Learning in Story

My friend AL has a way with words(and we always have fun how we use terms and phrases) and I appreciate how he captures our Emergent Malaysia gathering last Saturday in his own words. I fully agree with him that “Christianity is not just good for dying” … it’s good for living! Timely during this Easter Season!

Read on in Learning in Story

If there’s something new (therefore refreshing) yet ancient (therefore less dubious than one might initially expect), it’s the phenomenon of story.

At the third Malaysian Emergent gathering (what a mouthful, eh?) at BLC last weekend, it was great to see, yet again, stories taking centre stage.

The Emergent Church Movement (ECM) advocates the patient listening and validating of people’s stories. Conversation needs to take place. We must hear people out and ‘suspend judgment’ on ideas our theological systems may reject, no matter how ‘awfully false’. What for? Because there may be no other way to learn from them, to give people space to voice their doubts and experiences, to minister to them. In a word, to connect. Without genuine listening, there may be no genuine relationship.

Kia Meng’s personal story (the first story of the day) was insightful as to how multi-dimensional and wavy and fluctuating real Christian experience is. How often do you hear, within a space of ten minutes names like Francis Schaeffer, NT Wright, John Piper, Brian McLaren and Menno Simmons all juxtaposed as part of a holistic experience?

He shared how he started with (and felt disillusioned by) popular Pentecostal ‘power’ theology, particularly the view that if healing did not come to a person, it’s likely due to that person’s lack of faith. He then found some measure of theological solace in Reformed theology, with its pantheon of certainties, foundations, creeds and so on. I must say I found this rare: A Pentecostal ‘converting’ to Calvinism?

But this is life, this is real, this is as candid as candid can get. No one’s trying to fit anything into some piously acceptable and politically right scheme here. If nothing else, perhaps the ECM could be seen as a return to honesty: honest doubt, honest stories, honest fears, honest pain, honest questions.

Kia Meng has and this is where I envy him tremendously, *grin* – personally met up with both N.T. Wright and Brian McLaren, two ‘giants’ of the faith in quite different ways. Wright is a British theologian cum historian who’s presently redefining the landscape of ‘Historical Jesus’ and New Testament studies. “If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not” this was the phrase (what Wright believes accurately summarizes the early Christians’ “politics”) which, according to Kia Meng, reminded him of the power and need of the gospel to transform the world not just ‘spiritually’ but in socially redeeming ways.

As per Dallas Willard, Christians need more than ‘bar-code’ faith.

Brian McLaren, on the other hand, is an American pastor who’s postmodern innovativeness and deep compassion for people gradually led to the creation of the ECM. It seems he, McLaren, approached Kia Meng and Yew Khuen, wanting to know more about them, their culture and even their dialects(!).

I think McLaren’s actions in doing so i.e. in reaching out to, and being genuinely interested in, those (like him) who may be ‘minorities’ (in some sense at least) spoke more than many a theological treatise or sermon. Maybe this was a snapshot of God’s goodness expressed unexpectedly through a person.

(Incidentally, McLaren has been getting some bad press of late. His book, A Generous Orthodoxy, has stirred up more than a little fury among, primarily, Reformed evangelicals for being theologically ‘corrosive’ and obscure. Propositional clarity, in their view, decide the value of theological discourse. It’s therefore nice to see a conservative like Craig Blomberg classifying McLaren’s work as helpful to those keen on “developing the kind of community in the church of Jesus Christ that our Lord himself seems to have desired.” i.e. community-building and relationships determine the value of God-talk.)

For Kia Meng, perhaps, the encounter with McLaren possibly reaffirmed his conviction that the gospel of Jesus Christ involved the ‘radical inclusion’ of those our ‘natural’ selves wouldn’t rush to accept as part of the community. Instead of ‘Vampire Christianity’ (Willard again, highlighting the bite-and-leave evangelistic tendencies of many Christians), we perhaps should pursue ‘Guide Dog Christianity’ i.e. a stay-and-care (and listen carefully!) kind of faith.
For his openness and observations and intellectual giving, I thank Kia Meng. I was reminded, brother, that Christianity isn’t only ‘good for dying’ (smile).

Posted at 02:17 pm by alwynlau


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