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If you live in Sacramento and want to join our cohort for an early evening of drinks tomorrow night in Roseville (Monday: 4-6 PM) with Mark Scandrette, feel free to join us.  Go here for info.  You need to RSVP with Jeromy.

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Why I Read Blogs

I think I’ve figured out why I read a lot of blogs.

If you read enough blogs, you will inevitably hear people say things like, “Bloggers are a bunch of whiners,” or “What’s the point?”  I get that.  Some are whiny and pointless.  But I also don’t stay with those blogs.  I move on and seek out people like Tracy Simmons, Jeromy Johnson, Mark Sayers, Jeremy Pryor, Kingdom Grace, Monachus Bellator, Kathy Escobar and so many more.

The people on my blogroll consistently have something to say that is interesting.  And I like that.  But I realized that this is not why I read them.  There are lots of people with interesting things to say.

I was sitting with my wife sharing why I value time reading my blogroll.  It’s easy to find someone who can complain.  But it’s hard to find people who are vulnerable and inviting.  These people are sharing their heart.  And this stirs me.  It is easy to find people who share stuff or data.  “This happened to me…”  Great.  But it is hard to find people who share their heart.  These people have for some reason learned how to tear down the walls that separate us from relationship.  They’ve learned how to be real and honest.  They’ve learned to move past all the pretense. And I’ve come to realize that I need these people in my life.

These are the type of people I could spend hours with sharing interesting ideas and conversations in a coffee house over a great latte. So a big thank you to those who have taken the risk to share your hearts.

Much love.

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This is a second part of my response to Bill Easum’s blogologue with Tony Jones on Emergent Village.  The first part of this response can be found here.  Bill’s original post can be found here.

Bill asked a series of questions for the Emergents.  And I thought I would respond to these questions.  But before I begin I would like to respond to what I mean by Emergent and what this word means to me.  I take it very seriously and have suffered the consequences for the baggage that it holds, most of which I find to be myth. And let me be clear that this is my definition.

Emergent, to me, is a creative attempt to find a wholistic understanding and practice in what it means to follow Jesus into God’s mission. It is an an attempt to get at the heart of what it means to be a broken human in a broken world that is dying for restoration.  This attempt begins with generative conversation, or the willingness to lay aside what we think is right so we can first address the reality that something is just not quite right with this body called the church.  The evidence is now (even as Easum admitted) overwhelming.  The conversation is organic, chaotic, unrestricted, and based in a deep grace and willingness to love.  It is taking a deep look into the existing frameworks we operate in and deconstruct as led by the Holy Spirit.  Some of this deconstruction is occurring in our orthodoxy, some in our orthopraxy, and mostly in our own hearts, or as Peter Rollins says, “believing in the right way.”

Our hope is not to destroy the church, but much like an architect take a deep at the foundations we often take for granted.   Our hope is to remove the dross that leaves us all exhausted and wondering if there is more to the cross.  The risk we take is to trust that no matter how much we get it wrong that truth will win out in the end.  We are attempting to be God’s creativity lived out.  We hold lightly to everything for the sake of abandoning quickly what should never be held.  But we also know that the more we seek, the more we will find, the more we knock, the more the door will open, and the more we ask, the more we will receive.  We step carefully in the footsteps of Jesus with the understanding that the Holy Spirit will reveal His kingdom and restore our soul.

With that being said, Bill asked the following question(s).  My responses are in italics.

Bill: So here’s my question for the Emergents: In a world where so many people are searching for spiritual guidance from so many venues, can you offer to take the position that Christians have to become like them in order to offer the direction they are seeking?

We already are like them.  We’re first human beings created in the image of God.  And we are first called to love them.  And this means sitting with them regardless of their circumstances as human beings created in them.  This willingness to love is God’s distinct aroma.  This love is perfect theology.  It is the outpouring of the Gospel into their lives.  It is to step into the spaces that are broken not for the sake of being heard but to be the space God shows up in the world and changes lives.  We don’t change people.  We simply get to participate in that change as the Holy Spirit moves.

Isn’t the Gospel always counter to the culture?

The original problem in the Garden was death of relationships.  And the world will always choose self-preservation at the expense of relationships over time.  This is our brokenness.  Jesus came to offer the third way, which is to love, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Our offering to the world is then the willingness to be this love, to speak the value of God’s creation and the willingness to give ourselves for that humanity, even in deep sacrifice.

Do you really believe broken people are going to be satisfied with never being eternally certain about anything?

The promise of the Gospel was not certainty but restoration through faith.  What unfortunately has happened is that we have replaced faith with intellectual certainty, which usually led to arrogance.  The Emergent movement is attempting to find that space of humility again that resides in faith.  And faith is not the end.  Faith led to hope and eventually the realization of love.  And the greatest of these was love.

Do you really think people can have a personal relationship with Jesus when they know all that relationship consists of is the construct of their communal language?

I am always reminded of John 1:1-2 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

We begin with the Gospel. But as cognitive human beings we live in language as a way of communicating.  This means in order for us to communicate we have to use words.  And both parties often have different uses for those words. The hard part of this is we often have to deconstruct a lot of lies and destructive baggage that comes with every conversation.  No one is an blank slate. So the only way we can truly communicate is to listen first and then seek to understand as Paul did.  This is generative conversation.  Sometimes is means asking, “What I hear you saying is…”  But in every instance it means holding onto love so we get through the chaos of relationship.

This is why there has been so much confusion about Emergent.  Most people begin with what they think is Emergent, or from what they heard is Emergent, which is usually from sources outside of those who would place themselves in the Emerging conversation.  It is also why this conversation in the blogologue is so important.

Do you really believe that people will believe that words brought Jesus back from the dead?

I don’t know anyone who is saying this, although I could be wrong.  Perhaps I’m missing something.  Although I word also say that God is breath and Word.  So maybe this is how He did it.

Do you really believe you can reach the bulk of the population when you take the conversation as deep as you do?

Some of the best conversations I have ever had have occurred in this deep space.  It is this willingness to go deep where we share intimacy, relationship and trust.  It is the willingness to go deep where love is proved out. Deep is one of the distinct elements of generative conversation because it requires sitting with something without trying to change them.  And this requires releasing change into the hands of the Holy Spirit, where it really belongs.

Or are you really only concerned with appealing to philosophers?

Not really.

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Bill Easum and Tony Jones are participating in a blogologue about the emerging church this month over at Emergent Village. I think this will likely be one of the more important dialogs for people to listen to regarding the Emerging Church movement.  Much love to Bill for engaging that dialog with Tony.

The purpose of the blogologue can be found, in the words of Steve Knight,

“So we contacted Bill and asked him if he’d be willing to participated in a little “blogologue” (short for “blog dialogue”) with Tony Jones, discussing the questions/issues Bill has raised with Emergent. He quickly responded, Yes, and so here we are.

Easum’s first post can be found here.  It is interesting to read a clear and concise perspective from someone who sees himself outside of an Emergent perspective and looking in.  He makes a a surprising observation that I found fascinating and a few assumptions about Emergent that I didn’t agree with.

Easum’s New Metaphor: Easum offered a new metaphor for understanding the transition that I thought was brilliant.  He essentially calls the modern world the National Park and the postmodern world a Jungle.  I think this metaphor is one of the best I’ve seen.  One suggests control while the other is wild and free.  The first thing that came to mind when I read this is that as much as we want a National Park to live in, in doing so we inevitably tame God and lock Him up in a cage for people to gawk at.  He becomes something we study, dissect, make assumptions about but inevitably think we control.  The jungle metaphor appealed to me because God was likely around the next tree waiting to pounce on me like Aslan.  He isn’t safe but He is good.

But this loss of control means letting go of some of our historical assumptions about the way we operate and engage mission.  We’ve been a National Park for way too looooooooooong.  But to simply live in a jungle after operating that way for centuries is very hard to do.  Easum’s metaphor hopefully will make that transition easier.

Easum’s View Of Emergent’s Message: Easum offers an interesting view of what he thinks Emergents think. He says,

“Emergents will speak with passion and urgency but never with certainty. To them there is no certainty, only what one believes today, at this moment, in this locale.”

I think a better way to describe this is that Emergents are aware of our own limitations as human beings.  Our own brokenness affects the very information we receive and perceive.  We recognize that we live in language, are cognitive beings and that what we think today is based on limited information.  This awareness leads to faith, which is holding onto the idea that God is really in control (a jungle) and to step away from trying to control the message (the National Park).  The problem isn’t that truth exists but that certainty closes us down to learning and humility.

Easum also asks an important question.

“Is the message of the Gospel actual reality and eternally true, or is it nothing more than a construct of our own language within the community of faith at this particular time in history in this particular place with this particular community?”

Answering this question, I would hold, is central to understanding a postmodern, even an Emergent faith.  That there is “no truth” is one of the great myths about the Emerging church movement.  The answer is, “Yes, there is a truth.”

But the problem is that own humanity significantly taints that truth because we are cognitive and perceptual human beings.  We were never meant to “judge” on our own.  We were always designed to be in relationship with our Creator, as in the Garden State.  The Tree of Knowledge was a judgment process.  Humans became, “like one of us.”  This wasn’t a good thing because humanity trusted in its own capacity to judge effectively.  And we sucked at it.

The problem isn’t when we get it right, as in the disciples following Jesus.  The problem is when we get it wrong, as in the Pharisees, the very one’s who were certain, who couldn’t see God standing in front of them.  The Emergent movement and the postmodern world is coming to terms with that reality.  We’re humans who filter truth.

History has been an unkind teacher in some ways.  She has unfortunately revealed us when, where, and how we got it wrong. The Internet has allowed us to speed up that conversation, connect with like minds and discuss these issues.  Blogs have allowed us to process new ideas, alternatives and possible new scenarios in lighting speed.  What took ages before now takes minutes.  And for some this shift seems disconcerting because they are not used to such a seismic shift.  The truth is that we don’t live in an Intel 386 world anymore.

What is ironic about this whole point is that Emergents are the ones who are leading the conversation about coming to terms with our own humanity.  This process of admitting our own limitations is essentially repentance and it is central to our own restoration as followers of Jesus.

Relativism: Bill comes very close, but to his credit doesn’t cross, the common excuse of pulling the relativism card.  The temptation within this dialog is to simply excuse those in the Emergents as relativists, a cheap move from my perspective.  It dismisses any further dialog because it excuses the other party from having to continue.  But I would offer Bill that what is relative is not the truth but our perception of the truth.  The evidence of this is obvious in science and in history, but apparently not in the church.

The evidence of this can be found in the points Bill is making.  His judgments of the Emerging movement don’t resonate with me.  Are they true?  Yes, in that they are his judgments.  Yet, they are not true for me because I don’t share his conclusions.  Does that make us relative?  No.  It makes us human.

Easum on Methods: Bill does share a concern for how we move forward.  He says,

“I agree with the authors that we can’t come on to postmoderns like gangbusters with an elitist attitude as if we have THE truth. I agree with them that the four spiritual laws no longer work. I agree with them that if we lead from the big story we are dead in the water. I agree with them (and with Frank Viola) that the distinction between clergy and laity is not biblical and shouldn’t exist. I agree with them that the new world sees everything in shades of gray.”

But he also says,

“But I do not agree that Christians must feel they have to be two steps removed from the reality of the Gospel in order to reach this new world. In fact, I think it is just the opposite. The clearer a leader is about the reality of Gospel and the direction of their calling, the more likely that person is to lead a growing and thriving community of faith.”

And this is where I see Easum perpetuating the myth that we are removed from the Gospel or that we don’t hold a Gospel.  In fact, my wife and I have come to the conclusion that much of the dialog within the Emerging church movement is simply asking for a more wholistic approach to following Jesus and being the church…because we’re tired of this thing we grew up with called, “doing church”.  We’re tried of simply being passive observers in the Christendom food chain.

To say that there hasn’t been problems in the past is to ignore the reality of the issues we face today.  We are in this space because the church has ignored the road it went down.  When more than 12 million people have left the church but not God the problem simply can’t be ignored.

Easum on New Organization: Bill states one thing that I found very sad because when I read it, it seems like a shout from the cheap seats.  If he wants to be honest in the dialog, I would suggest he lose this conception.  He says,

“They don’t even believe in planting churches in order to reach more people, nor do they believe in doing things to get people to come to their church. They plant churches only to save themselves, whatever that means.”

Again this is a myth.  I personally know people who are taking very serious looks at what it means to be the church and organize around following Jesus into mission.  The experimentation phase is just beginning.  And many of these ideas are still in the birth, or even the infant stage.  To say they don’t produce fruit yet is natural, but to say they don’t exist is to perpetuate a lie.  And these ideas likely won’t look what we have right now and thus the myth will continue to be perpetuated. This leaves us in the Emerging church movement the task of coming up with clear, creative alternatives and seeing them to maturity.  Nice.

Easum ends this section with a surprisingly honest assessment of where the church is at.  He says,

“The Emergent movement is providing a marvelous conversation for all of us. They have revealed the naked truth—the emperor has no clothes. The established Christian church is basically dead and in need of A Second Resurrection.”

This is from a man who has spent his life studying the church.  Right on Bill.

Bill does ask a series of question for the Emergents, which I will answer in the next post.

Much love to Bill for beginning a great dialog and I can’t wait to hear Tony’s response.

PS: Both Bill and Steve Knight responded in regard to my comments regarding what is essentially Tony’s quote from his book.  I have responded in the comments that I got the context for this quote wrong, but I don’t like to edit original posts even when I get it wrong.

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If you read my blog on a regular basis, you are gonna want to read this.

I love blogging but it can sometimes be hazardous to my health.  I say that in jest but in some ways it is true.  I take every word I say here extremely seriously.  I often deeply feel the weight of the stuff I write because it pushes boundaries, and provokes tension.  I read my posts over and over for clarity, hopefully making my point clear.  But alas, this doesn’t always happen.  Some people jump to conclusions that simply aren’t true.  So I feel it is necessary to make a disclaimer about this blog.

The purpose of this blog is to share my theological and missional explorations of what it means to follow Jesus.  This is me working out my faith in a public sphere.  I started this blog because I am a writer and my posts are my practice of writing.  And what I have found is that a lot of people are exploring the same questions that I am exploring.  Part of this is to connect in thought and conversation to those people, which I have.  I love these relationships, even those that don’t agree with me, because they are not always easy to find.  The Internet has become that relational connection in some ways for me.

And yet to share my thoughts with the world means that I am up for scrutiny.  I’m okay with that.  As a writer, I recognize that and I have chosen to accept that part of it.  I will not always be right.  And this is the tension in what I do.  If I fall, will you be the person who reminds me that I have, or the person who helps me get back up.  The first is the critic looking to put me down.  The second is the brother, looking to pick me up.  Which one do you want to be in life?

You see I truly believe in grace.  I believe that the cross provides us with tremendous room to explore and question and grapple with the realities of relationship with our Creator, our Daddy.  And I choose to do that in a public forum.  But my question is, do you believe in grace?  Do you believe that if I get some theological question wrong that God is big enough to get over it?  Is God big enough to steer me back in the right directions?

It is not my responsibility to police how you think or to prove my point to you.  There is vast amounts of information that go into a lot of my posts, a lot of which I don’t have the space to explain to you.  My posts are culminations of thousands of hours of thought and journey experience.  I’m comfortable with what I say.  But again, it’s not my responsibility to reveal to you the fullest extent of what I am saying.  It is your responsibility to get what I am saying.  If you don’t…ask.

The bulk of my writing points to what it means to participate by engaging love. And I realize that when I say the word love, there are six million different versions of what people think I’m saying.  I’m not talking about the ooey-gooey, sticky, sweet kind we think we find in seventh grade, but the kind that leads us to the cross, so we can find what the other side of chaos looks like.  This is the Great Commandment.  I’m not interested in engaging love because I think it will then earn God’s love.  I choose to love because He first loved me. It is also to me the fullest expression of what it means to be humans created in the image of God.  To participate with God is to restore myself and the world around me.

Much of what I hope this blog does is get you to think AND act.  Missio Dei is about participating, not just talking about participating.  I want to be in the game, discovering what it means to be following Jesus.  I don’t want to be the guy on the hill who says, “I love what Jesus said,” and then goes home never to integrate it into his life.

I also want to be the guy who asks the questions nobody is willing to ask.  I want to explore and grapple with the hard stuff about the journey of faith and following Jesus, some of which is theological.  And if you have a hard time seeing those questions exposed, this is likely not the right place for you.  But if you need someone else to expose the questions so that you too can wrestle with them too, then this is likely the place for you.  I encourage you to comment and share your thought, even if you don’t agree.

I will not spend my time managing what you think about me.  This is your responsibility.  But ask yourself if you are okay with your conclusion if you get it wrong.  Again, if you have a problem or disagreement…ask.  I am always open for a good conversation.  Sometimes we do need to talk and this is also a forum for exploring ideas and engaging generative conversation.  Oooh, there’s that sticky emerging buzzword.  But it’s true.  I don’t need arguments in my life.  I need conversations, people to explore with, to understand with, and to practice what it means to follow Jesus with.  Are you one of those people?  I hope so.  If you’ve chosen to read my blog, I value that time.  But generative conversation is when two people communicate in a way that both are heard, not spoken to.

When you come here you chose to do so.  But with that choice comes a responsibility.

Your responsibility as a reader and a commenter.

  • If you come looking for something in my writing and I don’t say it, It doesn’t mean that I haven’t said it.  It means that I haven’t said it in that post.  My posts are to express my thoughts and grapple with its meaning, not answer all your questions.  Look deeper that simply your first conclusion about something.
  • Take responsibility for your words as you comment.  Think before you write them and consider how they sound, not just what you are saying. Be gracious in your questions and comments.  We all have feelings.  Nobody hears what you say if you first make them feel like crap.
  • If what I write makes you mad, FIRST ask why it makes you mad.  Chances are its not only what I said but that I have come to a conclusion that is different than you.  This often creates tension that is hard to deal with.  This is a place for me to expose my questions and conclusions.  But don’t get mad at me for coming to my blog.
  • If you don’t understand, ask clarifying questions that help you understand what I am saying.

Let me conclude by saying that I truly appreciate all of you for your engagement and time.  It means A LOT to me. Much love to you all.

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Mark Driscoll is at it again.

He essentially challenged the idea that Emerging or Missional Communities have converts. This dialog originated when Mark Driscoll made the following quote,

“And all the nonsense of emerging, and Emergent, and new monastic communities, and, you know, all of these various kinds of ridiculous conversations – I’ll tell you as one on the inside, they don’t have converts. The silly little myth, the naked emperor is this: they will tell you it’s all about being in culture to reach lost people, and they’re not.”

David Fitch followed up with a really great response that essentially said, “Yes it is harder to develop a missional community but we actually have more converts based on size.”

I would offer that emerging and/or missional communities actually have A LOT more converts but not the kind of converts you would typically think. And here’s what I mean.

A couple of days ago I stopped by Kathy Escobar’s site because the woman knows how to speak it. And she presented a rather interesting, but condensed chart from this guy. It charted six stages of spiritual growth. I found it interesting but what stuck out to me was that there were essentially two macro stages to his process. The church stage and the following Jesus stage. And the guy was very astute to put a wall right in between the two. I also suggested that discipleship really begins after the wall.

And here’s where I would offer that the emerging/missional communities actually have more converts to the second category because we focus almost exclusively on the second category. When we have a convert, we typically begin with following Jesus into His mission, into participating into the restoration process started so long ago. Postmodern expressions (emerging/missional) aren’t interested in passive experiences that are fake. We’re interested in what’s real. When we invite someone to faith, it’s in practicing love and trust, not in saying the sinner’s prayer that they will forget in a couple of weeks. We’re not interesting in knowing ABOUT God. We’re interested in knowing God.

When we started the original group for Thrive we we’re all rubbing up against the wall and were not finding a way out. We were essentially sick of organized Bible studies, memorizing the right answers, and sitting in the pews on Sunday with blank stares on our faces wondering what we would have for lunch. We wanted to follow Jesus. And yet there was very little if any practical methodologies to do so within our church, nor any of the ten churches in our local area that we had all hopped from over the last couple of years.

You see it’s easy to get converts into the first category. It’s what most churches do because it doesn’t require much more than a well developed four point theology that convicts someone (re: guilts them in) to participating in a Sunday community. It’s easy to systematized, compartmentalize and even create a factory for the process. Is it well meaning? I would assume so, and would even hope so. But does it produce followers? I have my serious reservations.

The second category requires dealing with people’s bullshit, which are the lies that we tell ourselves so we can avoid our brokenness. And this requires love. It requires community in mission. It requires getting messy and crossing over, or even going through the wall. In Thrive groups we call this crossing the bridge of chaos, because dealing with our brokenness means looking at the lies we tell ourselves and the wounds we have accumulated…so we can let them go. It means dealing with fear and taking steps of trust in a God we can’t alway see. It means participating in His restoration process for our own lives, in being loved so we can love. And we don’t like to do that do we. Yet THIS is what it meant to follow Jesus.

To me I’d take ten converts to following Jesus over 100 people saying an organized prayer and then sitting passively in a pew listening to Mark Driscoll. But then again that’s just me.

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If you live in Sacramento and want to meet the guys who helped really fuel the Emergent conversation, put June 18th on your calendar. You don’t want to miss this. Unfortunately I will. I was supposed to be there but the guys pick a day I am on vacation.

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My cohort is hosting . Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Mark Scandrette will be bringing an old time Gospel Revival Roadshow to our town. Consider yourself officially invited and yes, this is an open event so feel free to invite others to join you.

  • Date: Wednesday, June 18, 2008
  • Time: 6:30pm – 9:00pm (with possible meet-n-greet at Streets of London Pub afterwards)
  • Location: Lakehills Covenant Church
  • Street: 7000 Rossmore Lane
  • City/Town: El Dorado Hills, CA
  • $10 door charge (volunteer helpers free).
  • We are needing 5-10 volunteers to help with set-up/tear-down, book tables, and greeting. Email Jeromy at jeromyj@sbcglobal.net if interested (dinner will be included for volunteers).
  • Please see the Facebook Sacramento Roadshow Event. You can also RSVP there as well.

Visit the Roadshow Site.

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