Archive for the ‘Dan Kimball’ Category

The hits just keep coming people.

“This, says Kimball, is precisely the problem. In an increasingly post-Christian culture fewer people have contact with real Christians. We’ve hidden ourselves in a Christian sub-culture bubble. As a result only “the loudest voices are defining who we are,” he says. These loud and usually angry Christians are the only ones heard and seen by the culture. This is what people have based their opinions of Christians upon.”

Dan Kimball, at the Shift conference. (More at Out of Ur)


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If you haven’t read the book UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, or They Like Jesus But Not The Chruch, by Dan Kimball, this is a two minute forty-one second primer. (ht)

The reality is that this is how the world sees church and what they are hearing. As Metallica once said, “Sad but true.” Some of the quotes are rather ironic:

  • I just always believe you don’t have to go somewhere to worship.
  • They push too many issues on you and say you are going to hell anyways.
  • I don’t need to go someplace to tell me automatically I’m automatically in the wrong everywhere.
  • It instills fear.
  • It’s pretty boring.
  • Hypocrites, there a lot of them out there.
  • When I’ve gone, they’ve always been highly after my pocket.

At 1:52, listen to the woman who identifies herself as a preacher’s kids. Interesting.

The sad thing is that none of them have a complaint against Jesus, just the church.

Matthew 7:20 – Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

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“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

I’m in a very interesting conversation with a few friends about the nature of God’s love and judgment. It’s not easy to have these conversations because what inevitably ensues is misunderstandings that can, but not always, lead to hurt feelings and assumptions. Doing it in posts and comments is even worse. Talking about what we believe means putting certain assumptions on the line, which can be a delicate process. We read what we hear, not what the other person says, which is often a recipe for disaster.

During one of these conversations, a friend mentioned that she was responding in light of the culture in Seattle, which could give Portland a run for the postmodern capital of the United States. And in light of this our conversations took on new meaning. My friend was responding from a predominantly postmodern culture. I grew up in a strong Baptist/non-denominational/Calvinistic background. We both realized that these histories colored our perceptions and we were responding to them. Her response was to defend truth. Mine was to defend love.

We are often a product of the culture we live in. We can’t avoid it. Where we live and the conversations we engage in these cultures plays a role in how we see the Gospel. I think this is why I love the Internet and blogging. It allows me to get out of my own culture and engage other cultures that are different.

I grew up in San Jose, which for the last twenty years has been a predominantly multicultural, agnostic community. I also grew up in one of the first mega-churches  in California that possessed a decidedly Baptist bent.  But by the late 90’s San Jose looked nothing like the place I grew up in. It has been transformed by the Internet boom and bust into the epitome of suburban consumer culture.

But just around the corner was Santa Cruz, which was the home to Dan Kimball and his book, They Like Jesus But Not The Church and The Emerging Church. Santa Cruz was a microcosm of Portland or Seattle. I grew up going to Capitola and spent many summer days on the beaches of Santa Cruz. And one thing that has always stood out to me is that within these cities, which are often havens for what we think of as hippies, is what can be characterized as a free love culture. The assumption I often hear is that these cultures are not open to the truth. And as Dan points out and I have found, this is just not true. Those within these cultures are actually very open to the truth. Just not a judgmental truth. Why, because they don’t see love. What they predominantly see is a forceful argument masking condescending judgment.

And I began to wonder if we as a church have taken the easier route resorting to truth at the expense of love. Truth is easier. It’s propositional. It can be defended. And if the person doesn’t agree, it’s easy to assume they just don’t get it. The smarter we are the more we can win. I get all of this because for so long I tried to be the smartest guy in the room. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get people to hear my version of truth.

But love is hard. It requires the Holy Spirit working through us to be produced. And that would mean letting go of control. It means letting God really love us when we don’t feel very loved. It means we can’t change people.  Love brings up images of Jesus with the children.  He didn’t resort to harsh criticism demanding that they know their total depravity.  In fact Jesus rarely spoke to people this way at all.  The more broken they were, the more he picked them out.  And when it was in his right to stone the adulterous woman, he…

resorts to love.  Is it possible that He knew love was a more powerful transforming agent?

Now that I’m in ministry I have the opportunity to engage these conversations on a constant basis. The more I listen, the more I find that what has driven these people away is self righteous, judgmental Christians. My heart bleeds because of this. But I’ve also become increasingly aware that I myself have encountered this culture. In fact it is the reason I identify with the emerging church. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t need condemnation as a mechanism for change. In fact it produced a downward spiral of debilitating shame.

It took me a long time to come to this place. I grew up in a predominantly Baptist background. Historically the message was always about “not sinning” and the separation of secular and sacred. But over time, the dissonance of this way of operating produced an intense doubt. And as I began to embrace love I realized that the pendulum has been predominantly on the side of judgment for too long. My own heart needed a balance of grace and love. Did I lose the truth? No. In fact love made truth more real than ever. Being loved allowed me to love in ways I never thought possible.

Which brings me back to the conversations I’ve been having. I’ve beens studying the church for about 15 years and what stands out is a strong tendency to fight for truth. I get this. But is it possible that cultures like Seattle, Portland, and even Santa Cruz are a response to this imbalance. And my own heart knows that what truly changed me was love, which is truth personified.

And as I engage love as a transforming agent, I am beginning to see fruit that I never saw before. I am beginning to have conversations that were previously never open to me. And I find that when I love, people begin to see Jesus in a way that they never could before. They may know they are broken, but love sees beyond the brokenness to their dignity.  I don’t need to remind them of hell because as I listen to their story I find they’ve already lived it. And it is love that draws them out to something better.  Love restores them and lets them know they are worth it to the Father.

The interesting thing in all of this is that truth is most real in love. I can engage people in propositional constructs that bend their minds but these conversations rarely produce real change. But when I show up with a helping hand because of love, it captures their attention immediately. My hope is that we as a church can embrace love as a change agent like never before.

What I keep coming back to is Jesus inviting us to love and not judge.

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The following is a response to C. Michael Patton’s post, “Understanding the Postmodern and the Emerging church”

Note: I really don’t know Michael (I’m assuming you go by Michael). From what I can tell from his blog he is an intelligent and thoughtful. By his own account he finds himself somewhere in the middle of the modern and postmodern thoughts. This is not an attack on him in any way. He simply voiced a common belief about the emerging church, one I have heard many times. Regardless, I’m sure if I knew him I would like him if we met.

But I want to invite him and the readers of this and his blog to consider a different understanding of postmodernism and the emerging church.

In his post C. Michael Patton says, “According to the emerging Church, we don’t go to church to learn about God; we go to worship God. We don’t go so that we can better understand, articulate, and defend our faith; we go so that we can commune with fellow believers. Our goal is not to confirm our beliefs, but to deconstruct our “unfounded” beliefs so that we can truly worship God in mystery.”

I begin with this statement because it is the clearest interpretation of his image and sets the tone for his understanding of the emerging church. But I think his interpretation of the emerging church is grossly flawed. I don’t know anyone who holds these views exclusively. I have never read or heard these views as the dominant or even prominent emerging church mindset by any author. And I couldn’t help but respond because I believe his interpretation is the dominant understanding of the modern mindsets understanding of the emerging church.

The Nature of Cognition or “How I Experience The World”

(This may seem technical but it is the fundamental foundation on which the humanity operates.)

One of the overriding concerns of humanity is to understand and make sense of our own experience. We read the world through our senses. We use language to create a definition, or a certain interpretation of reality in words, which becomes something to point to. It’s like having a North on a compass. North helps us determine South. The more people agree to this definition, the more validity it holds. As long as North holds true, North means North. The fallacy is assuming postmoderns don’t seek definitions or even certainty to an extent. They do because of the way we are designed as human beings. Certainty provides stability. The postmodern approach is to seek definitions but holds them in tension that they may one day change based upon new information.

The problem is the nature of cognition or how we read the world. Human beings live in a pendulum between representationalism and solipsism. Representationalism lures us into thinking our specific interpretation is always reality. What we see in our experience is reality. Solipsism assumes that we can’t really know anything so why try. An example is a woman having a baby. Representationalism would have the man believe that his experience of pain during a tooth ache is the same as her pain during child birth. Solipsism would have him believe he can’t know her pain even though they both have something called pain.

At the same time our bodies are always seeking a natural equilibrium called homeostasis. We like stability. We don’t like being off balance. New information gets the pendulum moving again. It creates a dizziness that can challenge some of our deepest beliefs. And the first time we encounter this information it knocks us off balance. Others around us, who have encountered this information, have found their balance but we haven’t. It’s new for us.

So what do we do? Assume that our experience is reality? But what of our blind spots and human error. Or do we just simply give up assuming that we can’t know anything outside of our own experience? The problem is, as cognitive scholars Maturana and Varela stated, “The dizziness results from not having a fixed point of reference to which we can anchor our descriptions in order to affirm and defend their validity.” (Tree of Knowledge, p. 240). In other words, we seek out descriptions (definitions) to understand and validate our own experience. We look for certainty so we don’t feel like we’re always sitting in shifting sand. The authors do something interesting, which I would suggest that produces a better understanding of the postmodern mind and the emerging church. They call it living in the Razor’s Edge. “Thus we confront the problem of understanding how our experience – the praxis of our living – is coupled to the surrounding world which appears filled with regularities that that are at every instant the result of our biological and social histories.” And “Again, we must walk on the Razor’s Edge (between Representationalism and solipsism).” (p. 241) It is living in the tension and space between the fixed understanding and the non-understanding. We hold truth lightly, constantly moving forward in FAITH, and with care but understand that our own capacity to understand reality can get in the way of things.

We do seek to attempt to define it. We just don’t hold it as THE definition because new information may emerge that changes things. History has proven over and over again that we change the definition many times. The postmodern mindset has come to a place of living in that tension. Not perfectly, but with an EMERGING understanding of truth. And this tension is consistent with the notion of faith as well. Living in this tension becomes one of the defining attributes of the emerging church. We understand that we are fallible human.

Serious problems arise from if we stake our reputation on the definitions or forms, when new information emerges, we are more likely to defend the old information rather than change. Why, because our own identity is on the line. These are our traditions. Good traditions, mind you, but our traditions. But other’s lack of practice of your traditions doesn’t invalidate them. It just means they don’t speak to us. This is a problem of form.

We do hold central tenets of the faith. We do hold on, in faith, that Jesus was the Son of God, died a was resurrected. But we did start a deconstructionist faith. This conversation of critiquing our own views has been going for 2,000 years. And we have 30,000 denominations to prove it. Are central points up for discussion? Absolutely. Why? Because we need to have those conversations too. They are part of faith and working out our own salvation.

A Definition That Doesn’t Yet Exist

What if part of the problem is that we don’t yet have the language, or words, or definition yet to define the emerging church. And so we use old definitions to do so, or we use the opposite (modern/postmodern) to help us define it, even though it doesn’t quite work. I wrote on this idea in the past. We need words because language is a way of communicating our experience. But this still leaves us with a definition of what something is in partial form or by what it is not. In fact the lack of language or words reveals the nature of the tension. We want to know.

I would suggest that the emerging church is not “apophatic” because the underlining assumptions supporting that definition are simply not true. We’re not simply postmodern either because the nature of our faith invites us into taking steps of trust with a God of the universe. This relational element allows us to experience reality at its finest, or the fruit of the Spirit.

I would suggest that Michael’s definition from above misses one of the defining qualities of the emerging church: Both/And. It is possible that the emerging church can do both. Is it possible we go to church to learn about God AND we go to worship God. We go so that we can better understand, articulate, and defend our faith AND we go so that we can commune with fellow believers. Our goal IS to confirm our beliefs AND to deconstruct our “unfounded” beliefs so that we can truly worship God in mystery. I would suggest that the emerging church is interested in answering questions, and defining experiences and truth. We do go to church to learn about God, and have reasoned dialogs about our faith. We even argue at times, but not at the expense of relationship. Why, because God’s Kingdom is always inviting us towards community, not away from it.

And we’re deconstructing the forms of the faith as much as looking at the foundations of the nature of belief that we’ve been taught. And why should you worry if you are right. We’ll eventually discover that too. But we invite you to consider the cost of misunderstanding. What is the cost of having an incorrect view of something or someone and holding onto it?

We don’t answer everything with, “Love Christ.” (This paints more of a portrait of an automaton or a four-year-old brainwashed child than anything.) But love informs absolutely everything we do. This is why we have a conversation and the modern mind typically is interested in an argument. We don’t need to defend truth. Truth is truth whether we like it or not. We just realize that we don’t have a corner on it at any given moment. But we can have faith that our experience of God is real. We can seek to follow him to validate that experience over time and discover a living God in relationship.

We choose to live in the tension (Razor’s Edge) between our capacity to know the truth completely and giving up altogether. We want to know truth. But we also know the church has serious cracks in the forms facade. Yet we know that is still valuable because we’ve experienced a living God, our Father. We’re living in the tension. Paul called this, “see(ing) through a glass darkly”, which Michael brought up. We don’t get to know everything in this life. Michael gets this as well but his approach is not consistent with his above statements or definition. This living in the tension is more consistent with the emerging church than a modern one.

Michael states that the emerging church has fewer convictions. What? It doesn’t have fewer convictions. It has different convictions. Ones like respect for dignity, simplicity, mission, sacrifice and love. These are the things that have always transformed culture and made people stand up aware that God was present in their midst. We don’t need to prove we’re right. We embrace the idea that God’s mission is Both/And. It is both inward, a restoration of the heart, mind and soul, and outward, a call to missional living that restores all of God’s creation, beginning with my neighbor.

Michael does bring up an interesting point of what can and does happen within the emerging church. People compromise simply to get people to like them. I’ve seen people do this. But to lump this approach into the emerging church is simply a gross over-characterization. Are there people within that do that? Absolutely. Is everyone or even a large majority? Absolutely not.

Another concern is the common criticism of “almost.” He says, “The soft postmodernism of the emerging church is continually on the brink of compromise.” He follows the comment with a thoroughly modern response. “Where does one draw the line of certainty?” Why do we need a line? So we can validate our own experience. Is it possible that God’s methodology of using faith as the invitation pulls us past this? And is the line we’ve drawn in the sand in Christianity really so unclear? The problem is also that it is always “almost”. I get stating the obvious but at what point do we have to let this go. This is invites fear into the conversation, appropriately so in some respects, but aren’t we under grace to explore the intimacies of our faith. Dan Kimball is famous for getting hacked with this. Is it possible that our exploration reveals the underlining problems within the modern church?

Definitions, although possible and helpful, lure us into pigeon holing our understanding as THE definition, read: certainty. I get certainty. It feels good and allows me to sleep at night. But history has proven that the church got some things wrong. It’s always been about trust. And the postmodern world doesn’t trust anymore, for very good reason. The church has to a large extent lost the trust of the people.

And to be fair, I think the emerging church is larger than the way I see it. There’s both brokenness and beauty. I tend to see the best of what she can be. I do know that there are some who have explored elements that would be considered heretical. But I also hold that this is part of exploration. We need to answer the tough questions people are afraid of so that we can have intelligent conversations with those who are wrestling with them without giving them the concern that they are “out” just because they wrestle with them.

A New (But Actually Really Old) Church

It is fair to say that Christendom ruled for about 1700 years. The emerging church is the response to centuries of oppression within the church and the ultimate turning away from that oppression. Has the church been all wrong? No. Has the church gotten it all right? No. Christendom as a whole did almost nothing to empower the ordinary person towards God’s mission of restoration and stepping into his role as minister to the people. It centralized power in hierarchical form and made a mockery of the Gospel at certain times. It forced Christianity on people and in the process lost a large part of its soul. To a great extent, it is this legacy that we rebel against. Is it in the past? Yes, but it is still found in the current FORMS of church. It’s not just about getting into heaven. It’s much more holistic than that. I am not meant to be a bystander.

The emerging church is interested in finding that purest expression of the Gospel, not in Christendom and its desire for power. Will it look much like the current forms of church. I doubt it. It will probably look more like the first century church, (common in China now) through house churches, where people engaged the priesthood of all believers and can create communities that restore people to wholeness and maturity through discipleship. We don’t need large monuments for the assembling of the saints. But we will use large buildings when we need them.

Old forms of power will eventually (likely centuries) fade away because the emerging church will be more interested in God’s mission of restoration. It will empower EVERYONE to be priests, rather than amusement park attendees. It will start with discipleship because it just works better. It will always take place in community, sometimes over a meal, or at the pub. But it will always include love, because that is the fullest expression of who we are created to be.

I, and a lot of my friends, long for the day when the emerging church blooms. My hope is the a church that restores people to wholeness and love, to courage and maturity, to faith and mercy. I recognize that the journey we are taking will require us to take hits from those who live in a different path. But our path doesn’t invalidate their’s. It’s just our path. We’re not going away.

I actually have to thank you Michael because your post helped me really identify what has bugged me about the critique of the emerging church. But I understand your definition is a misunderstanding, a product of the things you’ve read, heard, or learned. But it doesn’t define me so it is up to you to consider if it is in your best interest to re-evaluate your viewpoint. Could it be wrong? I’ll leave that up to you.

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In the famous School House Rock commercial “Conjunction Junction” the voice sings, “Conjunction junction, what’s your function?” The conjunction responds clearly, “Hooking up words and phrases and clauses.” He simply knows why he is there. So I began to ask, what is the purpose of the Emerging Church? What is it really doing?

If you read enough of my blog, you’ll eventually realize that I consider myself part of the emerging church. There are many reasons for this and a lot of good people I can thank who invited me into that space. I think to a great extent it is also the natural progression of the person I am and the larger era I find myself in. I have always been a risk taker and entrepreneurial. I like art and seeing new expressions that show the beauty of life.

We are in a time of great change and exploration. Some would call this the “liminal period”, or time in which everything is being scrutinized, prodded, and looked at. Liminal periods are rare in history because as human beings we like stability. Our bodies crave homeostasis. We don’t like change if we don’t have to.

It is my judgment, but fairly obvious, that this liminal period was created by the explosion of information age, much in the way the printing press did centuries ago. Our catalyst was the unprecedented access to constant streams of information through the Internet. This explosion has allowed our world to begin to reevaluate what we have been historically fed. For much of the last 1700 years, the church essentially controlled what people digested. You see, as little as twenty years ago, there was no Information Age, no world-wide-web, and no email. It’s funny to think that ten years ago there was no Google, Flickr, MySpace, or Youtube and yet these are now staples in our lives. In order to really critique the message we had to go down to the library to do our research. This was ridiculously prohibitive in terms of capacity (microfiche anyone) and the cost of doing so. This limited critical review to the scholars who critiqued for a living, who we had no choice but to trust. This lack of access helped support control of the message. There is value in controlling the message but this control is almost impossible now.

The Internet changed all of that. Email gave us ways to connect over long distances in almost instantaneous ways. The web essentially became our library as a depository of information. Sites like Wikipedia meant we no longer had to shell out a $1000 for a set of books that was outdated the moment the ink hit the page. Critical review was now possible for the masses. But it was the creation of blogs that I believe was the “tipping point” for the emerging church, allowing it to becomes a mass conversation. Blogs became depositories for that critical review. Suddenly everyone could comment on their own journey and experience and others could share or critique that view. And because of the nature of the web, anyone with access could join the conversation and provide a different point of view. This dialog, I believe, is one of the healthiest things to happen to the church. Suddenly people began to have ways of connecting to like minds in communities of dissent from the norm. There is something powerful in knowing that we’re not alone and that others feel like we do. But it is hard to do when we are dealing with the church.

We also have to thank The Leadership Network for starting the movement. They had the insight to recognize that emerging generations no longer resonated with old forms of church. They had the wisdom to gather new leaders together and look for new ideas and thoughts. But blogs allowed us to take part in that conversation as well. We weren’t interested in simply deconstructing the message, which never really changed. We were interested in looking at new forms that would communicate in context, that would reach those who felt they could never step inside of the traditional church structure. We were interested in fresh perspectives that unleashed the Gospel from its historic shackles.

But some misunderstood this as the changing the message. It was not. It was exploring the message and asking questions about deeply held beliefs that even the church could not agree on. This questioning was an attempt to be honest about what we were experiencing in our faith. Brian McLaren’s book, “A New Kind of Christian” could be considered one the beginning dialogs on being honest about some of the issues people wanted to talk about. Donald Miller’s, “Blue Like Jazz” could probably be considered the second. Dan Kimball’s, “The Emerging Church” was the third. There are probably other’s you’d add but these books resonated on a level that is rarely seen. They took an honest look at the spiritual experience and asked hard questions. And this honesty released people to say, “I agree. There are cracks in the facade. Maybe we should take a look at what’s wrong.” I commend Brian, Don, and Dan for taking these risks, for which they have come under severe scrutiny.

Will some people get it wrong? Sure. But what if we get it right? What if this process produces something the world had been crying out for over the ages? What if the church discovers being the church takes place over a seven day week, not just on Sunday morning? What if we discover our identity as children of the Living God, ministers designed to bring love to the hurting? What if we discover our capacity to transform the world around us? What if we discover a message and a form that reaches into the spaces of each context in a way that speaks life? We’ve been content with good for so long that we’ve forgotten what great looks like.

To a great extent a liminal period can appear like an attack. Well meaning people, who really do love Jesus and want to see His kingdom be made real to people, have created forms that are their expressions (read: denominations/school of thought). Over time these expressions become traditions that have rich meaning and serve a great purpose. For a certain group of people they really do connect people to God in a way that is potentially the fullest realization of their faith. But the problem comes when these forms no longer fit the context for other people and those who created or espouse these forms assume the critique is a personal attack. I get this. Critique can often feel really harsh even when it is true. And when the form is a validation for the person who invented it or even espouses it, then it really gets confrontational. When these forms have existed for generations, even centuries, they becomes virtually impossible to tear down. To do so would be to call them into question.

And therein lies the rub. Progress sometimes looks like regress to some people, which is why I believe the Emerging Church is so valuable. We need people who are willing to take steps into the wilderness and look for what will speak to the emerging generations. We’re aware that the world has shifted to a global perspective. We’re aware that trust is a big issue and that authenticity is demanded. Pretty packages and emphasis on “show” only reveal a lack of belief in the message. We just don’t have time for phonies anymore. We can spot him six miles away and have a critical response in three minutes work on Google. Don’t expect us to simply fall in line because we now know we don’t have to. We live in an age where freedom of expression is expected. And these expressions exist because we’re each wired differently. Our expressions of faith don’t invalidate yours. It reveals the beauty of diversity. God created us differently. We have the thumb print to prove it. This is our creativity.

We’re informed about other religions for the sake of communicating with our neighbors who are Buddhist and Islamic or even atheists. We no longer connect to our grandparents belief that this is a Christian nation. It really doesn’t have to be because we know that God is bigger than our president or who ever else is in power. We know that His Kingdom is more powerful than anything we can create or legislate because His kingdom is built on love and redemption.

And central to all of this lab work is that we know our function. To engage God’s mission of restoration to all of creation. The emerging church, from my perspective, is serving much like a company’s R&D department. (This is a metaphor people, so don’t go postal on me about bringing business ideas into the church.) We’re in the lab looking for the forms that reveal our function and connect to our generation. We not afraid to explore the fringes of our faith because we’ve completely bought into the idea that we’re forgiven and living in grace. And this forgiveness allows us to live in the world but not be of it. It allows us to explore what it means to love our neighbor without worrying that he’s going to corrupt us. We’re more likely to restore him because we recognize how important he is in God’s creation. We’re not afraid that we’re going to fail because we know that is part of the process. But our mission defines the development. We’re looking for forms that communicate redemption and restoration. And central to the message is and always will be Christ birth, death and resurrection.

But we’re also going to succeed. We’re going to find the essence AND form in context of what it means to Love God and love our neighbor as we engage God’s mission of restoration. We’re going to be part of something bigger than ourselves as we bring love to a hurting world. We’re interested in restoring ALL of creation; our brothers in Africa and the people next door who are homosexual, or goth, or just like you and me. How we do this is still in development. But why we do this is never up for debate; because He chose to first love. He is bent on restoring what He started. And that is something I want to be part of.

As always, your thoughts are appreciated.

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