(Not) Sponsors – The Upstream Collective

Would you like to go to Barcelona? Ed Stetzer offered a group of pastors the opportunity to join him on a “vision” trip to Western Europe. I had just finished an online course with David Fitch, “Readings in Postmodern Philosophy and Theology.” During our conversation at the end of that course, David shared his dream of pastors getting their minds around the philosophical and so theological shifts taking place in the US already witnessed in Western Europe. My curiosity was piqued by the opportunity to share conversations with missionaries in Western Eurpoe and I signed on to go.

There I met, among others, Caleb Crider and Larry McCrary. Great hosts. Outstanding people – all of them. Challenging conversations. Not long after returning home I determined to maintain contact with Caleb. Over the course of the next few months I learned of his heart to connect churches with people. In our denomination churches connect with the International Mission Board. If we engage with missionaries it is solely at our initiative and generally to get a regular prayer-gram. We need to pray for these folks without question. But, getting the vision of God for people everywhere only comes through connecting with people, not organizations.

Just more than a year ago Caleb and Larry launched The Upstream Collective. Our denomination likes to pride itself on being something of a “grassroots” cooperative network. Over time it has taken more the feel of a top down magisterium. National conventions, state conventions, and even local associations come across as though they know what is best for the local church. I know many in these various strata of SBC life. I know they do not want to project that image. Even still, it is  more often the case.

“Upstream” is intended to convey the mission of God moves “up” through the local church. So rather than tell a church what to do, what would be best, The Upstream Collective intends to put the mission of God back into the hands of the local church and “de-professionalize” the idea of “missionary.” It is not the jettisoning of existing relationships with the IMB. Instead it is a capturing of a new ethos among many who “want” to be involved but have always felt we have been asked to send our money and pray. Life on life connections come via videos and magazines.

Snow Hill had Caleb and Lindsey come lead us in conversations about church and mission in a conference we dubbed, “Church As Missionary.” This coming year Caleb will return with Larry and we will look at how we can take next steps with these experienced missiologists offering insights and helpful ways for us to live our what we believe is our part in God’s mission to the world.

Thanks Caleb and Lindsey, and Larry.

Fear the McLaren – Could there be something good?

Recently I ventured to the great northwest part of our state to participate in a one day conference. During the conversations about what it means for the church to be “for the world” a panel discussion broke out. Two SEBTS seminary professors, a state Executive Director and a Director of Missions comprised the panel. Our state Baptist paper editor moderated the discussion. You could well expect in a conference touching on the issue of contextualization the question of over-contextualization would come up and so the “emerging church.” The climate in the SBC is to shoot first and ask later. Chalk it up to our genteel southern ways.

The sentiment spreads across the Country as those once affiliated with the evil trio of Pagitt, Jones and McLaren drop off to form their own movements and networks – and of course because these fellows are doctrine averse, relativists, and theologically adrift in a new form of liberalism. Yes, there are two death knells that keep us from conversations with those whom we might disagree with, at least in my tribe. Label them liberals of some ilk and mention the need to listen to voices other than white males and you can be sure we will dismiss them faster than Baptists can get to the table for lunch.

Returning to said conference I found it interesting we should be wary of the dangers of Emergent Village and the emerging church, at least some in the “movement”, and yet should welcome conversations between Calvinists and non-Calvinists (the large amorphous designation that it is). Curiously I asked if we could be as charitable with those in the emerging church, even Emergent Village. For, gasp, I have shared meals with Doug, Tony and Brian. There are ideas the three have had, or positions taken, I could not agree with. Sometimes I will read something in one of their books and shake my head thinking, “Not sure I can follow that line all the way down.” But when it comes to critique of the Evangelical church, one need be careful to be dismissive.

Today, when I read Brian’s response to a question from a grad student who was grappling with More Ready Than You Realize I thought how can we summarily dismiss Brian or others because we heard someone label them beyond the pale. Why even Jim Belcher has been shot at for looking for a third way between “traditional” and “emerging.” Heretic! (Yes, that is the other designation I failed to mention that is a sure conversation killer.)

Here is the part that really caught my attention,

I’d also add that I do think moral standards change – but not in the direction of going down – just the opposite. That’s why Jesus said, “You have heard it said … but I say to you…” in the Sermon on the Mount. Over time, I believe God calls us to higher and higher standards of morality. Let me state this very clearly: the goal isn’t to lower moral standards, but to raise them as we grow more morally mature. So – before it was don’t murder. Now it’s don’t hate. Before it was only one eye for an eye. Now it’s seek reconciliation, not revenge. Before it was love your neighbor, hate your enemy. Now it’s love everyone – including enemies.

So – perhaps we can put this question to rest for good: the issue isn’t morality – with some “fer it” and others “agin it.” We’re all for morality, as we understand it. The issue is two-fold. Postmodern-leaning folks are concerned whether this or that preacher’s claims to have “absolute certainty” about this or that moral viewpoint of his are “absolutely justified,” and whether his confidence will increase the chances of behaving immorally. Modern-leaning folks are concerned whether leaving the door open to the possibility that “we” have been or are wrong will lead to moral collapse. If you let an absolutist system go, there will be nothing left, they fear.

I’d say there are dangers on both sides – the danger of excessive moral confidence on the one side and the danger of insufficient moral confidence on the other. I’m seeking a proper confidence … one that is aware of both dangers on both sides.
In my view, only God has absolute moral knowledge. Human beings have shown a remarkable propensity to misinterpret God, all the while claiming to speak for God on morality, which (sadly) often degenerates into speaking as if they were God. I hope that helps! (Feel free to share this with your class.)

By the way, I enjoyed my time at the one day conference. I found Nathan and Alvin deeply passionate about their subjects. Dr. J bleeds the hope for cooperation for the Gospel. And, my friend John who invited me, longs nothing more than to help churches live out the mission of God for the good of the world. It was time well spent.

Re-Enacting the First Century – ABQ Reflection Pt. 4

This is part 4 of my reflections from The Emerging Church Conference in Albuquerque and Phyllis Tickle’s presentation on The Great Emergence.

For some time the rage has been “church planting.” Statistical data is often used to support the contention new churches grow more rapidly than existing churches. And, in an ever-increasing consumer-celebrity culture the hottest preacher draws the biggest crowds. So, the pragmatic move is to get that popular communicator in front of as many as possible by any means necessary.

Anecdotal stories about supporting these new “latest and greatest” foster good introductions to faith – or so it goes. But, some of the longing for more “depth” leads some right “through” these large churches on their way to whatever is next. Inevitably a contentious dichotomy ensues. Older, established churches feel maligned as beyond hope and newer churches get little respect for no proven sustainability. The polarization is both un-necessary and un-fortunate.

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Where In the World is Ed Stetzer?

If you follow Ed on Facebook or Twitter then you know he has been in Europe. You may have read his blog and discovered the three posts on his recent travels. Last February I joined Ed and several other pastors on a similar trip to Barcelona. My way of thinking about missions continues to morph as I keep up with Ernest Goodman. I am glad Ed continues to take these trips and invites pastors along for the journey.

In his second post Ed notes the needs for team members in Budapest, Hungary. He sets it up by saying Hungarians are incredibly intellectual considering Christianity for the uneducated. Ed lists the needs,

1. In the arts. Someone who can speak the arts language and engage that culture.
2. In the business world. Someone with and MBA and business sense to create a business consulting firm.
3. In the university. The university is the magnet for the country– the ground is ready to be tilled and worked in student ministry.

I could not help but thinking about a phone conversation with David Fitch wherein he outlined one of the reasons for his recent course, “Readings in Postmodern Philosophy and Theology.” David considers familiarity and understanding with postmodern theory, philosophy, and theology to be key in reaching Europe and the ever post-modern, post-post-modern, post-Christian USAmerica. You should read David early and often at Reclaiming the Mission.

Again, take a look at Ed’s post. Send him a note telling he not only did a good job with the videos, but that he looks good in them too! Here is one worth noting here.

Counter to Current Church Culture Trends

My friend, Ernest, over at Missions Misunderstood weighs in on the new trend toward “multi-site” churches. I found his missiological perspective to represent a “counter-cultural” move with regard to church culture.

What do you think?