Ecstatic

May 31st, 2009

Today we took the historical step of visiting the church that we used to attend 25 years ago. It is very hard to sum how we found it. We are talking here about a church that was in the vanguard of the Restoration movement of the 80’s and one of the first churches to spin off from Church House Bradford and we have had the intervening time to rethink our faith and come to some very different opinions.The first thing I was surprised at was how free I was from the control that was exerted in the old days. You always worry in these situations that you might end up feeling like a naughty schoolboy. Secondly, I really enjoyed their ecstatic worship. The songs were contentless and repeated endlessly, but that is actually the point of that kind of worship. The whole purpose is to free your mind and enter either a receptive state where God can meet with you and speak to you, or where your creative self can suggest concepts and solutions to your conscious mind depending on your point of view. Sadly, the dark side is still there: unity through paranoia,  simplistic passivity and triumphalism all raised their ugly head. But the people are still great and the fact that so many are together after all these years definitely counts for something.

Back to Leeds

February 6th, 2009

Our big news is our relocation back to Leeds, which is where my wife and I grew up, after 18 years in Scotland.

Decision factors were: the termination of some long standing contracts, the age of our children, family health and the undefinable one: a sense of calling backed by some prophetic words of 14 years standing.

The prophetic side is what confuses some of my friends as they don’t know what to do with someone who refuses to fit the fundamentalist evangelical framework but still follows leadings.

For me it makes sense and I am sure that there are Quakers and Catholic or Orthodox mystics who would understand as well.

What this means for small voices, I don’t know. The concept never really translated into a group, though I do get feedback sometimes when a group elsewhere has used the materials. Maybe this is an opportunity fo the format to find a home.

Emerging Argument

January 30th, 2009

TallSkinnyKiwi has been trying out some argument software here I had a go myself but it is really difficult to decide what to put. There is not a lot of space for text. Also, no argument appears in a vacuum: I doubt I would have formulated it the way I did except in response to the other arguments. For example, though I pretty much agree with Andrews argument as a response to the sola scriptura argument, I saw his own argument as interpretable as a history free gnosticism. To be fair, Andrew put a lot of riders on his own submission and I’m pretty sure that you could not guess my theology from mine.I felt the lack of a ‘however’ clause as I would never write with such certainty normally. I also wonder if the argument is in itself the wrong form for emergent church in a medium=message sort of a way.

The Great Charismatic Hijack

January 28th, 2009

Some time ago, I mentioned to some old friends that I would love to write a book with this title. They loved the title and felt immediately that they knew what I would write. So far so good: an instant positive response and a sense that the title was self-explanatory. Maybe I had a new ‘Post-Evangelical’ or ‘A Churchless Faith’ on my hands. Unfortunately the story that they instantly felt that the proposed book would tell was not the same one that I was espousing. In their scenario, the Evangelical Church was taken over by mad Fundamentalist Charismatics who ruined it.This surprised me at first. After all “The Great Train Robbery” was not a robbery carried out by a train. “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle” was not a swindle perpetrated by Rock and Roll. I was clearly referring to the hijacking of the Charismatic movement by something or someone else.It seems as if (I actually wrote, ‘just seems as if’, then noticed and edited it out) the word ‘Charismatic’ has become such an evil word amongst post-Restoration refugees that if you put it next to any accusation, it is automatically perceived as the villain.Which is a huge pity, because an exploration of the whole area of charisms with your inerrantist literalist glasses off reveals a whole wealth of understanding that we who experience sychronicity in our lives and call it ‘divine intervention’ and seem to receive extra information from the ether and call it ‘a word from God’, can usefully apply. It also sheds light on the sticky problem of unfolding revelation and dovetails well with post-modern understanding of media. More in a year or two….. 

The BNP, the Oford Union and Protest

December 16th, 2007

The recent news story about the BNP visit to the Oxford Union illustrated to me something that I have said before.On watching the news report describing how some people were protesting about the time and soapbox given to the BNP, while the Oxford Union felt that it was better to engage in debate with them and demolish their arguments, my wife Lidia said, “that is the way that it should be”.In other words, both positions are valid and both contribute to a full response to the situation. But the positions are not agreed. They tackle the problem in opposite ways.This illustrates my idea that the diversity of the church can extend as far as being opposite and disagreed without necessarily failing to reflect God in some way and that that opposing diversity may indeed reflect God most clearly.

The Rite Before Christmas

October 21st, 2007

I had an idea for an alternative worship midnight mass that I named ‘The Rite Before Christmas’. Obviously it is a joke, but equally obviously it is not. Unfortunately, there are Christians to whom the term ‘rite’ is like a red rag to a bull. If they are not assuming that the term refers to a satanist black mass, then they are railing at Roman Catholics and other liturgical churches for their ’empty rituals’. What they fail to recognise is that they have rituals of their own. Because these rituals are unexamined, they run a very strong risk of being as empty as any others. That is not to say that every traditional rite is authentic though they may be for someone.

small voices update

October 21st, 2007

I have had one or two requests for information about small voices, so here is an update.

I’m afraid that small voices as a local entity never really got off the ground. The concept was always that small voices would supply discussion and experimentation to the church in the area, and one local church in particuar. We were working on developing it within a local church at the time, but unfortunately our ethos and that of the church differed so extremely that we were unable to sustain the working relationship.

Since that time we have contemplated running sessions locally. I think that we would be able to manage that, but to be honest it takes a lot of time that I do not have. What I never intend small voices to be, is to be a church in the traditional sense, or even in the Gibbs & Bolger version of emerging church.

The goal was always to fit in with the idea of church as an open market. With the best will in the world, a group or ministry is always going to be owned by its originator. Despite the commitment to participation, small voices was always going to be my baby. And that’s OK, or even necessary in a ministry, but it is not OK in the church as a whole. The church is meant to be an egalitarian commonwealth where people of gifting are free to exercise it, not a divided set of tribed locked into tribal leaders and allowed to exercise gifting only by permission.

As it is, the material developed for small voices has been used by other groups. If you are in one of them, some more feedback would be great. I have obviously discussed the content with friends and used some of the material informally with peole to whom the rules we laid out are simply a way of life. Without a deadline, it has been tough to keep developing material. However, the goal of developing material does help to keep me motivated.

I think that the most developed version of what is emerging in Scotland can be seen most clearly in the network of ministries, businesses and arts projects in Edinburgh that I learned of from wee beautiful pict. Paul Thomson describes this as ‘post-congo’ Christianity, meaning post-congregational. I would tend to concur that the church is freeing herself from congregations, and that this is a good thing.

New Blog

May 12th, 2007

My hosting company has some blog software, so it seems churlish not to use it.

So if you follow this blog, and amazingly there are some who do, update your rss feed.

How much effort can it be to read a post every six months?

From Restoration to Emergent

January 28th, 2007

There was an interesting discussion on ship of fools recently about what we thought of Dave Tomlinson’s book “The Post-Evangelical”, eleven years on. It was surprising how many people have made the same trip as I have through to emergent church from the Restoration churches, which would at first sight appear to be diametrically opposed theologically. Here are my comments:

Comment 1
Just a couple of comments on what has been said so far.

My own theological path has taken me from R1 through post-evangelicalism, back towards a more open evangelicalism and on to the emerging church conversation. I am not sure that I can accurately represent these viewpoints any more, but I can see distinctions between them and other positions such as liberalism and sacramentalism.

Every distinction is necessarily a cliche or characature, as each position does not remain static but matures over time.

The distinction between a post-evangelical viewpoint and liberalism would centre around the pre-suppositions with which the text is approached. Liberalism approaches the text with a modernist viewpoint: in particular with the assumption that we live in a universe where miracles do not happen and thus must be interpreted out of the text. A post-evangelical does not share the materialist viewpoint of a liberal so, though he/she may share the view that the text must be studied as a human text, he/she will not interpret the same verses as metaphors.

With repect to sacramentalism, the post-evangelical/emergent/whatever regards evangelicalism as having made a fundamental wrong turn in identifying the spirit with the mind and excising a lot of physical expression and emotion. One of the reasons for entering charismatic churches in the first place was a recognition that there was a need for a more holistic faith including emotional and physical expression. Charismatic worship may have started as a holistic expression, but it soon became a pursuit of the ecstatic/trancendent rather than an incarnational/immanent expression. Post-evangelicals turn to sacramentalism as a way of linking back in with the church as a whole, but also in an attempt to express truths physically as well as mentally. Where they differ from sacramentalism would be in the interpretation of what sacraments are and how they relate to concepts of priesthood and church authority often held by sacramentalist(real word?) churches.

Comment 2
With regards to the sacramental vs gathered church divide, I think that we need to think seriously about where our models fit with reality and where they do not. I was brought up in the Anglican church, with the half hour ritual that did not seem to impinge on any other part of life. I recognise that this is not true for all. It may not have been true for all in that church, but it was my conclusion as a fifteen-ish year old when I stopped going.

What Restoration offered was a whole-life transformation, in which every part of your life was lived in God. There was no sacred/secular divide. However, model and reality were in conflict. For example, the authority structure of the church had to make distinctions between what was and was not a legitimate area for leaders to meddle with, so instead of re-examining power, limits to it were set.

The concept of the gathered church as the community that you work out life in was fundamentally flawed. In a sense it reflects a nostalgic urge to return to villages. In reality most of us work, live, communicate and worship with completely different sets of people. We no longer live in one community. When church tries to be your real community, it competes for your time with all your other relationships, devaluing them. In reality, working things out with people is much more important and real when you are talking about a business deal or a family divorce than when you are talking about services and outreaches.

I just stopped struggling to make the church my community and recognised that whoever I meet is my community and context, and I was going to have to find spiritual value wherever I was.

My move towards (for want of a better word) sacramentalism is a reflection of another truth that is not generally recognised by either the traditional evangelical or the charismatic churches: human beings require ritual, and it would be a good idea to recognise it and design appropriate rituals, rather than denying it and ending up with a set of inappropriate behaviours that have unconvincing cover stories.

I do not think that there is any legitimacy to medieval concepts of the spiritual power of priests, or of any church authorities. I simply believe that a holistic expression of faith/life involves conscious ritual, and that what is said can be legitimately prepared and well-written.

I do not currently “go to church”. I go to Greenbelt and I went to Iona last year. I have old friends who visit from time to time. I remain friends with people from the church I stopped attending, however that seems to strain their understanding. I seek to express and thus encourage what parts of the teaching of Jesus I think that I understand. At the moment that is enough.

The Fidelity of Blasphemy

October 2nd, 2006
The September issue of Third Way has an article in it from Alistair McIntosh called ‘Fire in the Bones’. In it, he writes about Jeremiah’s complaint in Jeremiah 15 & 20, that God deceived, seduced and overpowered him into becoming an activist. The word translated as ‘overpower’ apparently has Biblical resonances of rape.    

I have not read further than that yet. For me, this flies in the face of the narrow piety that I experience in the majority of the Christians that I meet.

What honours God more? The unthinking acceptance and worship of what passes for the current pious Christian, or the shouting, wrestling and accusation of an unsatisfied seeker after truth?