apasal banyak church, semua ajar lain cerita punya?" and expect to share and learn of other faiths outside the Christian world?
3. The Gospel of Jesus is " The Kingdom of God is at hand". The good news is about Jesus. The good news of Jesus is that the Kingdom is at hand. Get the difference? All proto evangelium references in the Old Testament points to Jesus. Following Jesus points us where?
4. The shift from a "personal God" focus gradually to being a fruit bearing Christian in a Church. ..."
Thanks Kebaktian for this "contextual" post on Brian McLaren. Terima Kasih!
"Sessi perbincangan dan dialog oleh Brian McLaren mengingatkan saya akan pelayanan ke atas komuniti orang asli. Misi Integrasi yang disampaikan beliau memberikan ilham dan perspektif di mana ia mengembalikan maksud sebenar misi pelayanan kita. Kita dicipta untuk dunia ini. Dunia ini menjadi medan pelayanan bagi umat Kristian tidak kira dia tu pendita atau pekerja sekular biasa.
Sebagai warga kerajaan Allah di bumi ini, kita boleh merealisasikan Kerajaan Allah di muka bumi ini atau di tempat kerja serta di komuniti kita sendiri. Kita kembalikan hak asasi, pelajaran, ekonomi dan keadilan untuk orang asli. Kita boleh menunjukkan realiti kerajaan Allah dalam tempat tinggal mereka walaupun ia jauh dari arus pembangunan. Berita baik atau injil bukanlah hanya melalui percakapan sahaja tetapi juga bagaimana kita membantu memenuhi kehendak mereka seperti mana Yesus yang berbelas kasihan melihat mereka yang sakit dan miskin. Kita mahu melihat semua dimensi dan aspek iaitu kebudayaan, sosial, ethnik ditransformasikan mengikut kehendak Allah yang asal.
Kesimpulannya, marilah kita merealisasikan kerajaan Allah dalam komuniti kita dan perkerjaan kita.
"Biarlah kerajaanMu datang, Biarlah kehendakMu terjadi di bumi seperti di syurga ... " doa yang diajar Yesus
Bolehkah anda melihat kerajaan Allah dalam komuniti ini?"
I still haven't come to the stage of writing my thoughts yet. Some solitude was good today and a decent movie plus a needed book. For now, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. :-)
I think it's important to note these are very raw reflections from Alwyn, but he always has a gift for eye grabbing titles like this --> Detonations of Hope
"I'm gonna sound like I'm Brian McLaren's No.1 fan in Malaysia.
Maybe it's because I've been part of Emergent for the past 2-3 years. Maybe it's my inadequate reading of McLaren (only 3 books out of about a dozen). Maybe it's God knocking me on the head, on account of my lack of "spiritual involvement". But there were so many instances during McLaren's talks at the QRoH conference which "blew me away", for instance:
...when he tied discipleship to the making of the rare violins (like the Stradivarius), sharing how a master violin-maker and his apprentice would go cottage to cottage in the mountains of Switzerland looking for a particular wood to make high-quality violins, with the apprentice slowly mastering the art by imitating the master. It dawned on me that I've been spending so much time thinking and talking about the faith that I haven't been devoting enough attention to immitating its Leader and Perfecter. I/We have been so obsessed with rules of mastery that we've forgotten to follow and eat with and live like and love as much as, the Master.
...when he counseled that, with respect to adherents of other faiths, the proper response is to "love and know, serve and protect" them. Serve and protect Buddhists, "free-thinkers", Muslims?? Serve and protect them?! Protect them from Christians, maybe? This response feels so right and even though the Biblical 'alarm-bells' are ringing, I sense that's what God desires of His children. Our Christian narrative is not to be an irresistible meta-narrative steamrolling its way over other framing stories, but a redeeming narrative, suffering (even) for those who seek to stamp it out.
...when he suggested reworking our language in communicating the Gospel and declaring something like, "We are the Al-Qaeda of God, preparing detonationgs of hope, firing bullets of goodness, flying planes of truth into buildings of deception."
And to think that I initially declined being a facilitator...(*Alwyn shakes head at himself*)"
Here ends what Alwyn has written.
A Special Note From Me [Sivin] (Just in case anyone is tempted to misunderstand Brian's quote above): In reference to the final paragraph above on reworking our language ... I don't think Brian is suggesting we use it carelessly. What I understand is how often the content and language of the gospel no longer impacts us or shocks us into a place where we'd sit up and listen and consequently stand up into action/respond. Usually artist or poets would accent colours or their language to capture the attention and imagination of their audience. During our 2 days there were many moments where Brian was operating in this mode. And reading Alwyn's post is encouraging to see the positive and good effect it has had on him.
Alwyn Lau is offering a blog feast again with You Are Always Welcome Here I still have not come to the place where I'm putting down my thoughts yet. Had some time of solitude today.
"Micro. Quantum. Ghost. Liquid. Unconscious.
Cool ways to describe church, huh? From Roman Catholic to Unconscious - a deep ecclesiology.
If I heard McLaren right, he's saying that church "happens" in any and all forms. Any (regular?) gathering of any number of people to discuss, among other things, God and goodness, and the presence and relationship between both in our world.
I think McLaren was trying to move us away from thinking about how-to-do-it frame of mind to a just-do-it paradigm. So if God can nurture his new kind of redemptive agent via twice-monthly latte sessions or tri-weekly cook-ins', we should honour this process. And we could even call this church.
I was very moved by his story of a Cathedral pastor, seeing the small multitude of punk-haired 'street people' seated in his church side by side with properly dressed middle- and higher-class church-goers, who then whispered to McLaren, "I want you to let this people know that they are always welcome here."
There is no male or female, no Jew or Gentile, no high- or low- culture, no sophisiticated or unsophisticated, no big sinner or small sinner. For all are in Christ?
This is so gracious, so redemptively counter-church culture and gives us so much hope that all those stories about people being turned away from church (by disgust, shame or hurt) can have a Go(o)d ending.
We ought to value and learn from these church-forms wherever and however they occur. We must love and accept everyone in Christ, no matter how shabbily they look or 'unconventional' they appear.
Even bishops and black sheeps of the church can be friends. Even if some overdress occasionally (smile)."
Thanks Soo Choo for sharing this "Franciscan Benediction" with me during this event.
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
Ok Alwyn and Jade is missing from this picture. But want to give you due credit :-) Thanks to the Friends in Conversation 2007 coordinating group and whole team for helping to make this event possible. Especially Mike Foong who worked so hard for the DVD, powerpoints and getting the sound guys working together (and his work hasn't ended yet! Editing will begin ...) while Reuben made sure the church premises was ready for us. Laurie (who went the extra mile) and Siew Foong worked especially hard to make sure the registration and name tags was in order (want to include Janelle who helped too). Kia Meng and his team who lead us into the worship liturgies ... and of course, Bob (who even had a nightmare before the event , i mean "daymare" to share my stress) made sure communications was done well. Of course, we need to appreciate our wives and our kids for being patient with us and releasing us for one week (Represented here by Elaine and Charis!).And we must not forget Yew Khuen who labored with heart and soul!
Thank you to all the conversation partners too for taking the risk to be part of this.
Thank you to all the participants ... for participating and being open for next steps...
Let's not forget .. Thanks Brian ... for sharing, listening, and learning together with us while gently encouraging us to look through Scripture, look at our world closely again and be open to the leading of the Spirit, by his example and encouragement.
Seems other people are blogging faster than me ... the conversations are flowing ... Here's one from my good friend Alwyn: For God So Loved the World
"Tan Soo-Inn's voice sounded a lot deeper than I remembered. Ng Kam Weng appeared more playful than I've ever seen him. Alex Tang, Tan Kong Beng, Herman Sastri and many others I was pleased to meet 'in the flesh' for the first time. Jojo Fung is one groovy dresser and can make the entire floor erupt whilst maintaining a straight face. Sherman blessed us with more than his smile. Bishop Philip Lok proved himself no stranger to spontaneous fun and laughter.
And we also (*smile*) had Brian McLaren lead us, a group of friends, in a 2-day conversation about sparking quiet revolutions of hope(QRoH) for the world.
Revolutions is the right word, although only a few will say that McLaren's material was entirely new to them. I think we've all felt that something wasn't clicking with this whole Christianity/Church thinggy, but we've never totally articulated them, trashed them out, at least not in such a forthright manner. And whilst it appears that we certainly need more granularity in the solutions discussed during the conference, it's lways a good thing that new sets of questions are raised and given new life to - this can be revolutionary.
All kudos for Sivin, Yew Khuen and the Alex's post for more comprehensive summary). This fresh Gospel was contrasted with the generally conservative portrayal of Jesus' message as being essentially about how the self could escape the eventual destruction of the world and eternal torment in hell.
McLaren delivers his messages in a serious yet gentle manner. His words flow effortlessly and smoothly, producing (and is this just me?) a calming effect on his listeners, clearing the path for new models of understanding, or new ways of seeing things. He makes you want to listen to him.
I think McLaren is doing the Church a favor by refocusing us back to what Jesus said the Gospel was about. Was it mainly about avoiding hell and reaching a blissful afterlife? Or was it about, somehow, transforming the world via the creation of a new kind of people?
"Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!" This is Jesus. Not Luther, not Calvin, not the Baptist General Convention and definitely not the American President.
Now, I've read N.T. Wright many times, but why did I still feel like this message was new to me?! Could it be because there's a tendency to keep reverting to an equilibrium which is so "heavenly" minded it neglects efforts to make earth AS IT IS in heaven?
A Christian is someone who is healed of AIDS so he can join the healing initiative to rid the community of the disease. It's the community, the world, which drives the entire plan of God and one finds meaning (and "salvation" from ultimate punishment) by accepting the world-mission of the Creator and locating one's self within His grand plan.
As McLaren's slides illustrated so wonderfully (and I've certainly missed out something here but I think you'll get the picture), a huge problem today is that ESCAPING HELL has so often been the main big title of the Gospel contract, with a sub-title about personal happiness, followed by a small footnote on character development, with an even smaller footnote on service and contributing to the Christian community, and finally the tiniest footnote about social and global transformation.
I absolutely loved his stories, too. The first session included a hilarious one about his daughter's Japanese Shiba Inu dog who runs away at the first available opportunity yet turns back at the smell/sound/sight of its owner waving cheese at him! He was using this to illustrate what he thought was a good picture of the 'old gospel' church: the preacher waving cheese at his members, promising enough self-fulfilment to take them through another week of secularism, materialism and hedonism with a gospel of sin-management, before repeating the process again.
I guess what he was trying to say that if we do NOT constantly keep the big picture of God's love for the world in mind, we'll end up either adding to the world's problems or giving up any semblance of following Jesus. Or both."
Thanks Alwyn, and you did great as a facilitator.
I'm off to the seminary soon. So, I'll post up more pictures during my own posts. For now, another round of applause for Dr. Alex Tang for his quick musings (which aren't random at all *smile*)
"Sorry. Would have posted last night but my internet access went kaput.
It has been a long day. This session starts at 8pm and it is heartening to note that the hall is still filled with people. Brian entitled his talk, "Spiritual Formation in Emerging Churches."
Spiritual formation is defined by Brian as the development of people be, think, feel, work, relate, serve, play…in the way of Jesus. Brian made an emphasis on the play aspect. Living in the way of Jesus.
Brian then tells a story about making violin. BTW, Brian is an excellent story teller. Apparently great violin that produces the best music can only be made from certain wood. These are from trees that have survived a cold season at a certain time period. That is why master violin maker will visits houses built in that period and look for such wood in the attics. This will be the wood from these trees. A master violin maker will be able by touching, feeling and smelling the wood, to judge whether the wood will be suitable to make a violin. His apprentice will be following him and observing him for many years. One day, the master violin maker will turn to his apprentice and says, "You make the violin." Spiritual formation is like that. We follow Jesus closely until one day we find that we are like Jesus. Like the violin maker's apprentice, we "unconsciously pick up the art". This is called "elbow knowledge", that it has become instinctive. Brian mentioned that his understanding of spiritual formation as "elbow knowledge" is influenced by Michael Polanyi.
He also mentions that spiritual formation is the art of loving in Jesus. This is especially important in a community where must be constant exposure of modelling and exposure to loving in Jesus.
I am impressed by Brian's stamina. After a 30 hours jetlag, he is still functioning coherently. At least I think he is. Either he is full of grace or he is zoned out. But the fact that he is coherent and still able to tell stories make me think that it is by grace.
Sivin is the facilitator and the conversation partners are Dr. Voon Choon Khing, Dr. Tan Soo Inn and yours truly. The range of conversation covers a large area of spiritual formation and discipleship. It started with an exploration of spiritual formation approaches in the modern context, postmodern, and Asian context. Confucius was included. Then one conversation partner shared about brokenness and formation and another shared about the "dark side" of the church.
This leads to an exploration of being in a church where one has been hurt. A written question about a person who has been hurt in or by a church wonders what he or she should do. The conversation partners were careful to point out that context is important and it is hard to give advice without knowing the context. However, they commented that the person should first talk with someone, talk to God, try to resolve the conflict, and only as the last resort leave the church. At this point, Brian mentions the value of confession in the church. It was an interesting session.
Father Jojo Fung, a Jesuit priest is invited to sum up the session. He gives an excellent summary with an interesting reflection, 'I am because we are.'"
And one more, from QROH: Session 4: World
"Session 4 on world starts at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon. Brian says that he is sharing materials from a book he will be publishing soon. He also mentions that he has been thinking about this issue about the world and the church for many years. Unlike previous sessions, there are no stories but a straight forward presentation.
Brian started with the many organisations and projects which are working hard to identify the problems of the world today. There are about a list of about 11 problems/issues that needed to be addressed.
However, Brian presents his view of the problems facing the world as he sees it. In his conceptual, societal structure, prosperity is an important factor. Equity is the way wealth is created and thus equity is another factor. Unfortunately prosperity and equity makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. This makes the poor discontent. They then either migrate, turn to crime or revolt. Security for the rich becomes the next factor. Brian shows a diagram where prosperity, equity and security are circles which intersections. The centre area where all three circles overlap is what he calls "framing story". Often the framing story is religion. Religion is often used by the rich and powerful to keep the poor underfoot. Religion is used to justify why the rich are rich and the poor should remain poor.
Therefore, the framing story is a metanarrative. A metanarrative is a story that erase all other stories and replace it with its own. Brian gives Caesar's framing narrative:
Equality, prosperity and security come from a powerful leader (Caesar) who concentrates the means of violence and imposes peace through domination. The empire of Caesar is at hand.
Jesus confronts the system by reframing Caesar's narrative:
Equality, prosperity and security come from a sacrificial people who embody reconciliation and bring peace through justice and love. The kingdom of God is at hand.
Later, Brian makes a comment about narrative.
Metanarrative as mentioned above wipes out other stories and replace them with its own.
Local narratives are your story, my story, their story etc. Unfortunately they are easily wiped out by the metanarrative.
Brian mentions a redemptive narrative which calls people to live with one another in peace and not wipe out others’ narrative.
In conclusion, Brian mentions four possible responses to "my neighbour (of another religion)"
(1) convert and assimilate
(2) persecute and marginalise
(3) ignore or isolate
(4) love and know…serve and protect.
The last response should be our response.
The facilitator is Tricia Yeoh and the conversation partners are Father Jojo Fung S.J., Dr. Hermen Shastri, and Steven Wong. The discussion started with Hermen informing us of his work with the World Council of Churches, the national CCM, interfaith committees and dialogue with the government. He ended his introductory remarks with a poem and shows us a metal cross made out of a bullet cashing. He says that the artist used to be a boy soldier in Liberia who becomes a Christian and now works as an ambassador of peace for the UN.
Steven mentions NECF's work and Father Jojo explained the Roman Catholic Church involvement in Malaysia. Father Jojo also shares about his work with the Orang Asli and the Muruts in Sabah. He also raises two important points in reflection on Brian's presentation; one is where does the smaller religions fit into the framing narrative, and how does the ancient civilisations, like Confucianism and Brahmanism affects the framing narrative. After this reflection, he concluded by considering a pig, a lowly creature allowing itself to be consumed. He sees himself as a pig to be consumed by others so that others may live a better life. Father Jojo quotes Gandhi, "We have to live simply that others may simply live."
Then the discussion went onto to politics in Malaysia and what should Christians do about it. Here the conversation partners were divided. One suggests that politics should be left to the "experts" while another calls for more Christians to be involved in vigil, protest, etc.
This is the last session and it concludes by all participants standing in a circle, breaking bread and passing around a lighted candle.
Much has been said, much reflection needs to be done."
Once again... Terima Kasih, Dr. Alex Tang :-) We will have further conversations after I get some sleep :-)
Dr. Alex Tang who is one of our conversation partners beat me in terms of the speed of blogging the event. I'll just quote him and throw a few pictures.
"The long awaited conference, Friends in Conversation: A Quiet Revolution in Hope started today at Christian Life Gospel Centre, Petaling Jaya. The first session is on the Gospel (9.15am-12 noon).
Brian McLaren started the plenary session by sharing his thoughts about the different versions of the gospel. One version is "You can get saved and go to heaven and to hell with the rest." Another version is about the Kingdom of God coming to earth. He used his circle illustrations. One is of three separate circles; one for self, one for the world and one for church. That he says is one of the ways some people perceive doing church. The next illustration shows one large circle: the world, and two small circles inside the large circle: self and church. Brian has used these illustrations in the chapter on "Why I am Missional" in Generous Orthodoxy.
Brian then went on to explain the kingdom of God, based mainly on the gospel. In this talk, he drew on what he has written in his book, The Secret Message of Jesus. He concludes by illustrating that the way they proclaim Jesus as King is in the same format that the Romans proclaim Augustus Caesar as god.
After his presentation, the conversation partners, Sherman Kuek, Dr. Ng Kam Weng, and Elder Tan Kong Beng were invited to give their responses and views. Alwyn is a good faciliatator who kept the conversation going. Actually with Kam Weng and Kong Beng ( who is in his lecturer mode), he did not have any problem getting the conversation going! The emphasis is on the definition of the gospel and the kingdom of God. Kong Beng made a good point about compassion in sharing the gospel. Sherman raised a few eyebrows with his Eastern Orthodox view about theosis and continuing salvation.
The questions from the floor are good questions too. One person raised the statement that if the church is growing at 30% annually, why should they bother about anything else? This led to some responses about spiritual growth, gospel and more about kingdom of God.
This promises to be a good start for the conference. This posting is mainly about my immediate impressions. I shall post my reflections on this conference later. BTW they are videotaping the sessions who emergent Malaysia shall be selling for RM 20.00. Check their website for more information."
Another one from QROH: Session 2: Church
"Session two starts at 2pm in the afternoon after lunch. Again Brian gives the plenary talk followed by the conversation partners and conversation participants. People are beginning understand that the whole conference is a great big conversation.
Brian talks about the emerging church. He starts by using Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger's 9 points descriptors of emergent churches:
(1) Identifying with Jesus
(2) Transforming secular space
(3) Living as community
(4) Welcoming the stranger
(5) Serving with generosity
(6) Particpating as producers
(7) Creating as created beings
(8) Leading as a body
(9) Merging ancient and contemporary spiritualities.
He said that the main descriptor is number one and all the rest is built on it. He then goes onto to illustrate the emerging churches by three diagrams. The first is a box with four quardants and a red circle in the centre. The centre represent the emerging church and the four quardant represent evangelical, charismatic, social concern and liturgical. Brian said that people who are unhappy with thier tradition tend to try traditions in the other quadrant and end in the red circle in the middle.
The second illustration is of a tree trunk with concentric rings. The traditional churches are further in the trunk while the emerging churches represent the outermost ring.
The third illustration is of two circles. One represent the older paradigm while the other circle represents the church of tomorrow. He then put a link between the two and call it a transitional link. He also label it the emerging church. I am very mch taken by this third illustration that the emerging church is the transition to the church of tomorrow.
Then he went on to talk about deep ecclesiology.
The conversation partners for this session are Elder Chris Leong, Bishop Philip Lok and Rev. Wong Fong Yang. The partners did not engage directly on Brian's talk about the emerging church. Instead they shared on their own theology, perception and the way they do church. Bishop Lok shared about the Lutheran tradition. Pastor Wong shared about his past church experience and what type of church he wanted when he started his present church. Chris Leong shared on the novel way they are doing church. They also shared about evangelism in Malaysia.
There are a couple of questions from the conversation participants. One asked about syncretism. Brian shared a story about a Christian practicing Tai Chi but using the movements to represent Christian values.
After the second session, there was time for small group discussion."
He's safe ...
and eating well ...
I felt the orientation with most of the conversation partners and facilitators went much better than I expected. Thanks be to God!
I sent an email to some friends to pray for us the next couple of days. And I thought maybe I'd post this up so anyone following our little adventure thus far can join us in some way (at least in intercession). In a chat conversation with Bob our communications guy, he approved. Here's a glimpse of the our short exchange:
8:34 AM me: I might post the content (of the email) on my blog what say you? a vulnerable post
Robert: sure :)
8:35 AM the rev sivin kit is still human
me: i'm very well aware of that
Robert: despite rumours to the contrary LOL
and now the email:
Tomorrow, we will be hosting an event called "Friends in conversation 2007: A Quiet Revolution of Hope" with Brian McLaren as the guest speaker (conversation initiator) and 12 other Local respected Malaysian leaders (conversation partners) with 4 other younger leaders who serve as conversation facilitators (including myself (3 is below 35 and 1 is in her twenties!) . For more information: http://emergentmalaysia.org/
I would appreciate some extra prayer support. As this is our first time doing it, and I for one am a little anxious on how it will turn out. This has been a most stressful week, the whole event was organize in 2 months with mostly volunteers (cf. that means about 10 of us!). Now to date with have 140participants for 2 days - Saturday and Sunday. Brian later will speak another day at a local ecumenical seminary on Monday. I need all the prayer I can get, physically, emotionally and spiritual (in fact not just me, but all who are working behind the scenes and on stage). I do recognize having Brian over to speak is controversial for some quarters, for others they are totally excited at the opportunity, and many in between who are curious and inquisitive. For me personally, I'm thankful to have a chance to meet him face to face for the first time (Brian's writings and personal friendship had been a tremendous encouragement to me ... even when I have areas I'm not in total agreement with him on specifics after reading his stuff depending which book and which paragraph *smile*, I suppose that's part of friendship and being in conversation with another too.) Another joy is the chance to introduce him to some Malaysian senior leaders and emerging younger leaders (or potential leaders).
My sincere prayer is that this event and other little bonuses around it will be a blessing to the Church in Malaysia in ways I suppose only God fully knows. We takes risks in baby steps and sometimes with a little big leap. I'm sure we would fall and make mistakes at times and then pick ourselves up again. Often, we'd be surprised by the good which emerges after the dust is settled. Of course, We also need to keep my focus centered Christ and God's purposes for us and celebrate the little victories we are reaping even now I believe which advances his agenda more than ours.
So, I'd appreciate your prayer support. Thanks.
Jaime Sim was a very friendly and inquisitive journalist. And I'm encouraged by her desire to see how we can keep Christians in Malaysia and worldwide informed on what's happening here in her home country.
The result of our "conversation" :-) resulted in this piece Influential Speaker Brian McLaren to Address Modern Challenges to Church, a title which she chose. I thought it was interesting what she decided to highlight as far as what I said ... (and I said a lot of things!), Here are two that came out:
"We do not see this [event] as a conference… to promote a programme or a quick-fix or one size-fit-all solution for the problems before us. For us, we just want to create a space and opportunity for people to talk and to listen, and also connect with those exploring similar concerns"
"emergentMalaysia wants to create the possibilities of moving forward, which is the heart of the whole idea for conversations like this...,"
I was also deeply delighted to get an email from my friend Tony Jones who is the National Coordinator, Emergent Village. Now, surely the content of our conversations we have in Malaysia will probably be different in substance and in tone compared to our friends around the world. And yet, at the same time, there may be areas that we may converge due to this increasingly globalized world - and the common influences we have had in our Christian development. I think there is also the awareness that we cannot be isolated from each other as we all seek to understand, live and practice the Gospel in our time and age. :-)
Anyway, I'll come back to Tony's kind affirming words to us, "Terima Kasih" (Thank you in Malay):
"You've got friends around the world, which bespeaks the true spirit of emergence that is building around the world. We're praying for your wonderful event here in the States, and I'm confident that God will bless it richly! "
Thank you so much for making the time and space to join us for this conversation, We have received your registration and thought it would be good to send you a letter with some final details. You might want to print out this e-mail for your reference.
1. Registration will be opened from 8.00am on Saturday (3 March 2007) If you have pre-registered but have yet to pay the registration fee of RM 55.00, you can do so at the registration desk manned by Laurie Toong and her team.
If you are bringing friends who are not pre-registered, a registration fee of RM 65.00 is payable.
2. The map to the venue of the event, Christian Life Gospel Centre (CLGC), is reproduced below :
For your reference, here are some photos of the building where the venue is located :
Alternatively, you can also phone CLGC's office at 03.7955.0084 for directions.
3. Accomodations near the venue can be found at :
* Petaling Jaya Hilton
Website (Phone : 03.7955.9122)
* Hotel Singgahsana PJ (Formerly NPC Hotel)
Website (Phone : 03.7956.2100)
* Shah Village Hotel
Website (Phone : 03.7956.9322)
* Lisa De Inn
Website (Phone : 03.7955.3636)
4. Lunch will be provided on Saturday (3 March 2007). There will be simple refreshments served during the breaks.
5. Session 3 on Discipleship is open to the public (refer to programme schedule below). Please feel free to invite friends. We will collect a special offering for our speaker Brian Mclaren to show our appreciation on this night.
6. The Sunday Worship Service is not part of the programme as some may need to be back at their home churches. However, all are welcome to join us in worship at CLGC at 10.30 am. The event will resume at 2.00 pm in the afternoon.
7. There will be a book counter set up by Glad Sounds, our sponsoring partner for this event.
8. Please feel free to go to the following links to get some more information and preliminary reading :
* Sivin Kit's Garden
Friends in Conversation
9. You are also welcome to join the lecture and interaction at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM) in Seremban on Monday, 5 March 2007, at 10.00 am. This is event is free and open to all interested. More information about the lecture can be found at www.stm.edu.my.
Finalised Programme Schedule
Come with a relaxed mind and an open heart. We look forward to seeing you face to face and joining you in exploring where God is leading us in the future.
Feel free to contact me by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone (013.3507.246) anytime if you have any further enquiries.
Rev. Sivin Kit
on behalf of the organising team
Giggles and laughter ...
Behind the scenes details ...
in deep thought ...
Another round of laughter ... it's good medicine.
everyone contributing to "make it so"
Watchwords for Today are:
"Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God" - Joshua 24:18
"We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us." - Romans 12:5-6
As we move into the final stages preparing for the upcoming event on Saturday and Sunday (plus other bonuses!) It's wonderful to get some encouraging emails. Please allow me to repost two:
"Hello to all of you in Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere who are gathering for the Quiet Revolution of Hope conversation! I've been following the progress of Sivin and others organizing this and I'm so excited for you - it surely does bring hope to gather with others who are dreaming big dreams for the future of our communities of faith. I find hope every time I discover someone else who also feels a desire to see the body of Christ progress to the next place God has for us - what excitement we talk with! - When God does something locally, it's one thing, but when you see it happening all around the world it really makes you wonder what God is up to. Blessings to you all from those of us on the other side of the world, here in New York City, who gather to hold this conversation.
Jeff Kursonis, church planter and Emergent Village Coordinating Group member"
and another one from my good friend Jason Clark who's walked with us since day one.
"Dear Sivin & our brothers and sisters in Malaysia,
It has been wonderful to watch you gently and lovingly move people
into discussion and friendship, incarnating the very nature and hopes
many of us have found through our relationship with Emergent.
When I am asked me what Emergent is, I try to point to people who
embody, a 'lived theology' of our conversations/hopes/aspirations.
Thank you for being
people we can do that with. We esteem your desire to see people
connect at this time/space in ways that will deepen their faith, and
grow the body of Christ.
Be blessed, and we look forward to hearing your reports.
Short one for tonight. Need more energy when the sun rises tomorrow.
Looks like a lot of last minute registrations coming and for those of us directly involved more fine tuning. So it's good to get some focus. I think especially in the light of some buzz surrounding the event ranging from "fantastic" to "compromising" (I'll leave it to your imagination *smile*).
I thought I'll pick out some lines I read some time ago from Brian's website and fuse in some personal thoughts sparked by his Note to Readers
"1. Please do not cause dissension, division, or trouble on my account (or any other account!). If others say or write unfair or inaccurate things about me or my writings, please do not respond in kind. You may wish to offer some words of personal testimony by telling people how God has in some way helped you through my work, or you may want to offer your personal observation if you have met me in person, but please, please do not respond with harshness, counterattack, or defensiveness. ..."
This requires a lot of self-discipline, restraint and maturity ... and a couple of friends to unload first. If there aren't many friends who are able or available to help process through the "stuff" ... I've resorted to journaling (with God as my audience of one) when I'm frustrated with what I read. I think a lot done in the privacy of our communion with God does wonders.
"2. Please do not make me or even my books the issue. Make Christ and his teachings the issue, and make a right understanding of the Scriptures the issue. ..."
I think this is a very important piece of advice. So often we get carried away ... Lord have mercy. This Lent season is a good reminder on who is our ultimate absolute focus.
3. If you have become convinced of something from one of my books, and you hear a preacher or friend say the opposite, if at all possible, just let it slide. Instead, try to hear what they’re saying in a charitable light and learn whatever you can from it. Affirm whatever you can and don’t argue about the rest ... "
I've never been good at arguing anyway. I like conversations (even those where people can disagree respectfully). I participated on two debate teams during school days, one for the Chinese society and one for the English society .. in both cases our opponents were girl schools, we lost both times. My conclusion is either girls are smarter than us boys and can out debate us or my calling is not in winning arguments with flowery rhetoric or densely formulated impressive logic (For the record: I am not anti-rational or think there's no place of a reasonable discussion or well crafted argument which enhances understanding and learning). For now the focus for me is to encourage and facilitate the upcoming conversations with a team of wonderful friends. Uncharitable arguments don't energize me, intense respectful conversations do. I'll focus on the latter.
"4. Please don’t recommend my books to people who aren’t ready for them. I wouldn’t have been able to handle some ideas in my books twenty years ago, so I am sympathetic to people who can’t handle them now. The book that means the most to you may be a distraction to one of your friends, so please be careful and prayerful in this regard. Timing is, as they say, everything."
Food for thought on this one .... I do think twice on which book to recommend Malaysian pastors or leaders. And I confess, the NKOC series is not my first choice (even though I personally enjoy them). Usually I go for The Church on the Other Side, Finding Faith and the recent The Secret Message of Jesus. At times, I'll suggest A Generous Orthodoxy. It depends. I think Brian's interviews and articles are pretty good conversation starters.
5. If you have become convinced of some things from my books which put you at odds with your church or organization, please do not undermine the leadership there. Please! People often ask my advice in these situations. I don't think there is a universal prescription (except love your neighbors!), but when I was a senior pastor, here's what I wish people would have done if they had differences with my leadership or teaching: First, I wish they would have come to me (or written to me) in private and in a friendly and nonthreatening way told me what they have come to see or believe (not what they think I should see or believe!). Then I wish they would have asked me for my advice on what they should do. Would I like the opportunity to present them with counter-arguments? Would I prefer that they leave and find another church? Would I prefer that they stay and share their ideas, gently and patiently of course, with others? Would I prefer that they form a small group to dialogue about these matters? Or maybe I think that they're on the right track, but this congregation isn’t ready for their ideas, so perhaps they should consider finding or forming a new faith community? Third, I would have appreciated a promise that they wouldn't cause dissension in the congregation, but would instead pursue what makes for peace and mutual edification.
If it turns out that you should leave, please write a letter of thanks to the church leaders – without even a hint of criticism – and leave them with a blessing, so that whenever you see one another in the future, they’ll have a good feeling about you and gratitude for your mature spirit. I think it is a good gesture to give a generous financial gift as part of your goodbye. If you have duties at the church, don't leave without finding and training a replacement. Above all, don’t even get close to a church split or anything like it. It’s better to quietly withdraw than disturb the peace of a faith community in any way. Again echoing the apostle Paul, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone, and be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
As the only pastor of my congregation, I thought this was worth quoting in full ..
"6. If you are a pastor or other leader yourself, please do not impose on your congregation or organization ideas you have become convinced of through my books. Change is a process that requires wise and patient leadership. To rush new ideas into a sermon is often the very worst way to bring about change – apart from a change of address and employment, that is! If your congregation is open to new ideas and seeks a transformation in its identity to a more missional and emergent vocation, I would highly recommend you begin by finding an experienced consultant that you trust to guide you in this process"
As the only pastor of my congregation, I thought this was worth quoting in full too ... change indeed is easier said than done. And it can be lonely.
"7. If you are mistreated simply because you agree with ideas in my books, then by all means seek out some friends who will understand. You’ll need some people with whom you can be open and honest so that you can process the pain and grief of mistreatment. You may need to seek a professional counselor or spiritual director’s help. Whatever you do, don’t let the mistreatment of others destroy your faith or make you lose heart. Doing so will in the end empower the people who have behaved badly. Instead, let their mistreatment drive you deeper into God’s compassionate care."
It's advice like this that moves one forward. It's just to tempting to either fall backward into some kind of whirlpool self-absorbed depressive state or simply being stuck into inactivity or even apathy. I suppose it's understandable why some of us would land up there for whatever reason. But for me, I always sense deep inside in whatever circumstance ... a gentle whisper calling me forward.
"8. An idea: if you're excited about something you've gained from my work, instead of turning it into discussion, first turn it into action and invite others to get involved with the action."
Talking about it is always easier. But this is such a good and simple idea. I'm growing weary even of my own words at times.
"9. If you see people who have been helped by my books doing the opposite of one of these requests, please encourage them to read or re-read this letter."
This is not easy, but we can try. As long as people are willing to listen, I guess there's still hope :-)
"It has been my policy to avoid defending myself. Occasionally I have offered some clarification, and I am in the process of writing a friendly note to my critics, asking for their cooperation in raising the quality of dialogue in our Christian communities. But I do not want to become defensive, nor do I want to get anywhere close to counter-attack, aggressively or passive-aggressively. If I do that, I have violated the message I’m trying to live and communicate."
I hope to participate in raising the quality of dialogue too ... there's still so much to learn.
We had a good time of prayer tonight. After all the talk on final preparations and further fine tuning in planning, and then some level of laughter and updates on the "buzz" surrounding the event. What for me I found precious was the time we prayed together. The language of prayer is where we connected with the One who we entrust ourselves to especially one week before the event.
We're grateful to Mike Foong and his team in helping us get the audio-video set up ready. I'm totally blur when it comes to technical stuff like this. And yet, those like Mike blossom in this kind of tasks. I'm curious to see how the potential DVD will turn out. Maybe a director's cut? :-)
We're grateful to Pastor Raj and Reuben and everyone at Christian Life Gospel Centre for the logistic support they are giving.
We're grateful to Laurie from Council of Churches of Malaysia who's been working behind the scenes making sure the registrations and payments are in order and helping us to keep track on the latest sign ups. She'll also be welcoming all who are coming.
We're grateful to Adeline settling various quotations for us to decide on and keeping an eye on how people can be fed in the coming weekend!
We're also grateful to Yew Khuen our chairman who's guiding the group gently in spite of his own heavy schedule. He makes sure the details are checked from the budget to various check lists. I'm looking forward to see how the small group questions and guide can help the participants "personalize" their learning and be open to listen to others.
We're especially grateful for all the conversation partners and facilitators. I have heard from some "interesting" conversations they have already been part of simply by having their name printed on the same brochure with Brian McLaren! Others talked about different reactions and eyebrows raised because of their participation in this event.
I'd only wish those who may have questions to come for the event, at least the open night meeting. Meet Brian for themselves and hear the conversation partners interact. I'd be happy to say hello! :-) Moving from a more distant stance to a more face to face posture does us all much good. Furthermore, I think we have a pretty good framework to get ourselves thinking together. I don't think it will be too technical or very academic sounding or with high flying rhetoric. I foresee a very human encounter of minds and hearts of followers of Christ which will desires to benefit all who participate.
Oh yes ... We're also grateful for all those who have already signed up. Especially those traveling all the way from Singapore (thanks for the phone call), from the east coast and islands, as well as the historic city of Malacca. The schedule is a little tight, but let's see how this intensive time together might generate missional possibilities.
We have not achieved much yet (depending on perspective), but nothing should stop us from expressing gratitude. All thanks ultimately goes to God.
Tonight, I valued very much our time of prayer tonight. I felt the Spirit move amongst us quietly and gently. This convinced me once again the need for an authentic spirituality to be at the heart what often are 2 opposite poles - reflection and praxis.
Join the conversations on:
GOSPEL - more than we imagined it to be
What are the "versions" of the gospel ... in the minds of church members and pastors today in Malaysia? What are the consequences of believing these "versions"? Where do we get our influences and what do we need to take note?
CHURCH - ways forward beyond forms and technique
How do people Christians and non Christians view "Church"? What occupies the minds of our pastors and church leaders? How do we wrestle with institutional as well as non-institutional aspects of church?
DISCIPLESHIP - tired of shortcuts and superficiality
How do people see their Christian life today? How is discipleship and/or spiritual formation happening now in our churches? Are their any new directions, paradigms or practices Christians are experimenting? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Where is the role of the Bible in this process? what is the place of church history or traditions - east or west?
WORLD - being ready for active engagement
How do we view our world - e.g nation? what role can we play in terms of transformation? What is transformation? What does it look like? Where do we get our ideas of what kind of transformation needs to take place?
For the first time in Malaysia, influential speaker and author Brian McLaren and Conversation Partners touch on challenges and opportunities facing the 21st Century Church.
Date & Time : March 3-4 (Saturday & Sunday)
Christian Life Gospel Centre , Petaling Jaya
3rd Floor, Kompleks Kemajuan,
2, Jalan 19/1B, 46300 Petaling Jaya,
Registration Fee :
RM55 (Walk-in Registration RM65) - inclusive of handouts, tea and one lunch.
Organised by emergent Malaysia in collaboration with:
* Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) Faith & Order Committee
* Initiative for Theological Reflection in Asia (IN.T.R.A)
* Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM)
* Glad Sounds Sdn Bhd
* Rev. Fr. Dr. Jojo Fung Jee Vui, S.J.
* Sherman YL Kuek , O.S.L.
DTh Candidate, Adjunct Lecturer in Christian Theology at STM
* Elder Chris Leong
Elder, Bandar Utama Chapel
* Dr. Ng Kam Weng
Director, Kairos Research Centre
* The Rt. Rev. Philip Lok
Bishop, Lutheran Church in Malaysia & Singapore
* Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri
General Secretary of Council of Churches Malaysia
* Dr. Tan Soo-Inn
Author, Speaker, Grace@Work
* Dr. Alex Tang
Director, Spiritual Formation Institute
* Elder Tan Kong Beng
Elder, Subang Jaya Gospel Centre, Co-founding Director of Oriental Hearts & Minds Study Institute
* Steven Wong
NECF Research Commission Chairman
* Rev. Wong Fong Yang
Pastor of City Discipleship Presbyterian Church , Vice-Moderator, Gereja Presbyterian Malaysia
* Dr. Voon Choon Khing
Lecturer in Christian Spirituality & Pastoral Counseling at STM
* Rev. Sivin Kit
Pastor, Bangsar Lutheran Church & Coordinator of emergent Malaysia
* Pastor Raj Singh
Pastor, Christian Life Gospel Centre & Director, Soul Survivor Malaysia
* Alwyn Lau
Researcher & Teacher at Fairview International School
* Tricia Yeoh
Senior Research Analyst, Centre of Public Policy Studies
I noticed there are people like me who like to read and those who REALLY read (with more of a researcher and reviewer bug!). My friend Alwyn is one of those people. I thought I'd post up his thoughts on Brian McLaren's latest book taken from his post Sharing the Secret .. Enjoy.
"The radical revolutionary empire of God is here, advancing by reconciliation and peace, expanding by faith, hope and love - beginning with the poorest, the weakest, the meekest, and the least. It's time to change your thinking. Everything is about to change. It's time for a new way of life. Believe me. Follow me. Believe this good news so you can learn to live by it and be part of the revolution." (The Secret Message of Jesus, p.32-33)
I liked almost everything about The Secret Message of Jesus. I liked the casual, creative and/yet humble tone. I liked the borrowing from N.T. Wright's work on the historical Jesus, reemphasizing the Jewishness and political-ness of Jesus (and how "to be unpolitical was to be irrelevant" in 1st cent. Judaism). I liked the firm location of Jesus within the Jewish story of the covenanting, rescuing, authentic people-producing Creator. I loved the targums scattered all over the book, like the opening one above from the lips of Jesus Himself. And of course I welcome the challenge for the church to be all it was meant to be.
Not too heavy on theology, sprinkled with contemporary examples and stories and filled with questions, I get the impression McLaren wrote SMOJ so cell-groups could study it all year round, chapter by short chapter.
Which is fine because the books addresses such 'Gospel 101' yet indispensable questions like: Why did Jesus speak most often in vague and easily misunderstood parables? What was the purpose of his miracles? How did the kingdom he wanted to inaugurated compare/contrast with existing kingdoms? How can we get a grip on the Sermon on the Mount, that radical "kingdom manifesto" as McLaren calls it? What did Jesus mean by asking people to repent and be born again?
"Once you can trust God to 'make a save', it's a lot easier to admit your own misdirection." (p.108, the summation of an interesting story involving a hockey-player unknowingly attempting an own goal!)
McLaren shows us a Jesus whose intention was not to steam-roll over His opponents' arguments, creating a beyond-doubt intellectual edifice for His new kingdom. Violence of any kind wasn't the way.
Subtlety, an embodied narrative, powerful symbols, daring vulnerability and radical selflessness (don't even think this word fits) was used to inspire rethinking (McLaren's substitute word for 'repenting') and subvert entrenched prejudices and oppressive values (which are usually extolled as the way things 'should be').
"Human kingdoms advance by force and violence with falling bombs and flying bullets, but God's kingdom advances by stories, fictions, tales that are easily ignored and easily misunderstood. Perhaps that's the only way it can be." (p.49)
There are also some very moving examples (from Tony Campolo hosting birthday parties for prostitutes, from a cab driver organising redeveloping projects in Africa, etc.) of how one can be effective agents of the kingdom wherever and whenever opportunities arise.
I think we need more books like SMOJ and writers like McLaren, giving just the right amount of Biblical grounding and depth (unlike many non-evangelicals or 'Christian/inspirational' writers), isn't overly contemplative (like Philip Yancey or Dallas Willard perhaps?), nor too glitzy and high-techy (like how Leonard Sweet can get at times) nor half-demand a theological education of its readers (like over 80% of evangelical writers out there with a Ph.D).
Not that one is expected to agree with McLaren entirely on everything he writes. Even an enthusiastic recommender of the book like meself can find one or two pages to side-note with a question mark, such as McLaren's (drawing on Dallas Williard's) take on the 'tear out your sinful eye' section in Matthew 5:29-30, which I felt was dealt with better by writers with a more coherent structure of Matthew 5-7 (e.g. Gushee & Stassen, 2003).
McLaren also doesn't miss the opportunity to discuss issues like the Just War and Pacifist perspectives on war (I'm no pacifist but McLaren has definitely got me pondering), new models/language for the kingdom of God (Dream, Network, Dance, Party - lovely stuff), the mainly preterist interpretation of the book of Revelations (heads up, fans of N.T. Wright, Greg Boyd, etc.) and life (or longing for glorious life) after death, where he draws heavily from C.S. Lewis' 'weight of glory' theme.
Read SMOJ (more than once!) if you're looking to jump-start waning interest in Jesus and his agenda, if you suspect you need to focus a little less on the abstract dogmatic stuff and work on making a kingdomly impact on your everyday world, if you'd like some sparkling new vocabulary to reach your listeners (all numbed with Christian jargon).
Most importantly, don't keep the secret to yourself.
Another angle on the book here written by Craig Carter who did his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto School of Theology under John Webster (I thought it was cool that there are PhDs who are reading Brian's books which aren't dense academic dissertations!).
11 more days to go ... for more information go to Friends in Conversation 2007
One of the topics for the event is "Discipleship" (which will be an evening meeting open to all interested even if they did not register for the event). Here's how we are framing the evening conversations:
DISCIPLESHIP - tired of shortcuts and superficiality
How do people see their Christian life today? How is discipleship and/or spiritual formation happening now in our churches? Are their any new directions, paradigms or practices Christians are experimenting? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Where is the role of the Bible in this process? what is the place of church history or traditions - east or west?
I left this extended comment on a blog today where underneath the surface words is actually a belief that the spiritual formation thing has something to say about how we view ourselves as men and women as well as in the way we relate to each other .
"As an occasional beer-wine drinking Lutheran pastor, I'm amused with you on the liquor discussion. But I shall not comment more. Maybe when we talk face to face :-)
As a man, I think this stereotyping of men and women by the book industry drives me nuts while it sells more books and distracts people from simply learning to relate to each other rather than a wasteful use of energy battling with all this "prejudices" in their head (and then forgetting how to understand the human being in front of us!). I meet with 2 other men monthly for a time of sharing and prayer. So far we haven't played any sports together.
As a married man (now with 2 kids), I agree with you that "when it comes to pursuing Christian women and wooing a life partner", it seems that many are scared to make the first move. Maybe it's more of being part of a culture that is afraid of making mistakes which really is the root. On top of that, there's this "manly myth" now even promoted in the church! Lord have mercy ... how many more superimposed expectations do we need?! Lord have mercy.
I suspect it's less about being "manly" or "womanly" for that matter then getting free from the reigning model of "romantisized" view of courtship and marriage (can I say illusions!?). Now, this is worth doing a solid Bible study on, throw in some historical stuff like how Kattie Von Bora pursued Martin Luther (ok my Lutheran bias is showing here!), and some "alternative" stories of how people ditch the "norm" of how marriage stories are supposed to be, then maybe each person can have some fresh confidence to co-author their story with God with more spice and surprises. (disclaimer: I am not anti-romantic ... I simply think the "romance" defined by most people is a little over-rated?!)
A good dose of healthy self-acceptance, an ongoing self-discovery in "safe relationships" (cf. community of friends) and also learning how to relate and take risks in relationships is a good step. For example, the important "foundation" of friendships (even fore husband and wives) ?
as for your complaint to Mr. B, "nobody tells you that the Christian life is going to be a struggle, that you have to surrender to God, and trust Him even when it doesn't seem logical to do so, and all that other stuff which involves challenge and adventure and risk...", I don't mind being the "nobody" who will tell them. I think I've been a "nobody" doing it for years .. is anyone listening?"
I think underlying the concerns embedded in this kind of discussion is a pull away from "shortcuts and superficiality".
On a worthwhile post here Comparing Dallas Willard and Brian McLaren, I think my comments are a little more basic.
"I see Willard as a "scholar" willing to engage in the realities spiritual formation needed for our time and age. He's a good example of how scholars can contribute to the maturity of the church beyond the academia.
As for McLaren, I see him as a pastor or now more like a "practitioner" reflectively drawing on and integrating (even "popularizing") insights often confined to the academia or non-mainstream evangelicalism (cf. thus the appreciation of other traditions). He's a good example of how pastors and practitioners can creatively use resources to enrich church ministry and mission.
Both come from different vantage points (from a vocational point of view) and yet contribute under a common theme of "making disciples" and "the Gospel of the Kingdom."
I have some thoughts from a more "political" point of view. But that's for another day."
A little comment here in UNDERSTANDING SPIRITUAL FORMATION reveals a little more from me. It's still basic maybe because I tend to be a big picture person first before getting sucked into details. And I think in the Malaysian context we're either too busy with getting the "discipleship" program right (whether in choice or implementation) or thrown in a whirlpool of theoretical discussions and then overwhelmed until we are powerless to start the process with freedom (yes, freedom even to make mistakes!!)
"...based on your response, it appears i read your article from a very different set of assumptions than those from which you wrote"
Dear Alex and Wilsford, this statement itself is worth the interaction with the article and one another. What's important today as we discuss any subject matter is the "awareness" of the assumptions we bring to the material we interact with.
We seem to be walking along the same road in terms of moving away from spiritual formation as a mere checklist like formality to a process of transformation of heart, mind and soul - the total of life here on earth. "
I like the word spiritual formation, or in some cases, Christian formation. But I don't want to surrender the word "discipleship" to a program (even though it's tempting for most churches today to reduce it to that). There are many good words (which in a deeper way has much formative content - when understood rightly and faithfully) - for example, "Grace" (I decided not to use the phrase "grace period" because it misses the point), "evangelism" (I always try to unpack it and addressing our tendency to program it), "commitment" (where most people hear legalism, I see love and mission), "church" (the number one word being bashed around these days sadly), "spiritual disciplines (which doesn't sound very appealing but is simply human and part of life. e.g. various disciplines for studies, the simple disciplines or rhythms of work, sleep, play, etc).
Is it mere semantics? I think not, I think our language can help or hinder us. Especially when some words may have lost their meaning for us, or even been abused by others, and then there's the most basic - perhaps we have misunderstood what it means and how the reality behind these words actually relate to our everyday lives?
As for what's in my "toolbox" or "treasure chest" (depending which metaphor resonates with you) - here's a sampling(nothing fancy):
- Scripture (The Old and New Testaments), sometimes a peek at the Apocrypha (for extra value like reading historical texts or devotionals though not authoritative!)
- the Creeds
- the small and large catechism (cf. learning from the reformers?!)
- Pia desideria (cf. spiritual writings in our common church history)
- The losungen (cf. moravian daily texts)
- the Liturgy - whether ancient-future, or creative and contemplative
- Church history
- Reflections from missionaries
- reactions from the context both classic and current.
- add to the list (I got to go and help get my kids out of the bath tub! Now! did I mention "context"? *grin*)
until the next post!
I visited the seminary last Thursday. It's been quite a while since I actually sat in for a whole chapel service which was good for me to be in the congregation rather than upfront.
Before the service I had about 5 minutes to give an anouncement for the 2 events mentioned above. In order to give some context on where I was coming from and why I thought engaging in such conversations are important I used the following diagram to illustrate:
in short, I shared how before I stepped into seminary how my Christian life was mainly shaped by the popular Christianity fed to me either by my local church or whatever that was available - e.g. usually promoted at bookshops or conferences. These were important phases and input as far as who I was before I checked into the seminary dorm or started my first class.
Then I was plunged into a whole new world of academic and critical thinking which was quite foreign to the popular Christianity feeding I was familiar with. And I remember for some of my seminary mates it was very hard because at times they felt that some of their treasured beliefs whether to them were essential or non-essential was going through severe test as best, or even being torn apart at worst. For me, I was fortunate to have a bunch of good friends to walk with me as we processed many questions together, I think it helped when we did not feel we were alone. In addition to that, many of us theological students continued to opened our eyes to the strange world of church and Christian ministry, it was easy to become cynical and numb if we were not careful (some did go that route). So it was quite a lot of "stuff" cramped up for some who who felt they were called by God to serve him and required to work through in 3 or 4 years! Especially, if you are expected to put everything back together again before the day of graduation so you'd be ready for ministry!
After graduation, some of us were tempted to just revert back to the "popular Christianity" mode and carrying our certificate signifying we had some qualification jump into the ministry realities before us. Others who actually felt liberated in the "academic and critical world" would wait for the chance to walk the scholars route depending on available opportunities. What about those who are ordinary pastors who are "left behind" and yet want to do some serious theological reflection and ministry praxis integration? Is there any way for us to move forward?
with that question, I shared a little of my own baby steps I managed to take the last 7 years which would require another post.
Last night I was engaged in a fruitful email exchange with a more senior church leader in our Malaysian scene. The process was helpful for someone like me who finds it harder just to think inside my head. I think what I wrote represents what pushes me or pulls me depending on who's point of view. here are some edited excerpts:
"...I guess I'm one of the more "lucky" (I'mean blessed) ones who have this ongoing educational conversation with you. I appreciate your willingness to engage in respectful and guided dialogue. Part of the reason for me personally, to get the event in March going is to bring this kind of engagement we are having here into the "mainstream" of the Christians and leaders but perhaps with less technical and academic language.
... in our Malaysian context and here I am speaking more as a younger pastor. I'm increasingly finding:
(1) Most people are unable to connect with the way we formulate the Christian faith - often it's (a) either at the popular level where the pulpits or the pews regurgitate without due "processing" what's exported to us , (b) or at the academic level, scholars or lecturers are using language and approaches which do not relate to the common people and pastors, and worse when there is a certian "we know better" elitism, Whether it's approach or attitude, this troubles me. The question I've been asking since graduation till now, and the quest I make for myself and hopefully beyond, is ... how can we integrate it better in theory and praxis? how can the best of theological educationand the local church for example, nourish each other? and there's always more ...
(2) We seem to still be locked in the conservative and liberal divide in terms of our church relations and partnerships as well as theological categories. There are signs of moving forward, whether it's organizationally through official organizations or organically through various networks . And yet, there are also real signs of moving backward when groups like XYZ ministries are setting their base here, or ABC ministries having a stronghold on the Malaysian church mindsets. This would also include within our denominations where there are forces pulling us apart either in terms of ministry philosophy or theological leanings. My gut feeling is our churches tends to be more"rigid" whether organizationally or theologically. And I wonder whether the fear of liberalism and anarchy has paralysed us from encouraging guided genuine attempts in healthy reform or even theologizing.
(3) The last year has been quite an educational learning experience as I spend time listening to the dechurched, the burnt out, the doubtful, the frustrated, as well as the lazy, the proud, and the consumeristic Christians of all shapes and sized.. The added bonus is meeting Christians who desire to intergrate their social activism and their faith but feels there's no place in the normal church for them because everything is either about what goes on in the church or marketplace ministries (usually meaning business). This particular concern arose mainly as the seeds of the more holistic gospel begins to take root and blossom in my own ministry journey. Especially when I ask what does all this mean for me as a pastor and servant in the church? Does the church at its most grassroot have a role to play? and how?
(4) There's more but since it's Chinese New Year, Let's enjoy our family and friends and food! We'll talk another time.
So, the above (3) or (4) concerns are the underlying motivations for what I invest in whether it's as a local church pastors as well as side support and partnership efforts with theological institutions, more ecclesiological structure opportunities, dialogue with people lwho are not from my tradition, etc. And the context forces me to ask REALLY hard questions about my own theology, spirituality and ministry. I'm thankful I can survive by God's grace and his gifts through good friends and mentors.
I hope I have not been too longwinded before the eve of CNY. And I appreciate the opportunity maybe to clarify my own thoughts catalyzed by your email.
A friend told me I'm starting to sound like Brian McLaren's press secretary with this series of posts. :-) Well, the initial impetus was more of introducing him as a friend to those coming (or considering coming) for the Friends in conversation 2007 event.
Gradually, it became like some lite book reviews which is more of book reflections. And now, it's evolved more like what has been resonating in my own thinking plus new directions I had not explored. I confess framing it more personal as introducing a person is more appealing to me than just talking about a book ... less detached, more real.
Ok and now on with it ...
The New Pantagruel posted up Who Has the Last Word? An Interview with Brian McLaren in response to the book. I think it's useful because it's not in fiction form :-)
"I believe that God is good. No thought I have ever had of God is better than God actually is. True, my thoughts -- including my assumptions about what good means -- are always more of less inaccurate, limited, and unworthy, but still I am confident of this: I have never overestimated how good God is because God's goodness overflows far beyond the limits of human understanding.", p. xi
Good and Goodness ... and God - worthy to invest time in contemplation! This is even more important and counter-cultural when everything around us seems to be collapsing!
"As I see it, more significant than any doctrine of hell itself is the view of God to which one's doctrine of hell contributes. William Temple once said that if your concept of God is radically false, the more devoted you are, the worse off you will be. So this book is in the end more about our view of God than it is about our understanding of hell. What kind of God do we believe exists? What kind of life should we live in response? How does our view of God affect the way we see and treat other people? And how does the way we see and treat other people affect our view of God?", p. xii
This way of framing the question does good for the popular mind. We tend to over-focus on one aspect while missing the bigger picture when trying to talk about doctrines and dogma. So often our discussions feels either the sharing of our ignorance (or misinformation) or a display of our intellect and education without making the needed connection to the personal God whom we claim to believe.
"Is there a better alternative to either of these polarities: a just God without mercy for all or a merciful God without justice for all? Could our views of hell (whichever extreme you choose) be the symptoms of a deeper set of problems -- misunderstandings about what God's justice is, misunderstandings about God's purpose in creating the world, deep misunderstandings about what kind of person God is?", p.xiii
When one is served a series of questions in consecutive order and well crafted questions, it feels like something is digging deeper. Strange but this is one process which helps us to add depth in our capacity to handle more complex and complicated issues which bug us.
I've always found 2 important dimensions in my own pilgrimage (1) Learning "new" language or "vocab" to help me have tools to describe what's bugging me (2) A good set of questions to poke me in directions which I might have missed if left to my own devices!
"I am not a fan of controversy. As a pastor, "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" is a precious thing to me; no one should disturb the peace unadvisably or lightly. I would prefer that my books be banned than have them cause destructive conflict in churches or trouble for pastors, who face enough problems without needless controversies being stirred. I would not go down this road at all if I did not feel, deep in my soul, that the issues raised here need to be raised for at least some people to consider, for the good of the individuals who seek God, for the good of the church in all its forms, and for the good of the world at large. It is my belief, hope, and prayer that any short-term controversy will lead to longterm benefits that are truly worthwhile.", p. xiv
This truly is not an easy path to walk ... it's kind of carrying a cross. how many of us can recall the struggles and pain at different phases of our lives? And how now in hindsight we see and experience the benefits ... But when we were there, it was no holiday ... it was about holiness, character, and the need for centering to survive which later we might thrive. Time is one classroom that defies our own fix it quickly timetable.
"... we often seek clarity at the expense of truth: we would rather have something simple and clear than continue to search beyond convention for a truth that won't resolve to a neat formula, label, category, or pat answer. ... I am more interested in generating conversation than argument, believing that conversations have the potential to form us, inform us, and educate us far more than arguments.", p. xv
Of course, we cannot and must not stop at mere conversations. Conversations which enrich and expand us generally leads us into some form of action. And yet, ironically for a generative conversation to happen requires some active participation from our total being.
, p. xvi
"I look forward with eagerness to see what creative Christian leaders -- especially young ones, previously unheard ones, and ones from the global South -- might do in taking the ideas and questions raised in the book and working with them further so that we all will see and celebrate the ultimate goodness of God more clearly and so that we may more joyfully and fully do justice, love, kindness, and walk humbly with God."
Another challenge where some have already taken the plunge, others still testing the waters ... others pushed in without fully realizing what they are getting into.
, p. xviii
"The word destructive is often associated with the word deconstructive but the association is erroneous. Deconstruction is not destruction; it is hope. It arises from the belief that sometimes, our constructed laws get in the way of the way of unseen justice, out undeconstructed words get in the way of communication, our institutions get in the way of the purposes for which they were constructed, our formulations get in the way of meaning, our curricula get in the way of learning. In those cases, one must deconstruct laws, words, institutions, formulations, or curricula in the hope that something better will appear once the constructions-become-obstructions have been taken apart. The love of what is hidden, as yet unseen, and hoped for gives one courage to deconstruct what is seen and familiar. This book, in a sense, attempts to deconstruct our conventional concepts of hell in the sincere hope that a better vision of the gospel of Jesus Christ will appear."
I think it needs to be noted that this is a delicate process and needs to be handled with care. Much caution is needed and a safe community is a must But on top of that, a wise sage walking along side and/or a faithful discerning friend does wonders, and redirects us to hope just in case we are lost or at lease feel lost! An important ingredient of course in all this is simple humility and a teachable spirit.
, p. xvii-xiii
"Is anything undeconstructable? someone is asking. Obviously, while God and God's mysteries would be beyond human deconstruction, it makes sense that anything constructed by humans would also be deconstructable by them -- including human formulations about God and God's mysteries. Perhaps, deconstruction, then could be seen as the search for God and God's mysteries when human constructions may be obscuring, them: it is an endeavor hoping eventually to fail, for when it fails and reaches the Undeconstructable, it has reached the goal of its pursuit."
The distinction between "deconstruction" and "destruction" is crucial for people who are honestly facing the "stuff" within them. The theme of hope for a better vision of the gospel needs to be emphasized too. In many ways while we are used to being "pushed" into the future or into action. The picture changes here when it's Hope which is "pulling us" forward.
As we approach the end of this preface and this post, once again it's not about the "stuff" we are working through or the refinement of our understandings, it's about the one whom is calling us forward step by step - relating to the Triune God more than relating to the ideas of a Triune God. It's good to take all this talking and thinking not just human wrestling but in the context of Worship.
One thing I liked about the NKOC series is the cover art and design of the books. Especially this one I like the feel of "movement" and heading somewhere by the characters running at the side.
Now back to the second book in the NKOC series. While it was not as an engaging page turner like the first book. I found the attempt at re-telling the Gospel in a fresh articulation helpful... Scott Pederson, who is pastor of the Greenwich Vineyard in London, put together this retelling of the biblical story for based on Brian McLaren’s book here in The story... we find ourselves in and here's a helpful Course outline (originally written for teenagers)
Now, back to the preface:
"I started getting nervous when A New Kind of Christian was released. I'm not temperamentally a controversalist, not polemical, not a fighter. I don't like arguments, especially religious ones. (Among other things, in religious arguments I find myself becoming a worse kind of Christian.) ... I hoped that the book would quietly find its way into other hands where its main effect would be to inspire hope rather than stir contention. I suspected that there are a lot of "Dan Pooles" out there -- people who love and seek God but feel that something in the way we're "doing Christianity" is not working.", p. ix
As for "Dan Poole" the character, for me I think as a pastor I related with him partly because as one of the main characters especially one who is asking a lot of the hard questions he was one too. So, it was more than "people who love and seek God .." , it was also "pastors who love and seek God (and serve God!)" too... very often people do not know what are the inmost thoughts, struggles and battles of doubts and questions pastors genuinely wrestle with.
As for controversy, well time has proven that the "unintended consequences" are part and parcel of the package no matter how much we try to focus on "inspiring hope" and attempting to move us along forward in the way we perceive is best. Listening to Brian's talk (mp3) at the recent National Pastors Convention 2007 in the USA gave me some insight into how he deals with it as well as inspired me to keep a watch on my own response.
"With all my ambivalence about the term postmodern, I have always been clear that my confidence was in the Christian gospel (appropriately understood), not in any cultural framework, whether modern, pre-m or post-. The more I have written about postmodernity (and so on), the more I have wanted to get to the point where it no longer needed to be written about so much, I wanted to start writing more directly about the Christian gospel itself, from the vantage point within the emerging culture, without always having to describe, validate, and defend the vantage point.
... Someone might argue that one's goal as a Christian should not be to describe the gospel from the vantage point of a cultural matrix, but rather to describe one's cultural matrix from the vantage point of the gospel. To do justice to that critique, however,would force me back into the old territory of a conversation that I am trying to extend into new territory. so, I'll have to leave that conversation for readers to imagine on their own, indulging myself only in this short bit of wisdom from Lesslie Newbigin: "We must start with the basic fact that there is no such thing as a pure gospel if by that is meant something which is not embodied in a culture. ... Every interpretation of the gospel is embodied in some cultural form." (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 1989), p. x (underlined emphasis mine)
My first introduction to a more "contextual" approach to theology was during those Asian Theology classes where a whole new world was opened before my eyes. Both the frustrations and well as a hope towards a better construction and articulation of theologies which not only arises from engagement with culture and context but also theologies which ultimately serves the church and blessed the world. And this is not confined to academic elitist exercises, it needs to resonate with people who don't speak such long syllable jargon, and hard to follow paragraphs. There is surely a place for that kind o exercise as long as we do not despise the poetic, the pictorial, and even the playful - and surely not despise the theology acted out in prayer!
"... in these dangerous times, our whole planet now needs more than ever a good story to live in and to live by. There are a number of stories competing for the hearts and imaginations of humanity as we emerge together into this new century and millennium: the regressive stories of fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity, or the progressive stories of secular "scientism" or American consumerism, for example. Once taken to the heart of human culture, each of these stories will produce its own kind of world. If the story explored in this book (or something like it) wins enough hearts, yet another kind of world will emerge. The story we believe and live in today has a lot to do with the world we create for our children, our grandchildren, and our descendants one hundred thousand years from now (if?)", p. xii
I confess, it's painful and sometimes one feels powerless when right before our eyes we see people buying into regressive stories which appears to promise them 101 successes and a dreamlike paradise. Painful because nightmares are around the corner, powerless because it's hard to get through to them with the liberating story of the Christian gospel ... it's very competitive ... the lies and illusions are real .. the distracting self-talks and noises in our head are hard to be silenced so we can truly hear again ... and yet, we need to hear the liberating story somehow ... it needs to, it can, it will breakthrough to us ...
I'm glad the messengers of this Good news did not give up in history, and even today a midst many challenges they persist.
"Neo and friends raise and ponder what may seem to you dangerous questions and dangerous answers in the pages that follow. Please do not assume that their answers are always mine, you may, however, safely assume that I think that all their questions and answers deserve consideration. If you are dissatisfied with some of the answers you find here (as I am), there's a good chance you're right. So I hope that you'll use your dissatisfiction constructively and attempt to articulate better answers yourself. I'll continue to try to do the same thing. Let's be respectful colleagues, not critical adversaries.", p. xiii
The last 7 years especially has been quite a ride in efforts to "use my dissatisfaction constructively and attempt to articulate better answers myself". It takes one to a variety of routes which sometimes scares my wife as much as it scares myself. But thankfully, our lives are not confined merely to such endeavors ... there;s also the daily grind of raising up kids, learning to live as husband and wife, figuring out what's the best budget for the Chinese new year reunion dinner. And then there is the stuff we engage in whether or not we have everything sorted out theologically - corporate and personal worship, solutude, silence, fasting, encouragement, study, celebration, prayer, meditation, etc. Living the life through the peaks and the pits (someone told me they keep hearing armpits when I say that word *smile*) and the plain ordinary seconds and minutes ... does not require having all the details neat and tidy ... in the midst of our mess we still trip over meaning ...
The joy is when there are friends who will hear us when we're fumbling along the way (the bonus is to actually have mentors and even pastors who will do that too) ... celebrate our discoveries, cautiously and respectfully correct us when we're off track (or offer alternative views) and all in all ... stick with us through thick and thin. I like the title of the book it's not "the story I find myself in" it's THE STORY WE FIND OURSELVES IN!
It's Monday and it's my "sabbath" ... and yet, it's good keep the countdown updates ...
"To a Pentecostal, it is hard to believe that there is anointing when God's people performed a liturgy. But what I observed on Sunday was really a move of God and the anointing was certainly unexpected. There were those who experienced joy and release as they stood waiting for their turn to partake the sacraments. Many, if not most, were awed in the holy presence." - Surprised By Liturgy
When I first heard and read about the "Liturgy" post, my heart was warmed because this whole "conversation" we're participating in is most surely not just about high flung (and very often perceived as erudite) discussions, it's really at the center how does all this relate to the local church (and of course the wider church). And corporate worship is one good place to start. That's why I left a comment entitled "This is good"
"I found it refreshing listening to how a church who's self-identity is less liturgical is enriched by what may seem to many as a irrelevant practice. In recent years, more and more I feel the debate on forms or personal taste is misguided. This is where a broader appreciation of historical resources rather than pulling us back into some form of heartless traditionalism can actually FREE us towards whole-hearted-whole-life worship especially in the context of community."
Of course, we still have some stuff which requires slower reading :-) But it's been great to slowly compile and bring to one place the various input and wisdom of those who have spend much time working through these issues.
"If we can meet Christ in the church then we can sustain discipleship only within the community. Bonhoeffer goes so far as to say that no man can become a new man except by entering the church and becoming a member of the Body of Christ (CD 270). Bonhoeffer is particularly sensitive to the problem of the human ego. He had earlier defined sin as "the will which principally affirms itself as a value and not the other, and which acknowledges the other only in this perspective" (CS254f). So he characterized the new man, i.e., the church, as the fellowship and communion with the Lord wherein we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. Bonhoeffer certainly goes beyond the sanctification of an isolated believer. Sanctification is the church taking on the form of Christ.
"'Formation' consequently means in the first place Jesus' taking form in His Church. So the Church is not a religious community of worshippers of Christ but is Christ Himself who has taken form among men" (E 83)." - Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer
Later in response to the conclusion by Dr. Ng Kam Weng (one of our conversation partners) in his piece above, my less smarter mind wondered out loud ... "our inability as a church to seriously deal with "why people are hostile to the church?" with self-critical robust ecclesiology as well as ministry praxis seems me creating serious barriers towards genuine seekers and fellow pilgrims on this side of heaven."
There are more articles that might be of interest to those especially coming for the Friends 2007 Event. In no particular order ...
Dominion Of Co-Creators "God is the creator who exercises a just and nurturing dominion over the earth. What then is the role of humankind in relation to God? I propose that we think of humankind as co-creators. Creation is an unfinished story. As a work of art, it is an ongoing 'project' for God who has covenanted Godself to humankind. God continues to extend God's invitation to humankind so that we can collaborate with God in the fulfillment of God's dream for the universe"
"This is the most difficult question of all. How to practise love in a society so full of hatred? I think this is one of the primary issues that strike deep into the heart of a Christian. This is the crux of the matter, isn't it? The true mark of what differentiates us from others. How different would I be, if I too, like all other sheep in the country, continued to criticise and bark hollow at the government and people whom we dislike?
I would be no different, says the Bible. Without love, we strike at a gong and find we are equally hollow. Shallow waters that do not correctly reflect what God has chosen for us to be. "
and of course the more spiritual formation related meditations (which we will gradually add). This is important because the conversation is fed by at least two other angles apart from theology, there's the important dimension of spirituality as well as ministry/mission, for now something more personal:
I'm A Sinner
"I do not like it when someone points out my mistakes. It’s worse when my sins are exposed. My first reaction is to hide in shame and guilt. And yet, what is needed is to face myself. What have I done? Whom am I responsible to? Where do I go from here?"
[This is a previous post with a worthwhile update at the end]
Well it's nice to get some "extra buzz" on the net for the event.
Ph D in Bluffology (who also serves as the General secretary of Fellowship of Evangelical Students Malaysia and is a good friend) says, "Hey people, Brian McLaren is not to be missed. A pastor with a heart to have conversations to our, ooops your generation. Listen, digest and be challenged to rethink!"
Nice of Emergent Village USA to encourage their contacts to keep this conversation in their prayers and to support these efforts.
Tricia Yeoh one of our conversation facilitators has put up post encouraging friends to come. Thanks Tricia.
"I've had the privilege of reading through, in the last few months, excerpts of this amazing guy's mind. His name is Brian McLaren, from the States - and has given Christianity a whole new meaning. He has cynically criticised the American model of Christianity, saying many of the things I myself have long thought. That the evangelical model the modern church is so used to, is very much a shallow and unthinking process. One that has reduced the greatness of a relationship to Steps 1, 2, 3: Believe in Jesus and you will be saved!! There’s your passport to heaven! And conveniently forget about everything else on earth."
Her post has generated some comments which I participated a little :-)
" 1. Sivin said,
February 4, 2007 at 4:48 pm
I think Brian is a welcome self-critical voice towards American evangelicalism which often gets exported to our shores (the good, the bad and the ugly). While we are not in anyway obliged to agree with everything he says (but then when do we ever even agree with everything we say to each other?), the process of engaging in a civil, thoughtful, respectful (and hopefully theologically as well as contextually informed) conversation is an important commitment we need to have towards one another and those who would like to participate in the "emergence" of a better tomorrow for ourselves, our churches, and the societies that we live in. That's the goal of the event in March and we’re looking forward to see what’s possible!
2. Hedonese said,
February 5, 2007 at 10:00 pm
To be precise, i think much of mclaren's criticisms wud hit nicely the ugly side of fundamentalism but wud be a strawman critique when levelled on evangelicals like Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm, Harold Ockenga or Francis Schaeffer… i wud love to see an intra christian dialogue which contrasts or complements the BEST from each tradition than an overfocus on the obvious, easy targets. The same applies to interfaith dialogues too, compare the BEST not the worst, ugliest in the other :)
3. egalitaria said,
February 6, 2007 at 2:32 pm
hmm, that is food for thought hedonese. thanks for bringing that up. it makes it a more difficult challenge to criticise the best of evangelicals, because we have to define this first. what is really the mark of an evangelical then? can you clearly classify that?
4. Sivin said,
February 9, 2007 at 11:45 pm
Good question Tricia. And i think there are different flavours even when it comes to UK evangelicalism, to USA evangelicalism or even Canadian Evangelicalism. This makes us wonder about our own backyard.
Hedonese is right .. "i think much of mclaren’s criticisms wud hit nicely the ugly side of fundamentalism " and I think that is his target group and also the lurking fundamentalism in all of us - which is very much a self-critic as someone from within - perhaps facing the ugliest in ourselves. A simple plain reading of him at least for me conveys that. Perhaps I haven't read enough of the evangelical heavyweights mentioned above to comment on whether it’s a strawman critique on them, but my sense his "target" is the kind of "evangelicalism" perhaps in the popular imagination of most evangelicals/pentecostals/charismatics even in Malaysia.
As for the Evangelical heavyweights, at least I remember Brian quoting very favorably of Schaeffer in his first book and at least a nuanced comment in one lecture I heard. Perhaps we can ask him about it when he’s here :-)
For now, I think many have tended to "strawman" Brian. And I think we can do better.
5. Bob K said,
February 9, 2007 at 11:57 pm
'.. i think much of mclaren’s criticisms wud hit nicely the ugly side of fundamentalism but wud be a strawman critique when levelled on evangelicals like Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm, Harold Ockenga or Francis Schaeffer'
I agree but I don’t see why that’s necessarily a bad idea. Fruitful dialogue already occurs among what we would term as the "best" from the various traditions. That’s one of the reasons they’re considered the "best" anyway, because of their willingness to be open and discuss issues.
Unfortunately, in many occasions it is the worst expressions that seem to be mainstreamed. The large majority of laity and probably quite a number of clergy (irregardless of whether they would consider themselves as clergy or not) do not have the privilege to participate in the "higher" discussions at the various theological "menara gading"s and in many cases laypeople are encouraged to have an unthinking faith.
And because these voices represent the most public face of the Church, ie. the ones that everyone else meets on a day to day basis, I see an urgency to tackle the bull by the horns and force people to think hard about what they really believe."
*UPDATE: a comment from a wiser and older man!*
# Alex Tang said,
February 10, 2007 at 6:59 pm
"To be precise, i think much of mclaren’s criticisms wud hit nicely the ugly side of fundamentalism but wud be a strawman critique when levelled on evangelicals like Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm, Harold Ockenga or Francis Schaeffer"
Actually I do not think that McLaren is aiming for the "ugly" side of fundamentalism as for the closing of the evangelical mind. If you wheel out the heavy artillery like Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm and Harold Ockenga, you may find that we are fighting a conventional warfare with guerilla warfare.
McLaren is not attacking evangelicalism as a theological construct but evangelicalism as a fossilizing institution. And he is not critiquing all of evangelicalism, only the ecclesiological portion of it and even then, a small portion in how to be a church in a changing world. In fact I believe that Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm and Harold Ockenga will have no objections if they truly understand what McLaren is doing and saying.
As for Francis Schaefer, he would have been best with friend with McLaren because McLaren is continuing on where Francis ends.
It is time that theologians stop spending their time defending their turfs and instead look at where the church is and think about and develop theological systems for this present age. I challenge them to move from systematic theology to systems theology. And that is no straw man.
<*i>I couldn't resist to chip in a little ... *
February 11, 2007 at 12:28 am
"Actually I do not think that McLaren is aiming for the "ugly" side of fundamentalism as for the closing of the evangelical mind."
Now, that broadens the conversation …Alex, you stretched me further in this discussion by introducing this dimension :-) I can sleep with a worthwhile seed thought which will last me quite a little while.
Having said that, I do agree with the critique of the ecclesiological portion of our various traditions is often the starting point. And yet, we know that mere tweaking of forms won’t solve the problems. And this is where challenging the mind comes into play … which was what I was trying to allude to in my comments on "the popular imagination of most evangelicals/pentecostals/charismatics even in Malaysia."
"It is time that theologians stop spending their time defending their turfs and instead look at where the church is and think about and develop theological systems for this present age. I challenge them to move from systematic theology to systems theology. And that is no straw man."
Now that's a challenge worth taking up ... and I think the time is ripe for us to start getting our hands dirty in this "move" - not by throwing stones but by building new possibilities.
Seminari Theoloji Malaysia just put up the information on Brian McLaren's visit to the seminary here.
"There will be a lecture and conversations led by Brian McLaren in STM. The details are as follows:
Title : "The Church emerging in the post-al age"
Subtitle : Reflections on Ministry in a Globalized World
Date : 5 March, 2007, Monday
Venue : Seminari Theoloji Malaysia
Time : 10.00am - 12.30pm
(2 sessions with Q&A, discussions)
To register for this event, please email email@example.com."
Let me return to some notes ... there's some interesting buzz coming from here on the upcoming event.
Allow me to quote some of the interaction from there.
Mr. D serves ...
"The Emergent Church movement has its share of critics. Here's one http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/june/17.72.html.
Also check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerging_Church."
then Mr. B replies with a steady forehand ...
"Well, we don't get the same level of public debate in Malaysia as they do in the States, so it's pretty easy to get swayed by just one point of view. From what I can see, there is no one monolithic movement known as emergent. There are recurring themes and pastoral issues (less debate occurs on doctrinal matters) that are being discussed and are generally identified as emergent but there's no one body of opinion forming the agenda per se. Perhaps a read of Scott McKnights article in Christianity Today might give an alternate perspective (the transcript of the full presentation can be read here) :
Personally I feel we do a lot of honest discussion on issues and challenges facing the Church a major disservice by pre-empting such dialogue when we launch attacks based on certain presumptions like how Colson, Carson and recently McArthur have done. Arguably the most ardent critics may be betraying the extent of their allegiance to modernity (rather than to Christ). Perhaps before we read what folks have to criticise about "leaders" like Brian McLaren, we might wanna know what McLaren himself actually said in the first place. From the horse's mouth in a manner of speaking :
My personal participation with the emergent conversation within the emergentMalaysia context is minimal, having only actually attended one open meeting but I have had the privilege of participating in conversations on a personal levels with folks who are unchurched, de-churched, still churched, church workers, pastors et al and I find a lot of what is discussed both refreshing and in some cases crucial for me in retaining my faith."
Mr. D back tracks a little and does a lob:
"Well, I must confess that I don't know too much about this movement. At a glance, it does seem very refreshing. It's like getting down to the brass tacks of just loving God & loving our neighbour in the simplest ways possible. It will be interesting as well as helpful to be able to attend the seminar as there are people there whom I think are definitely "ok"; folks like Ng Kam Weng, Sivin Kit & Sherman, for instance.
The movement is probably too fluid & varied for one to define or even describe with any degree of certainty, much like the charismatic movement or Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do.
Anyway, if the seminar spurs some of our leaders to seriously re-think how we do church & reach out to the unchurched, then it may just be worth the trouble."
Now, as we take a break ... allow me to sing my immediate after midnight reactions are:
1. " ... there are people there whom I think are definitely "ok"; folks like Ng Kam Weng, Sivin Kit & Sherman, for instance."
Wow ... I'm "ok!"
2. "... Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do" .
.. cool! "Miao?"
3. "... I must confess that I don't know too much about this movement. "
I think most people in Malaysia would say this ... and I think this is a most honest comment: That is why I was asked to write this article (and to bring a Malaysian perspective on this). I'm no scholarly expert, but I've followed the conversation for at least 7 years and have been a participant somewhat. At least, I can say I've spent a great deal of time reflecting of many of the issues raised by the conversation whether it's in the UK, USA, Australia or New Zealand ... and throughout this time not ignoring the uniqueness of our Malaysian context. At times, I even had the chance to participate in a more global interaction (thanks to the internet). I think I've said this again and again on this blog.
4. "At a glance, it does seem very refreshing. It's like getting down to the brass tacks of just loving God & loving our neighbour in the simplest ways possible."
this is such an important observation ... because the whole way the event is phrase and designed is meant to convey that.
Apart from the word "emergent" mentioned in emergent Malaysia as the organiser. There's hardly anything directly mentioned about the "emerging church" specifically. And this is a deliberate choice - I know! Because I sat down with the copywriter to write the copy. And as a committee we talked about it together. The whole event was planned not with the mindset of (a) promoting something called "the emerging church" (whatever) (b) evaluating "the emerging church movement" ... i think there's already 101 talks and papers saturating the internet ... and we'll still be happy to talk about it for those who are interested.
But specifically for this Friends in conversation 2007 event, We felt our time and focus is with the help of our friend and guest Brian McLaren and a load of conversations partners to "create space" for those who are interested and willing to engage in conversations and thinking which connects to the realities we are facing. And in it's simplest (not simplistic) form this is what the event is all about ... isn't this what we should all be about?
In short, can we have an event where it's not about quick fix formulas, and methods to solve out problems? Can we have a place where a diverse of people can some together and talk in simple human lingo? It seems some are "ok" , some are not "ok" - but that's hard to decide and would depend on various preferences. But one thing is sure, to me they are my friends and in some cases mentors.. and that's a good start,. The bonus is they have much to offer in terms of wisdom and insight to the conversation and the shaping our common imagination of what we can be! And yes, I personally mad e a phonecall or met face to face to represent the committee to invite them. Many thanks to them for saying "yes!"
5. "Anyway, if the seminar spurs some of our leaders to seriously re-think how we do church & reach out to the unchurched, then it may just be worth the trouble."
It's nice to be appreciated for some of us who are taking the trouble to make this happen and those who are coming. What happens during and most importantly after the event is really up to us. Ok, to be more theologically correct it's up to how we discern and respond to God's still small voice amidst some much noise. I really do hope more pastors and church leaders will be present as well as fellow Christian who are concerned about who we are as a church - God's people - in this time, location and age.
Now the ball is in "our court".
"Sometime in 1994, at the age of thirty-eight, I got sick of being a pastor. Frankly, I was almost sick of being a Christian.", p. ix.
Now, what a way to start an introduction in a book. That line itself made me finished reading perhaps Brian's most well-known book which brought also controversy into his life and the lives of those who are even caught reading it!
But the reality is I've been hearing different version of the above statement many times the past 7 years. And even when I did not mention my own feelings about being a pastor and a Christian especially during the lowest moments of my journey of faith and ministry, secretly where no one is looking the words were not far from my lips. But that's never always the whole story ... our lowest moments are not the end.
"... seven years later, I am still a Christian, still in ministry, and enjoying both more than I ever have.
But at that low tide of faith, my soul was trying to tell me something important, something I needed to listen to.", p. ix
I think the hardest thing in life is too actually quiet down and listen to what's going on inside us honestly ... especially when many of us are already busy with our lives (and for pastors busy with our ministries!).
This last week, I've already heard two different episodes of people who are paying attention to what's inside their soul for a change. And it's scary, and it's sad .. because at least one has told me that the church is not the place where she can ask these questions and work through them. The other person at least is asking, is there a church open enough for him to find his answers and learn.
Is it that tragic that the alternatives we have for people who are genuinely serious about their faith, about following Christ, about being human is so limited in our Malaysian Christian context? There's something in me shouting "No! it can't be! It mustn't be that way!"
"At that time I could only see two alternatives: (1) continue practicing and promoting a version of Christianity that I had deepening reservations about or (2) leave Christian ministry, and perhaps the Christian path, altogether. There was a third alternative that I hadn't considered: learn to be a Christian in a new way.", p. x
I too was looking for a third alternative since 2000 and when I read this book in August 2001, I wrote or more like I prayer: "Father God, what a breath of fresh air for me ... I think we are in a new kind of world that's pretty unkind. I want to learn how to be a a new kind of Christian." This process there has been pain and struggle as well as a load of misunderstanding and non-understanding thrown in the mix, especially when we're asking hard questions which Brian does in p. xi-xiii (This is all before the more fictional characters get started in the book ... so I'm sure Brian is asking these questions with what now I noticed his very helpful "What ifs?"!)
"What if God is actually behind these disillusionments and disembeddings? What if God is trying to move us out of Egypt, so to speak, and into the wilderness, because it's time for the next chapter in our adventure? What if it's time for a new phase in the unfolding mission of God intends for people (at least some of the people) who seek to know, love and serve God? What if our personal experiences of frustration are surface manifestations of a deeper movement of God's Spirit? In other words, what if this experience of frustration that feels so bad and destructive is actually a good thing, a needed thing, a constructive thing in God's unfolding adventure with us?"
In a world where we tend towards "get well soon" and "quick fix" ways of doing Christianity .... these words were words of hope and still are. Brian later mentioned Martin Luther as an example. And as a Lutheran pastor, I'll admit my bias and say I can relate.
And the questions Brian asked were good ones:
"1. Why am I not the same kind of Christian I used to be?
2. What might a new kind of Christian be like?
3. How might one become a new kind of Christian if one is so inclined?", p. xvi
of course, in the last seven years (interesting to note this for myself) it became more like I became an "old kind of Christian" in a way .. or I slid back into some more essentials in my faith compared to a lot of fluff I was accustomed to. Ironically, I found myself reading more church history and theology to nourish this quest I had and still have. I had already begun a steady diet of Christian spirituality since seminary days and as a pastor in our pluralistic contexts I began to re-discover insights from former missionaries in missiology. I know I wasn't and I am not that smart.
The last seven years have had many ongoing diverse conversations both local and global with scholars, mentors, fellow pastors, friends, young people and old people which have totally expanded and enriched the way I look at life, faith and the world. Many whom I never expected would even connect with me at various levels. For all of these relationships and conversations, I count myself blessed.
There are some who might pick up this book and get a little scared. In an interesting review by Bob Hostetler (who is an award co-author with Josh Mcdowell) he says,
"It will be exceptionally scary to some. If I had read this book ten—or even five—years ago, I would have been offended (like the main character of the book at one point). And many “modern” Christians will definitely find this book offensive and threatening. They will want to condemn its premise and argue with its claims…and in so doing, they just might show the extent of their allegiance to modernity (rather than to Christ).
It is also exceptional in tone. McLaren manages to present his case—for a new kind of Christian that is not blindly loyal to modernism, scared of postmodernism, nor unfaithful to God and his Word—in a way that (to paraphrase another reviewer) eschews 'control, condescension, and smug certainty [in favor of] incarnational faith.'"
And "incarnational faith" is REALLY what at least for me at that time and even till today is what I'm looking for. And I think underneath many of the complaints and struggles of Christians after slowly uncovering the layers frustration and questions they bring up ... what we really want to say "yes!" to.
The Navigators US has another helpful pdf review of the book which I'll pull out some excerpts:
"... one may be tempted to jump to the conclusion that McLaren is "going liberal", sacrificing Biblical orthodoxy for the sake of cultural relevance, or even guilty of syncretism. Nothing could be further from the truth.
... This story/dialogue format makes the book much more enjoyable to read than an academic volume on post-modernity. In addition, this form is consistent with one of the fundamental aspects of post-modernity, which favors story telling over propositional argument. The author insists that the story is not autobiographical, even though he has undergone a "mid-life pastoral crisis" in real life much like Dan does in the book. The difference is that McLaren probably did not have a personal mentor like Neo to help guide him through the transition from being a modern Christian to being a post-modern one. This is not an easy transition to make, of course, and it may be easier for a post-modern non-Christian to become a Christian than it is for a modern Christian to become a post-modern one.
... In my opinion, Brian McLaren has done an outstanding job of highlighting many of the opportunities and pitfalls offered for the advance of the Gospel by post-modernity. His critique of modernity and the syncretism of evangelical Christianity with modernity is disturbing, but largely accurate. He correctly observes that post-modernity offers many advantages for the advance of the Gospel, and to have a "knee-jerk reaction" against it is both shortsighted and counterproductive. On the other hand, he does not advocate a naive view of post-modernity that overlooks its unbiblical aspects. He also notes that someday we will see the shortcomings of post-modernity as clearly as we see the shortcomings of modernity today."
Personally, I don't think we need to be over-locked into the more academic side of the modernity/postmodernity discussion to benefit from the book. Now there are already many more resources which deal with those more nuanced discussions which a New Kind of Christian is not aimed at dealing with. Some might not like the broad strokes in the book, others like me may find it helpful to give some space to re-configure how we look at our faith and live it in todays often fragmented world. But as an Asian, and Malaysian dealing with the "debris of modernity", and a very USA influenced Christianity .. I was not surprised to resonate with many of the concerns and questions raised in the book. But then, of course, that is just a starting point ... there's still more work to be done on our end. Which is another story we hope will continue after the Friends 2007 event (and of course with others who have already gone before us!).
Brian does carefully mention three points of orientation when we read this book, and I think these points are very crucial in reading his NKOC trilogy. It's very easy to misrepresent Brian's personal views if one in a hurry wants to equate it with the characters in this series.
I think the basic rule of reading is to appreciate the intention and the genre of the literature at hand, for me reading the series was a fun and thoughtful way of exploring the ideas and questions very often I may have had for myself, and most definately have heard from others. Perhaps we are just not used to this kind of writing, whatever the case read on before you read further into the series and even more especially if one seeks to be fair, before reading nto the mind of Brian Mclaren :-)
At least we can try the golden rule, "do unto others what you want them to do to you". The Confucius Chinese version is in my own rough more direct translation ... "What you don't want people to give you (or do to you), don't give to others (or do to others)" :
"First, as you'll see, I'm going to blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction in the pages that follow. I think you will understand why I have done so as we proceed. This book started as a work of nonfiction but evolved steadily toward fiction with each revision. Knowing that I was not trying to commit a work of artistic fiction from the start will help lower your expectations about character development, plot, and other artistic concerns. Things will go much better for both of us if you consider this more in the category of a philosophical dialogue than a novel.
... Second, you will soon meet Neil Edward Oliver, Dan and Carol Poole, and Casey B. Curtis. Please don't assume that any of these characters can be fully identified with the "I" who wrote this Introduction.
Third, this book is just a beginning. There are a number of other questions, and important questions that follow on from these, that I will only nod toward in this book. Please don't be disappointed that you didn't get the last word.
... It is my hope that these imaginary conversations will prompt you to engage in real-life ones and that those conversations will take you where these cannot."p. xviii (underlined emphasis mine)
I must confess I'm glad they subtitled on the cover at least in the new edition of the book "The power of everyday conversation" replacing the "evangelism as dance in the postmodern matrix". Now, before I go on I need to say that I like the picture of "evangelism as a dance". What I like better about the new title is bringing the whole discussion back to the ordinariness of what I learnt most from Brian through this book ... the value of the ordinary encounters - especially the conversations we have with people. I think this is not whether it's modern or postmodern (even though some may argue the general cultural shift in terms of postmodernity would make it even more important), it's about being human.
One of my treasured little email conversations I had with Brian years ago (which I don't know whether he remembers) is when I innocently asked him as a young pastor & church-planter is "How do you preach during your sunday services when there are 'seekers' as well as 'believers'?" (during that time I was working with this "seeker sensitive" way of thinking with the intention to be more outreach oriented in all that I do - including preaching. I'll never forget his reply which in my paraphrase is ..."I speak to humans ... and I don't see them as 'seekers' and/or 'believers' first they are humans. And even the so called seekers and believers essentially face the same human problems ...." That made me think about what I asked for a long time and has changed the way I view people and see preaching in general.
More Ready than you realize is I think one of Brian's least known books (perhaps that's why some misunderstand him as one who doesn't believe in evangelism which again intrigues me). And yet it's a wonderful book describing how he re-looks at the whole idea of "evangelism" (which some of my friends find it hard to use that term anymore) and repaints a fresh vision and connects us to what I see as more biblical values of relationships, conversation, process and patience back into the bigger picture of "disciple making".
As usual in this series, I should let Brian speak for himself ...
"On the street, evangelism is equated with pressure. It means selling God as if god were vinyl siding, replacement windows, or a mortgage refinancing service. It means shoving your ideas down someone's throat, threatening him with hell if he does not capitulate to your logic or Scripture-quoting. It means excluding everything from God's grace except those who agree with the evangelizer (a.k.a. evangelist).", p. 12
I can't help but have flashbacks on some of the "evangelistic" efforts that I've done - and they were out of sincerity and a noble heart no doubt ... but even then I recall a sense of uneasiness but then I supressed my questioning because I thought there was only certain fixed ways of "evangelizing".
"Consider for a moment if it is not evangelism, but rather late twentieth-century styles of evangelism that deserve our disdain and avoidance. What if evangelism is one of the things that our world needs most?
After all, most people want to talk about things that really matter -- their sense of God, their experiences of meaning or transcendence, their attempts to cope with their own mortality, their struggles with guilt and goodness, their dreams and hopes and deepest longings. They want to talk about these things because without them, all that is left in life is reruns and shopping, copulation and digestion, earning and spending and saving, culminating in estate sales and probate.", pp. 13-14
The question was so liberating for me ... because even as a guest speaker at "evangelistic meetings" where I was expected to give altar-calls which should result in "decisions", I recall very often having so much "pressure" on stage to see "something must happen." What really happens is perhaps we have missed the whole point of what evangelism at its best is really all about. Lord have mercy!
"Let me offer this better vision of good evangelism and good evangelists: Good evangelists -- the kind we will talk about in this book -- are people who engage others in good conversation about important and profound topics such as faith, values, hope, meaning, purpose, goodness, beauty, truth, life after death, life before death, and God. They do this, not because they like to be experts and impose their views on others, but because they feel they are in fact sent by God to do so. They live with a sense of mission that their God-given calling in life is not just to live selfishly, or even just to live well, but to in fact live unselfishly and well and to help others live unselfishly and well too. Evangelists are people with a mission from God and a passion to love and to serve their neighbors. They want to change the world. They are mutants in their planet's spiritual evolution, if you will -- good mutants whose new genes are desperately needed by the gene pool at large.", p. 14
I've always seen myself as an "evangelist" (this was what excited me about being a pastor in the first place - sharing Christ and leading people to him). And yet, so often I know that I've done a mixed job at it (Ok! many a times I've done a lousy job or have not done anything). There were times when I was wondering whether "evangelism" was one idea I needed to forget about and I hear from many people their guilt of not "evangelizing". But, if what is needed is first really to not get too stuck with the methods which often clouds the essence of what evangelism is really about (so eloquently re-described by Brian above), and when it's truly in the context of genuine relationships ... and part of God's revolution of hope and love then this really is what our world needs most ...
Then, the altar call today is a call to alter the way we think about, the way we talk about and the way we go about - evangelism. And that starts with us hearing the "Good News" as Good again ... afresh!
And the big take away for me is to not get locked into an either/or way of thinking when it comes to "evangelism" - whether it's about styles or methods, but to go deeper into the bigger picture of "disciple making" and the "message" I'm actually sharing with those whom are engaged in conversation with me.
Many thanks to Siew Foong, the research secretary of the NECF Research Commission for preparing the questions for this interview and Brian McLaren for sharing his thoughts and motivations with us.
What are the emerging trends that you have observed within the Christian world community? Are they threats to Christians' spiritual health at large and how?
I was in 20 different countries last year, and many more in recent years. Of course, each culture is unique, and each context brings specific challenges and opportunities. But what has struck me in my travels more than anything else is the similarity of our struggles around the world. In one way, this shouldn't be a surprise. Christian faith has gone global in three main waves. First, the Catholic wave brought Roman Catholicism from Europe to many parts of the world. The Protestant wave followed, quite often in areas previously evangelised by Catholics. Next came the Pentecostal wave which is still advancing. All these forms of Christianity are Euro-American, while the Protestant forms are more or less modernist.
By modernist I mean that they reflect the values and assumptions and ways of modern Western civilisation - ways of organising information and people; conducting inquiry and argument; educating, motivating, and so on.
What I see happening around the world could be summarised like this: Where pre-modern people are entering the modern world, Christianity is thriving and growing. Where people are living in modernity, Christianity is somewhat stable, or even stagnant. Where modern people are moving into postmodernity, the Church hardly exists.
So that leaves me with two dominant impressions. Firstly, where Christianity is growing most rapidly, it tends to be a form a pentecostalism associated with modernist American televangelism and megachurch methodologies. This form of Christianity has much to commend it, but it has notable weaknesses. It tends to make converts, not disciples. It tends to focus on individual salvation, individual health, and personal prosperity, not personal and global transformation. It is often described as an inch deep and a mile wide, with more hype than substance. Many of us fear that the rapid growth will be followed by a rapid descent into nominalism or even secularism – like the seeds in Jesus' parable.
Secondly, as people move from a set of modern assumption to a postmodern mindset (or in some places, such as in parts of Asia, where a modern Western mindset has never been accepted), we have a crisis of evangelism. Do people have to be converted to a modern Western Euro-American mindset before they can become followers of Christ? Or does the Holy Spirit want to enter people where they are, and begin transforming their lives and cultures from where they are?
These are some of my top concerns - and hopes.
The general perception of the Malaysian Church on the 'emerging church movement' is heavily shaped by Western critiques, and many see you as a staunch proponent or even a controversial voice in such 'movement' (if there is any). Your comments, please. How shall the Malaysian Christian leadership be prepared to respond to such 'movement'?
Yes, it has been unfortunate that some Christians in the West, especially in the US, have taken a combative stance toward the emergent conversation. I find it sad that in defence of "the truth," we can misread, misinterpret, and misjudge others in an untruthful way.
I think that the Malaysian Christian leadership should take a "Berean" approach (Acts 17:11) – to prayerfully engage in conversation and in light of Scripture. They shouldn't see the emergent conversation as a finished "programme" ready for "marketing" but as a conversation in its early stages of formation. They shouldn't see it as another American export, but as a conversation in which they can, if they desire, become active participants. I hope to represent a conversation that is truly global, and a conversation from which Americans have much to learn - perhaps more than anyone.
Please share your idea of ministry and serving. What does it mean by 'missional'?
The simplest way to explain this is to ask another question, "What is the church for?" If the church is primarily for saving individual souls and protecting them until they can be delivered to heaven, that is certainly a noble purpose. But if the church is to be an agent of God’s mission - of God's kingdom coming, of His will being done on earth as it in heaven - that’s a very different vision. I don't believe these visions are contradictory, but the second one includes the good elements in the first. The church exists to form disciples who are agents of the kingdom in every sphere of their lives - family, work, neighbourhood, political, ecological and economic involvement, and so on. Many churches already understand this, but I think this is a special emphasis in the emergent/missional conversation.
It has been observed that church leaders emphasise 'big,' 'wealth' and 'number' as growth, but there is an increasing number of Christians (particularly the youths) who are seemingly restless and probably lost in church. Faithfully attending cell-groups, Bible study, prayer meeting, or church service may be mere rituals for some. They become conformists rather than growing spiritually. What you do think?
I think this is a widespread problem globally. People engage in a lot of church activities but don’t experience deep transformation. In the end, I believe that the "why" question is more important than the "what" or "how much" questions. Instead of asking: What activities are you involved in? How much prayer or how many hours per week of Bible study? - attractive questions to the modern mind because they are quantifiable - I think we need to ask: Why are we here? Why does the church exist? Why do we gather on Sundays? What are the purposes? Then we can ask: How can we best fulfil those purposes? How can we become the kind of people who live for God’s mission in our world?
"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men"(Frederick Douglass). Jesus is serious about the spiritual wellbeing of children (Matt. 18:6). However, children ministry is generally not prioritised in many churches. Today we see that we may be losing a generation to the enemy. What do you think about this?
I cannot agree more. There are many levels to this problem, but one level relates to this transition from modern to postmodern. In the modern world, we developed approaches to education that were suitable to the world of industrialism.
Education was like a factory - raw material goes on the conveyor belt and is "processed" through a linear process into the finished product. Chairs were lined up in classes and children listened, took notes, and took tests. But in the post-industrial world, all of these methods are up for re-examination. We are free to reflect, for example, on the way Jesus taught.
Our great opportunity, with both children and adults, is to teach what Jesus taught in the manner that He taught.
While committed to carry out the Great Commission of "go therefore and make disciples of all the nations," the Church today faces great animosity in both the West and the East. The act of evangelising, preaching or social out-reaching has become more sensitive than ever. In your opinion, how should the Church today re-look at the Great Commission?
I've written several books on this deeply important question. If I were to focus on three or four points, here are what they'd be:
1. We need to think in terms of forming lifelong disciples rather than simply counting decisions or conversions. Our call is to disciple-making, not decision-counting.
2. Disciple-formation is a process, not simply an event. Of course, as a process, there are many milestones in discipleship - including important ones like baptism. But one of our problems in the conventional approach was that we immediately needed to classify people as "in" or "out." As we emphasise discipleship, this in-out thinking must be modified, enhanced, moderated. For example, if I take an interest in the game of golf or the sport of cricket, when do I say I'm a golfer or a cricket-player? It would seem presumptuous for me to say so the first time I play. But with experience and practice, eventually I begin to see myself as a golfer or cricket-player. How can we make room in our churches for people in this category – what we often call "seekers?"
3. Disciple-formation involves a community and requires relationships in real life. It can't remove people to an artificial environment (or "non-environment" – which is what laboratories and traditional classrooms were, in some ways). It must take place on the road, in the home, at work, in conversation.
4. But for any of this to happen, we need, in a sense, to "convert" our Christians from people who tend to isolate in little Christian enclaves and who may judge and even fear non-Christians, so that they become people who, like Jesus, eat meals with "tax collectors and sinners," build relationships with friends and neighbours who are not yet in Christ. C. S. Lewis spoke of the gospel as "a good infection," and we need to get our people out into the general population more - as friends, as neighbours, as lights in darkness and salt in culture - so that our "infection" can gently spread.
Coercion, manipulating, threatening - these are the marks of a desperate and unhealthy movement seeking to scare people into compliance. Neighbourliness, hospitality, genuine conversation, appreciative listening, invitation - these are the marks, I believe, of the early church, and they can characterise our churches too.
Obviously, the shape of these characteristics will vary from Kuala Lumpur to Stockholm to Buenos Aires to Seattle to Kampala, but I think more and more of us are realising that it's a new era in evangelism. We've moved beyond the colonial era where Christianity and Western civilisation spread hand in hand. We're entering an era in which the way of Jesus is a truly global community coming together in one Spirit, one mission, one purpose, and one gospel, with the possibility of joining Jesus in His mission of bringing good news to all people.
Posted Feb 6 2007 (also published on Berita NECF Jan-Feb 2007 Issue)
For more information on the March 3-4 event go to --> Friends in Conversation 2007: A Quiet Revolution of Hope
"... as soon as I talk about faith, I know many readers find it hard to relate. Make believe, self-hypnosis, manipulation, group hysteria, anti-intellectualism, obscurantism, closed-mindedness, backwardness -- for many, the images of associations related to faith are the very opposite of what I was thinking about ... For you, faith is perhaps like death, a subject you know you shouldn't deny or avoid, but one that is profoundly uncomfortable. You wish, and I wish for you, that faith could be a subject of joy, vitality, hope and healing.
It is for people like you that I have written this book. If it can help you who struggle the most, I know it can help many others too, others whose struggles with faith are not perhaps as radical or extreme, but who struggle nonetheless. (The people for whom faith comes easily and whose faith is never called into question probably would never pick up a book like this anyway, although I wonder if it might do them some good if they did.)"
- pp. 9-10, Finding Faith: a Self Discovery guide for Your Spiritual Quest (The link is the new version, the one I have is the earlier edition)
Here's a pdf sample chapter and an interview on what I heard Brian mentioned once as that this is one of his most favorite books he's written thus far. And yet, it's one of his lesser known or unknown works.
I first read the book in August 2001 and I wrote in the book, "In many ways I'm still a spiritual seeker, Lord invigorate my faith as I walk on with you." And reading the book did help a lot ...not just to put into words my own struggles (perhaps not as radical as many others) but also give me some language to engage in conversation with those who have more radical struggles.
I googled an interesting book review written in 1999 about the book. Here's some excerpts from the reviewer which I found myself nodding in agreement:
"... What I found most refreshing about this book was the author's ability to put himself in the shoes of the unbeliever or seeker, and not polarize the issues that are often hang-ups for post-modern people. For example, he tackles the idea "It doesn't matter what you believe, just so you're sincere" with respect rather than ridicule. He does this by suggesting that what people really mean when they say that is that the quality of one's faith is as important as the content of one's faith. He recognizes that the unbeliever is much more interested in the effect of one's faith (does it make one a better person?) than in the accuracy of the propositions that one believes. If my faith puts a chip on my shoulder, this is not going to win many adherents, despite my brilliant intellectual arguments in defense of it.
I confess I still struggle and consciously need to confront the "ridicule" model when engaging with people of other faiths or skeptics of the Christian faith. It's not easy to genuinely show respect for the other person especially when one feels they are under attack and we slip into a defensive mode. I wonder whether it shows more of my insecurities whether personal or in regards to the way I view my own faith. It was refreshing to read an author who modeled a respectful and proper confidence when confronted with hard questions.
... Another example would be the way he addresses the question of whether truth is relative or absolute. He gently points out that "when we say that everything is relative and no one can know anything with certainty, (we) conveniently ignore the fact that we seem to believe that we know with complete certainty that everything is relative." (p. 56) This is not a new observation, of course, but I have seldom heard it made with such respect for the relativists we are seeking to win.
I never could understand how critics misunderstand Brian as a relativist after reading a statement like the one above -- unless it's more about "eisegeis" rather than "exegesis" of his works. But that's for another post to talk more in depth if we have the chance! Ok, I need to remind myself to be more respectful and not slip into "ridicule" mode. Lord have mercy :-)
... He writes in a respectful, conversational style as if he were actually in dialogue with an atheist or an agnostic or a struggling believer. In fact, he even asked several of his atheist and agnostic friends to review his manuscript. He does not try to back his interlocutor (i.e. the reader) into a corner, but gently leads him or her through the implications of each choice one can make in thinking about God. For example, he devotes a chapter to the proposition that there is no God (atheism), listing 9 reasons for atheism and six reasons for continuing the search for God (i.e. 6 reasons for questioning atheism). He gently points out that atheism is a faith commitment just as much as theism, but he does it in a way that respects, rather than ridicules, the atheistic reader."
What I liked about the book was the honest explorations of our faith commitments entails. And the key point must be made, this can be done with respect rather than ridicule.
"... it is clear that the author is much more interested in winning people than he is in winning arguments. He has the rare ability of seeing things from the other person's point of view. In this case, it is the point of view of the spiritual seeker, be he or she atheist, agnostic, or doubter. I would heartily recommend this book to any friend who is unconvinced or doubtful about the veracity of the Christian faith. It may or may not answer all his or her questions, but it will help the person to know how to go about finding answers."
After my own little adventures and misadventures in trying to converse with those who hold different beliefs than me, or question my beliefs ... sometimes it's truly easy and tempting to forget the person in front of me and get sucked into the whirlpool of "winning arguments". Of course, I'm not advocating irrationalism or anti-intellectualism or a warm fuzzy subjectivism, but it's good to keep things in perspective while passionately sharing our points of view and at the same time being attentive to the other's point of view.
As I shared from the start of this "Introducing Brian" series (especially for Malaysians), it's imperative to read the prefaces and introductions of his books. Check out the following in his introduction for Finding Faith which to me is one of the most encouraging paragraphs I've read on inviting someone to a quest for authentic faith - it's an holistic and honest approach which i would recommend anyone:
"Though a healthy faith is bigger than the intellect, the search for faith is cannot bypass the intellect. The sincere spiritual seeker must engage the mind fully, even while transcending cold and calculating rationalism. ... the search for faith also involves non-cognitive parts of us -- emotions, longings, aspirations, dreams and hopes and fears, drives, intuitions. It often forces us to face some ugliness in ourselves, some hard facts about life, requiring courage, honesty, and determination. Faith involves admitting with humility and boldness that we need to change, to go against the flow, to be different, to face and shine the light on our cherished illusions and prejudices, and to discover new truths that can be liberating even though they may be difficult for the ego, painful to the pride. The search for authentic faith must be the most life-changing quest anyone can ever launch.", pp. 13-14
Well, it's true ... Brian McLaren is not big in Malaysia :-) But for some of us he was the face of the what the emerging church/emergent conversation is all about. He was kind of the usher for many of us in order to face our doubts, honestly deal with our questions, and see an example of how one deals with his critics. In short, be a Christian as well as a Christian leader in today's world full of polarities.
My introduction of him was more as a pastor who wrote what I still think is a pretty good book considering the purposes it set out to do. The Church on the other side was my entry point (ok to be more precise it was the earlier book "Reinventing the Church" but seriously I prefer the revised version). Here's a sample pdf.
Here are some self-descriptive comments on himself and insightful statements in his preface and introduction which got me sitting up. One thing I learnt about reading Brian's books, his prefaces and introductions are very important to understand him properly. :-)
"This book really deals with the church as a love affair, a spiritual romance, a labor of love, a work of faith and art. It sees the church as a community that must be understood and befriended, not just a machine to be tinkered with and tuned up." (p. 7)
Every pastor needs to hear those words. So often being part of the church especially in leadership feels more like a burden rather than a blessing.
".. the church isn't ours; it's God's. ... it isn't ours; it's us." (p. 7)
This is so liberating ... and changes the whole way we can view "church".
"The question for us is how the church will emerge, take form, and develop in the postmodern matrix. And if I am right, this isn't just something we think or read about; this is something we can participate in." (p. 8)
After hearing more than one merely academic and intellectual discussion on ecclesiology, as a pastor we always ask "So, What's next?" or "what are some things we can do about it?". I can understand why many pastors or leaders find it easier to go for "how to fix the church" kind of conferences (I confess I've been to many too) because at least they can go away feeling they can do something about it. So, while mere pragmatism is always a danger lurking behind the scenes, I guess the initial desire is to want to participate in how the church can develop. It's easy to get lost along the way and get caught in the busyness of it all ... but it's never too late to stop, pause and reconsider where we are going.
"I am more interested in stretching your thinking here than tweaking your techniques, so what you learn here won't be easily boiled down into new tricks you can try this Sunday. In the same way, I must similarly advise all you thinkers and academics: I am a practitioner, not an academic (although I used to be a college teacher). As a "practicing pastor" I am rooted in the everyday and down-to-earth tasks of giving sermons, causing and resolving conflicts, answering phone calls and emails about who's singing what in the second service this Sunday, performing weddings and funerals, and that sort of thing. I guess you could say I am a reflective practitioner ... focused on the down-and-dirty of doing ministry, but trying to have a high-altitude understanding of when, where, how, and why we are doing it." (p. 8)
This I think was the first time I read the phrase "reflective practitioner" and thought to myself ... "Hey! I can be that .. and I want to!". It was interesting the other day when I shared with someone about the upcoming Friends 2007 event and Brian who's coming to speak (it's nice to be able to say I've got a friend whom I knew for the last 6 years who's coming). The person looked interested and then asked, "How big is his church?" My reply is "I don't know". And then we conversed further on what is the content of the event. For me, it didn't matter how big or "successful" Brian's church was even when I first read the book. What I was looking for was how can I be a faithful pastor leading a young congregation that got "resurrected" in the here and now! This particular book gave me some confidence to authentically work this process out without falling trap into the popular trends and forces which can easily demoralize one (if they define their self-worth by them).
For me, I believe the answer/s to the many rumblings and rants and frustrations to what many people are not Christians as well as unchurched Christians about the church isn't more explanations and excuses (which may or may not be helpful). And even though Biblical as well as theological expositions on the vision of the church are important but often may sound distant and makes us feel we'll never reach the ideals in our lifetime. What's crucial is (with all the theological, biblical and historical resources as well as openness, creativity and sensitivity to the Spirit working in and through community) ... There needs to be "alternatives" - community of Christ-followers, friends and family who are willing to "participate" in a kind of church which consciously guards against the idolatry of consumerism or traditionalism and humbly engages the context of our lives while reengaging with the Biblical story we find ourselves in :-) And pastors and church leaders play an important role in this process - whether it's being a hindrance or helpful along the way.
There are times when it's easy to slip into a kind of "Elijah-am-I-the-only-one" syndrome. But, in recent years there are grounds for me to be a little more hopeful. That's where I would like to put my energies in.
Phew! ... I feel better doing this post. Very therapeutic. Just before I turn softy and fuzzy ... I'll leave the quote Brian left behind on p. 16 in his introduction:
"In 1970, Francis Schaeffer saw the change coming:
The church today should be getting ready and talking about issues of tomorrow and not issues 20 and 30 years ago, because the church is going to be squeezed in a wringer. If we found it tough in these last few years, what are we going to do when we are faced with the real changes that are ahead? ...
One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary. To be conservative today is to miss the whole point, for conservatism means standing in the flow of the status quo, and the status quo no longer belongs to us ...
If we want to be fair, we must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo."
Brian's comments made me think about the kind of church and Christianity I pray my children would see and grow into and something I want to participate in.
"I was in college when I first read those words. Now, over the threshold of the twenty-first century, with my own kids in college, Schaeffer's words about revolution feel even more poignant, more stirring. I want to give my children a faith intended for revolution, not status quo. And not just for my children. I want that for myself -- and for you."
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.
It's encouraging to see the registrations gradually coming in. I think the online registration form is helpful.
Reading the participants expectations are fascinating ... interesting how the word "emerging" crops up ... whether it's emerging trends or emerging church. Right from the start we wanted a broader focus and we still are heading there. But we also believe all must come as they are.
My entrance to the overall conversation was more through Brian McLaren's writings and interaction with Jason Clark years ago (until now). Of course, there's also a good dose of articles from Next-Wave Ezine.
And I've been consistent through the years (ok not that many blogging years *grin*) highlighting some of us have been talking and thinking about similar concerns with the "emergent" conversation and/or "emerging church" phenomena albeit in slightly different language for a pretty long time. I've heard echoes of this during my days in seminary, and also different readings here and there. What interests me at this stage as was then, is how all this can be fleshed out in a local church context, wider Christian community as well as globally.
At this stage, I'm still hesitant in using the term "emerging church" partly because unlike the early days, today it's easily boxed into either a kind of "brand" or "trend". And some amount of energy is needed to first unpack the term, and maybe redirect the focus to the concerns which originally inspired the term in the first place. But then again, that's the reality of our world where blogging is faster than publishing ... for good or ill.
As far as the "for good" part, I hope our little effort through this event will help those coming to go beyond the superficial discussions on theology, spirituality and ministry/mission to a more integrated conversation which plugs the church back into the God's agenda for the world.
I'll need to get ready to work out some details with the conversation facilitators and follow up on our Roman Catholic friends and see how is their participation. But before some energy can be put there on Monday, I'll need to focus on my own church council meeting tomorrow, preparations for our upcoming AGM, Sunday Worship and also the post-worship baptism and affirmation class (we're starting with the Creed which is cool), and also other family responsibilities.
There is no one full time organizing this event ... and everyone is chipping in as much as they can while juggling 101 other responsibilities. I'm so grateful for their partnership in this. Some already have been putting in extra efforts.
I've already picked out all of Brian's books I have .. and hopefully start my series "Brian McLaren: Introductions" series ... I chuckled when I got an email and the person asked "Who is Brian McLaren?". Now that brings the matter into perspective. :-) at least in our Malaysian context.
I found Bob's entry good ... because first it highlights another worth while event the 4th National Congress On Integrity which is focused very much on our Malaysian social-political context. I think this is good because so often Christians and the public in general often are very passive in these matters and we reduce our involvement mainly through complaining (Lord have mercy).
Bob continues after that with some interesting comments on Brian McLaren and the Friends in Conversation 2007 event which we're organizing for the first time. And what's important to me .. is right from the start we wanted the focus to not be on the so called "emerging church" phenomena or perceived controversies surrounding Brian McLaren. Bob cheekily writes:
"The buzz is on this one. Noted and sometimes considered controversial speaker Brian McLaren will be in town engaging conversation partners from the Church in Malaysia in considering the challenges and opportunities facing the 21st century Church. McLaren is no stranger to controversy and while some love him, many others love to hate him (I can already think of a few I know personally LOL)
... I know some would balk at just hearing McLaren's name but I would suggest that even if you have reason to be critical or disagree with his teachings to come and hear him out and get the opportunity to actually challenge his supposed heresies direct from the floor."
I wonder whether people will be disappointed when they find our how ordinary and down to earth Brian is. And perhaps, what he's going to share isn't that "controversial" after all :-) We'll see ... what's important is I believe there will be places where we will be comforted .. and in other cases, challenged.
My personal hope from the start is that Brian's sharing and engagement with the conversation partners will serve as a catalyst for our own wrestling with the issues at hand - keeping in mind the Gospel, the role of the Church, our own discipleship as well as a keen eye on the world we live in. In many ways, the 2 events one initiated by OHMSI and the other by emergent Malaysia desire to encourage concerned followers of Jesus (or Christians) to connect their faith and witness with the realities we live in. The accents might be different but both seek to give a chance for individuals and groups to interact with each other for the good of our country (which includes the wider world).
The fun little extra Bob threw in was the Bonus Tip for Valentine's Day. As we talk about changing the world .. the mega issues, the public morality matters, the wider concerns, etc. I'm reminded ... of those who are immediately close to us. And for true change to happen, we cannot ignore our wives, our kids, our loved ones, our local congregations, etc.
*update: Bob added another event A Christian Response To The Marginalised which I got the info via email earlier. After seeing this, suddenly I felt Malaysia is blessed this year not just because of visit Malaysia 2007, but the fact that there are quality conversations and consultations on stuff that matter!*
Micah Network Asia-Pacific Consultation 2007
I thought it would be a good idea to have some running commentary on the behind the scenes happenings as far as the Friends in Conversation : A Quiet Revolution of Hope event is concerned. So I decided to use "Friends 2007: QRoH" for short. I also hope to give due credit and appreciation to all those who have helped in one way or another.
Things have been moving really fast since we got to know Brian McLaren could stopover in Malaysia. My mind goes back way in 2000 when we had a number email exchanges here and there and continued our "conversations" since then. It's pretty exciting to finally have the chance to meet face to face. What I value more is that through his visit, we could initiate some "space" to get those whom have been already talking about the issues that concern us together. When all the conversation partners said "Yes" on the phone to me that they are able to join us , I can't help but say "wow! Thanks be to God!"
The "Working Committee" has been great ...
The Three Muskeeter communications team has synergized beyond my imagination : Kevin Thomas did a fantastic job with the brochure and logo design. And it was wonderful to sit with Joel Limand be part of the process of "copywriting". I suddenly realizes how jargon-bound I am. Wonder Bob gradually has "morphed" the emergent Malaysia site to be more pleasant and useful. A special highlight for us is the online registration form on live now.
Laurie from Council of Churches of Malaysia has already been taking calls and receiving registrations. Siew Foong has gotten Brian's answers for "An Interview with Brian McLaren" and we're looking forward for it to appear in the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Newsletter. We will also post it on our website (and this blog) too after they put it online.
Michael Foong is already working on our recording possibilities whether video or Mp3. so we await for good news. Food quotations are on the way with the help of Adeline Lim. Kia Meng is brianstorming the corporate worship segments. I hope to work on more details with the conversation partners and facilitators. Yew Khuen is keeping us on track!
There is NO fulltime staff running this event. All of us are chipping in as much as we can while pastoring our churches, slogging at work, feeding our babies, marking exam papers, sitting in meetings, trying to get some rest ... seeing what we can do for the flood relief in Johor, and many other concerns as well.
But we believe this is going to be a wonderful chance for a good thing to happen ... a quiet revolution of hope. Sure, it's going to be a lot of talking and listening. But prayerfully in the context of respectful and loving relationships, honesty and humor, and having the dance of orthopraxis, orthopathy and orthodoxy in mind. That in a new way (at least in our Malaysian context) Christians can participate in a healthy conversation involving reflective thinking, deep spirituality and missional praxis. This so needed in our activity driven culture and ministry.
A short pause before our next move.
Thanks Bob again for extra labor of love. I will put one at the side :-) of this blog!
Click Below for
Click Below for
Brochure Inside & Registration form
Click Below for
Brochure in pdf Format
Friends in Conversation:
A QUIET REVOLUTION OF HOPE
For the first time in Malaysia, influential speaker and author Brian McLaren and Conversation Partners touch on challenges and opportunities facing the 21st Century Church. Join the conversations on:
Gospel - more than we imagined it to be
Church - ways forward beyond forms and technique
Discipleship - tired of shortcuts and superficiality
World - being ready for active engagement
Date & Time: March 3-4 (Saturday & Sunday)
Venue: Christian Life Gospel Centre, Petaling Jaya
3rd Floor, Kompleks Kemajuan,
2, Jalan 19/1B, 46300 Petaling Jaya,
Cost: RM55 (Walk-in Registration RM65) - inclusive of handouts, tea and one lunch.
Organised by emergent Malaysia in collaboration with:
* Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) Faith & Order Committee
* Initiative for Theological Reflection in Asia (IN.T.R.A)
* Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM)
* Glad Sounds Sdn Bhd
* Father Dr. Jojo Fung S.J (Coordinator, IN.T.R.A )
* Sherman YL Kuek, OSL (DTh Candidate, Adjunct Lecturer in Christian Theology at STM)
* Chris Leong (Elder, Bandar Utama Chapel)
* Dr. Ng Kam Weng (Director, Kairos Research Centre)
* The Rt. Rev. Philip Lok (Bishop, Lutheran Church in Malaysia & Singapore)
* Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri (General Secretary of Council of Churches Malaysia)
* Dr. Tan Soo-Inn (Author, Speaker, Grace@Work)
* Dr. Alex Tang (Director, Spiritual Formation Institute)
* Tan Kong Beng (Elder, Subang Jaya Gospel Centre, Co-founding Director of Oriental Hearts & Minds Study Institute)
* Steven Wong (NECF Research Commission Chairman)
* Rev. Wong Fong Yang (Pastor of City Discipleship Presbyterian Church)
* Dr. Voon Choon Khing (Lecturer in Christian Spirituality & Pastoral Counseling at STM)
Alwyn Lau (Researcher & Teacher at Fairview International School)
Tricia Yeoh (Senior Research Analyst, Centre of Public Policy Studies)
About emergent Malaysia
emergent Malaysia is a group of friends and followers of Jesus who are committed to one another and to creating space for conversations in Malaysia and beyond. We regularly meet to converse on topics regarding gospel, theology, church, discipleship, and engagement with our world.