Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw condemn the church's adulterous affair with political power.
We are seeing more and more that the church has fallen in love with the state and that this love affair is killing the church's imagination. The powerful benefits and temptations of running the world's largest superpower have bent the church's identity. Having power at its fingertips, the church often finds "guiding the course of history" a more alluring goal than following the crucified Christ. Too often the patriotic values of pride and strength triumph over the spiritual virtues of humility, gentleness, and sacrificial love.
As you can tell, subtlety is not what Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw were aiming for when they co-wrote, Jesus for President. Apart from the provocative content - a mix of stories, biblical narrative, and political manifesto - even the look of the book provokes a reaction. The pages are filled with photography, artwork, doodles, and strange typesetting. Some will appreciate the book's creative format and others will find the style too different - not unlike the authors themselves.
For those unfamiliar with Claiborne and Haw, both are associated with what has been called the New Monasticism movement. Known for their emphasis on community, racial reconciliation, and peacemaking, many of these new monastics live and serve in what they call the "abandoned places of Empire."
Ur will be reporting from the Shift 2008 conference next month.
In two weeks the Willow Creek Association is hosting a different kind of student ministries conference. Shift 2008 will address the cultural changes that are impacting the way we think about reaching the next generation. Out of Ur is excited to be hosting the online component of the conference.
From April 9 - 11, Ur contributors will be reporting live from South Barrington, Illinois, and moderating an online conversation based on what's presented at Shift. The lineup of speakers should give us plenty to talk about. They include: Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Mark Yaconelli, Kara Powell, Dan Kimball, and many others.
If you'll be attending Shift, we hope Out of Ur will be a resource to further your learning. And if you not going to be at the conference, then check out this video for an idea of what Ur will be addressing in the weeks ahead.
Have Christians forgotten that discipline is a gift from God?
For the past couple of weeks, Ur-banites have been wrestling with questions about church membership. Below, Ken Sande, president of Peacemaker Ministries, takes one of the big questions head on: how does a church discipline its members?
On January 18, 2008, The Wall Street Journal Online published an article by Alexandra Alter on church discipline entitled Banned from Church. When Alexandra interviewed me before writing the article, I explained the biblical basis for church discipline and acknowledged how churches have sometimes neglected or abused the process. I also described how properly applied accountability can help people break free from sinful and destructive conduct. I even provided examples of churches that had used loving discipline to stop crooks from defrauding elderly people, protect lonely women from being seduced, and move child sexual abusers to confess their crimes ("A Better Way to Handle Abuse").
Despite our conversation, Alexandra chose to paint an entirely negative picture of discipline by using the example of a 71-year-old woman who had been removed from her church for questioning her pastor's leadership. Examples of protecting the elderly, the lonely, and the helpless from abuse apparently did not fit into her preconceived notions of church discipline.
I'm sad, but not surprised, when secular writers present a negative stereotype of church discipline. What troubles me far more is how many Christians share these distorted views.
Easter is more than one Sunday celebration a year.
At the National Pastors Conference in San Diego, our friend at PreachingToday.com, Brian Lowery, got to interview N. T. Wright about his latest book - Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church - and how it relates to preaching. Since we are all in the midst of the Easter journey, his words are timely, challenging, and above all else, hopeful. Here are a few excerpts. Read the full interview here.
Bishop N. T. Wright: [Studying] the Resurrection for an earlier book, Resurrection of the Son of God ? ended up rubbing my nose in the New Testament theology of new creation, and the fact that the new creation has begun with Easter. I discovered that when we do new creation - when we encourage one another in the church to be active in projects of new creation, of healing, of hope for communities - we are standing on the ground that Jesus has won in his resurrection.
Evangelicals and Catholics find common cause in protecting the planet.
In the early 1970s, conservative Protestants hit the streets to protest the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion. When they arrived with signs in hand, they discovered that Catholics had beaten them to the picket line. Since then, Catholics and evangelicals have found common cause in protecting the unborn.
Last week, Catholics and evangelicals found another issue on which they may someday join forces: saving the planet.
The sermon that inspired Barack Obama from the pastor who could derail him.
For months presidential hopeful Barack Obama has been trying to dispel rumors that he is a Muslim. The good news for the Illinois Senator is that virtually everyone in the country now knows he's a Christian. The bad news for Obama has been playing on YouTube and the cable news networks all week - video of his pastor condemning white America from the pulpit. The candidate's opponents have used his connection to the controversial pastor to question Obama's central message - that he can unite the country across racial and political lines.
Barack Obama has credited Reverend Jeremiah Wright for bringing him to faith in Christ. Wright has been his spiritual mentor for nearly 20 years, officiated at his wedding, and baptized his daughters. And until Friday, Wright had been serving as an advisor to the Obama presidential campaign. He left the campaign when his fiery statements from the pulpit brought too much heat on the senator. Some have called his remarks racist, un-American, and anti-Semitic. Barack Obama called them "completely unacceptable."
He told ABC News that Reverend Wright is like "an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with." And the candidate said Saturday, "I completely reject" the statements Wright made in those sermons.
Barack Obama's bestselling book, The Audacity of Hope, takes its title from one of Jeremiah Wright's sermons. We were surprised to discover the transcript of that message in our PreachingToday.com archives. We've posted the entire sermon for you to read here.
In the first part of this post, I discussed my suspicion that we have confused the church (the community of God's people) with the church institution (the 501c3 tax-exempt organization). This leads to a myopic understanding of Christian mission and service. We can slip into the idea that the only legitimate use of one's gifts, time, and energy is within the institutional structures of the church organization. In part two I want to explore why we may have fallen into this mindset, and how we can begin to think differently.
Without doubt there are numerous factors behind our exaltation of the church institution above the community of saints that created it, but one critical component may be cultural. In our consumer culture we've come to believe that institutions are the vessels of God's Spirit and power. (The reason for this is a subject I explore in more depth in my book due out next year.) The assumption is that with the right curriculum, the right principles, and the right programs, values, and goals, the Spirit will act to produce the ministry outcomes we envision. This plug-and-play approach to ministry makes God a predictable, mechanical device and it assumes his Spirit resides within organizations and systems rather than people.
You often see this mindset after the death or departure of a godly leader. A man or woman powerfully filled with the Spirit's breath demonstrates amazing ministry for Christ. Others are attracted to the leader and over time a community forms. But once the Spirit-filled leader is gone, those remaining assume his or her ministry can and should be perpetuated. The wind of the Spirit may have shifted, but they want it to keep blowing in the same direction. So, an institution is established based on the departed leader's purpose, vision, and values. If these are rigorously maintained, it is believed, then the same Spirit-empowered results that were evident in the leader's life will continue through the institution. Many ministries and denominations originated in just this way--with success defined not merely by faithfulness but by longevity.
Have we confused the community of God’s people with the structures that support it?
Dan Kimball, a regular contributor to Leadership and Out of Ur, has written a book titled, They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from emerging generations. The book chronicles the attitudes of younger seekers - they feel a strong affection for Jesus but they harbor distrust, even disgust, for the church.
I can relate to that perspective. In college I studied in the comparative religion department of a secular university and was closely involved with a parachurch ministry. During those years my fascination with Christ and my devotion to him was budding. But I carried a lingering resentment toward the church. For a number of legitimate (in my mind) and illegitimate reasons, I had pushed the church to periphery of my life. I saw it as a superfluous appendage to faith; like a sixth finger or third nipple - pretty harmless but best removed or kept hidden to avoid embarrassment.
That sentiment changed in me, however, through prayerfully reading the New Testament. I came to see that is was impossible to love Jesus but not his church. As the "Body of Christ," the community of believers is at the center of God's mission and work in the world. As Saint Augustine says, "You cannot have God as your Father and not have the Church as your mother."
I repented. I prayed for weeks asking God to fill me with a love for his church that I knew was absent from my soul. In time my heart caught up with the biblical truth my mind had already conceded.
Fifteen years later I now find myself struggling with a new dilemma. As a young Christian I loved Jesus but not the church. As a more mature believer, I now describe myself as one who loves the church but not the institution. Let me explain.
"Preachers need to be very careful before claiming they are God's mouthpiece. I think the preacher needs to be suggestive and not declarative. There are times in history when people (like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King) were called with some authority to say, 'This is wrong.' But we need to be cautious."
-John M. Buchanan pastors Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He is also editor and publisher of The Christian Century. Taken from "Biblical Authority & Today's Preacher" in the Winter 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
What will pastors be pondering as they return from the National Pastors Convention?
The pastors who attended last week's National Pastors Convention have now returned to their churches across North America. David Swanson presents his final reflections on the convention and the issues it brought to his attention.
Now that the National Pastors Convention has ended, I'd like to offer my highly unscientific observations about some trends I observed this past week.