Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Donald Miller's Prayer at the DNC

Here is the transcript for Miller's prayer:

"Father God,

This week, as the world looks on, help the leaders in this room create a civil dialogue about our future.

We need you, God, as individuals and also as a nation.

We need you to protect us from our enemies, but also from ourselves, because we are easily tempted toward apathy.

Give us a passion to advance opportunities for the least of these, for widows and orphans, for single moms and children whose fathers have left.

Give us the eyes to see them, and the ears to hear them, and hands willing to serve them.

Help us serve people, not just causes. And stand up to specific injustices rather than vague notions.

Give those in this room who have power, along with those who will meet next week, the courage to work together to finally provide health care to those who don’t have any, and a living wage so families can thrive rather than struggle.

Hep us figure out how to pay teachers what they deserve and give children an equal opportunity to get a college education.

Help us figure out the balance between economic opportunity and corporate gluttony.

We have tried to solve these problems ourselves but they are still there. We need your help.

Father, will you restore our moral standing in the world.

A lot of people don’t like us but that’s because they don’t know the heart of the average American.

Will you give us favor and forgiveness, along with our allies around the world.

Help us be an example of humility and strength once again.

Lastly, father, unify us.

Even in our diversity help us see how much we have in common.

And unify us not just in our ideas and in our sentiments—but in our actions, as we look around and figure out something we can do to help create an America even greater than the one we have come to cherish.

God we know that you are good.

Thank you for blessing us in so many ways as Americans.

I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice.

Let Him be our example.




Monday, August 18, 2008

Video: Saddleback Civic Forum Featuring Obama and McCain

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Narrative Gospel Conclusion and Reference List (Narrative Gospel Part 8)

It is my contention that the Gospel narrative is transcendent and therefore relevant to all cultures. This does not mean that our methodologies for communicating it do not need to change. In fact, quite the opposite seems to be true. If the Gospel is a message for those who do not yet believe, then their perception of the message we are trying to communicate becomes critically important. If we are attempting to actually communicate the story of the Gospel to a culture that is constantly changing, we must understand the world of our intended hearers so that what they hear us saying is what we mean to be saying. They still have a choice in the matter, but wouldn’t it be a shame if the message they reject isn’t the one we meant to communicate. The story of the Gospel existed and was communicated before the advent of modernity and it will continue to be powerful and relevant long after modernity and what we now call “postmodernity” are distant memories; until “the Story we find ourselves in” reaches its resolution. We must not insist that someone must convert to a modern epistemology in order to be converted by the Gospel. We must not use a narrative of invitation to motivate by exclusion. We must inhabit and embody the story we profess to believe. We must not only believe and speak the Gospel, but our very lives must be “good news” to the world around us. We must allow those who don’t yet believe to join with us; to walk with us; to learn to believe by belonging. In a culture that is deeply suspicious of coercive meta-narratives and power games, we must profess, inhabit, embody, and invite them into a “true” narrative that refuses to be “meta.”

1. Brueggemann, Walter. Theology Of The Old Testament.
2. Gibbs, Eddie. ChurchNext.
3. Grenz, Stanley J. A Primer on Postmodernism. Wm. B. EerdmansPublishing, 1996.
4. ---. Theology for the Community of God.
5. Honderich, Ted. The Oxford Guide to Philosophy, 2005.
6. Kierkegaard, Soren, D F Swenson, and W. Lowrie. Concluding Unscientific PostScript.
7. Lyotard, Jean Fran├žois, and Frederic Jameson. The postmodern condition: a report on knowledge. U of Minnesota Press, 1984.
8. McKnight, Scot. Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us. SPCK Publishing, 2007.
9. McLaren, Brian D. A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant. Zondervan, 2006.
10. ---. More Ready Than You Realize.
11. Middleton, J. Richard, and Brian J. Walsh. Truth is Stranger Than it Used to be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age. InterVarsity Press, 1995.
12. Newbigin, Lesslie. Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.
13. Smith, James K. A. Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. Baker Academic, 2006.
14. Sweet, Leonard I., Brian D. McLaren, and Jerry Haselmayer. A Is for Abductive: The Language of the Emerging Church. Zondervan, 2003.
15. Wright, N. T. The New Testament and the People of God. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1992.
16. Wright, N. T., and Wright. The Millennium Myth: Hope for a Postmodern World. Westminster John KnoxPress, 1999.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Believing by Belonging? (Narrative Gospel Part 7)

If then, we can access the truth of the Gospel only from “within” the narrative of the Gospel and in relationship with other believers, then how is it even possible for this narrative to engage those currently outside of it? For quite some time, the church’s strategy for engaging those “outsiders” has been (generally) what McLaren refers to as “motivation by exclusion”. The general idea was that as a community we have a set of beliefs and values, and once outsiders line up with those beliefs and values we will allow them “in” as members of our community. The church isn’t the only organization who has subscribed to this ideology, and it must be admitted that within the framework of the dominant systems of the world it makes a great deal of sense.

However, in a community that is seeking to line up with the narrative of the Gospel, it is simply antithetical to the story, and particularly to the main character: Jesus. When we read the canonical Gospels, we discover that Jesus was radically inclusive. He is constantly in trouble with the religious leaders because of his association with the very outcasts they were seeking to distance themselves from and condemn. He called on people whom he had never met, who were clearly not lined up with his beliefs and values to simply “Come follow me.” Clearly, this is not simply an acceptance or verification of all that these “outsiders” value and believe. Rather, it seems to be the means by which they come to value and believe the things that He does. Eddie Gibbs explains:

“…nonbelievers will be exposed to the gospel in a highly contextualized form. They will not be confronted with a generic, propositional message, but one in which the big story of salvation history as recorded in Scripture is worked out in the little stories of the lives of each individual and at the micro level of the local group of believers. What’s more, they will not be presented with an idealized version of the story that will later lead them to become disillusioned. Instead they will engage in open and honest dialogue with people they know well and consider credible witnesses.”

In the above quote, Gibbs also points out one other crucial aspect. As this “nonbeliever” develops relationships with those in the community of faith who see themselves as embedded in the narrative of the Gospel, the nonbeliever will also learn each of their stories. Each of these smaller stories functions as a sort of mini-gospel that does not serve as a substitute for the Gospel story, but rather serves to reinforce it.

This approach is not simply a “fix” to help the church adapt her methodology so that it is relevant to the postmodern condition. Rather, I believe that it is a matter of fidelity to the Gospel narrative and the Way of Jesus.

(To be concluded...)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Knowing Together (Narrative Gospel Part 6)

If individual objectivity is a myth, what happens when individuals in a community of believers are honest about their own subjectivity? What happens when they don’t deny their subjectivity, but rather own it in dialogue with each other in the context of communal relationships? Stanley Grenz suggests:

“Narrative thinkers remind us that we must view theology in terms of its relationship to the story of God’s action in history. This seminal assertion carries important implications. One ramification is that we can pursue the theological task only ‘from within’—only from the vantage point of the faith community in which we stand…Theology, then is the task of the faith community; it is a community act.”

Thus, as the community of faith attempts to interpret Scripture and speak of God we offer all of our perspectives to each other in honesty, humility and love. We learn to listen to each other and be shaped by each other’s perspectives. This allows each of us to “think outside ourselves”, not by claiming a position of objective neutrality, but by learning to hear other perspectives. Admittedly and intentionally we operate from a position of faith. We do not claim or seek objective neutrality. We have put our confidence and hope in this narrative. Kierkegaard (under a pseudonym) said “Subjectivity is truth” . Though what he meant by his enigmatic statement is somewhat debatable (which would seem to prove his point), I suspect that he was pointing to exactly the reality that we’ve been exploring.
(To be continued...)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Community (Narrative Gospel 5)

In Post-Enlightenment thought, human beings were to be understood first and foremost as individuals. Individual human rationality was virtually deified. While I will note that this development was in many ways a reaction to an epistemology of unthinking compliance with authority, it was also an overcorrecting swing of the pendulum. It would seem that human beings do not have the ability to be objective, and when such objectivity is claimed it serves as a coercive tool that functions to place the proposition at hand in a position that is beyond discussion, investigation, or scrutiny (ironically similar the authoritarian epistemology it was reacting to). In contrast, Walsh and Middleton explain that in Postmodern thought:

“…we simply have no access to something called ‘reality’ apart from the way we represent that reality in our concepts, language and discourse…We can never get outside our knowledge to check its accuracy against ‘objective’ reality. Our access is always mediated by our own linguistic and conceptual constructions.”

It seems that, despite modernity’s insistence on human beings becoming “objective knowers”, such objectivity has eluded us since the dawn of time and will likely continue to do so. Individual human beings appear to be inherently perspectival creatures, thoroughly unable to disembed ourselves from our own subjectivity. If this is our predicament, how can the Gospel, particularly as a narrative, in any way be seen as a means by which truth can be communicated?
The Gospel is contained in a collection of Scriptures that we Christians refer to as “The Bible. This collection of Scripture is fascinatingly communal and frankly defies our individualism and objectivity. Though we profess it to be “inspired” by God’s Holy Spirit, it is written, not by a single author, but by many authors; not in one time period, but over thousands of years; not to individuals primarily, but to communities of believers; not to offer a single, unified perspective, but multiple perspectives on one true God, sometimes offering both “testimony and counter-testimony” . This narrative not only invites us to participation and experience, but also to community; to a place of belonging where we can “know together” .
(To be continued...)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Coercion or Invitation? (Narrative Gospel Part 4)

Coercion or Invitation?
But, one may ask, doesn’t the narrative I proposed earlier function in the same way as the myth of progress? Doesn’t the Christian (meta)narrative demand compliance? In truth, I don’t believe it does. In describing his “Critical Realist” approach to epistemology, Wright explains,

“This…theory of knowledge and verification, then, acknowledges the essentially ‘storied’ nature of human knowing, thinking and living, within the larger model of worldviews and their component parts. It acknowledges that all knowledge of realities external to oneself takes place within the framework of a worldview, of which stories form an essential part. And it sets up as hypotheses various stories about the world in general bits of it in particular and tests them by seeing what sort of ‘fit’ they have with the stories already in place.”

If knowledge and “the way we know things” is actually ‘storied’ in nature, then the Christian narrative offers itself as a hypothesis to be tested. It invites us into itself to participate as characters; to experience the world in the flow of its narrative; to view and interpret the world through its lens. Consequently, Smith’s point from the introduction about the nature of meta-narratives becomes relevant again. Smith argues that the postmodern mantra of “incredulity towards meta-narratives” should be affirmed by Christians because it encourages us to recover both “the narrative character of Christian faith, rather than understanding it as a collection of ideas” and “the confessional nature of our narrative and the way in which we find ourselves in a world of competing narratives.” Is it possible that the Christian narrative is not a meta-narrative at all? I’m not implying that it is not true, nor am I implying that it is simply one of many narratives that have equal rights to validity. However, I am suggesting that it does not function like a meta-narrative. As previously mentioned, I doubt that this difference in function is immediately obvious to the general public, but that’s part of the point. The Gospel narrative refuses to dominate. Is passes over every opportunity to coerce. The various meta-narratives that have been subscribed to by different people groups and cultures demand assent and compliance. In contrast, the Gospel invites. This “non-meta’, but “true” narrative bids us to “Come and see.” It also must be noted that the narrative of the Gospel offers us a choice. It allows for its own rejection. Though the God proclaimed by the Gospel weeps at its rejection, Scripture makes it clear that His love endures for even those who reject Him. Further, the Gospel as embodied by those who have accepted it, still serves to benefit those who have rejected it rather than demonizing or abandoning them. With characteristic eloquence, Brian McLaren explains:

“Many people think…that religions offer benefits to adherents and catastrophic threats for nonadherents. This offer/threat combination motivates people, they assume, to become adherents out of fear of catastrophe and desire for benefits. I think the missional way is better: the gospel brings blessings to all, adherents and nonadherents alike. For example, if Jesus sends people into the world to love and serve their neighbors, their neighbors benefit, and so do the people sent by Jesus, since it is better for them to give than to receive.”

In short, the Gospel narrative refuses its qualifier (meta) and its truth refuses the qualifier “absolute”. Bringing to mind, Jesus’ admonition to simply let our “yes be yes” and our “no be no”, rather than depending on qualifying oaths or promises, it offers itself up, to stand or fall, in the experience of the hearer. It claims no inherent superior intellectual, moral or spiritual status for its adherents. Rather, any benefit that adherents have is that which is granted freely to those who accept the invitation and/or the way they are formed by inhabiting and embodying the narrative. This Gospel refuses to dominate and resists any misguided efforts from its adherents to dominate nonadherents, even in the realm of intellectual certainty. Leslie Newbigin explains:

“…if the Biblical story is true, the kind of certainty proper to all human beings will be one that rests on the fidelity of God, not upon the competence of the human knower. It will be a kind of certainty that is inseparable from gratitude and trust.”

(To Be Continued)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Epistemology (Narrative Gospel 3)

Following up on the "1000 Word Gospel" post and the "Identifying Our Context" post...

Epistemology has to do with the general theory of knowledge (and how we acquire knowledge.) Under modernity, it was assumed that “knowledge was certain and that the criterion for that certainty rests with our human rational capabilities.” Thus, it was thought that in order to ascertain certain knowledge of “absolute truth”, one must detach oneself and approach the subject as an objective observer. After obtaining this position of detached neutrality, one must reduce the subject to rational propositions that, taken together are logically irrefutable. The attraction of such a system is obvious. If human beings can strip off our subjectivity and simply gain knowledge of objective and absolute truth, then it seems only reasonable that this enlightenment would naturally lead human beings to peace and harmony. This is the great story, the meta-narrative (if you will) into which modernity placed its faith: Progress. Human beings are freeing themselves from all of that superstitious nonsense and subjectivity, and are finally becoming “enlightened”. As they do, the world will just get better and better. After all, knowledge is inherently good, right? As it turns out, these assumptions, reasonable and logical though they may be, are not necessarily true. N.T. Wright explains:

“The myth of progress and enlightenment created the context not only for Charles Darwin, but for that which followed in his wake, namely a “Social Darwinism” that made talk of eugenics, of racial purity, of selective breeding, and ultimately of ‘final solutions’ acceptable, even apparently desirable, not just in Germany, but in Britain and America as well.”

For all of its “propositional truth”, modernity still oriented itself around a narrative of progress. This narrative was forceful, dominating and coercive, virtually demanding that everyone get on board or get out of the way. Anyone who didn’t see the obvious truth of the narrative was deemed either stupid, naive or crazy.

(To be continued)