In my continued graduate work, my current course instructor posed the question, “Would it be theologically accurate to say that a church that is not on mission is not really a church but something else? Perhaps, a social club? What are the implications of an ecclesiology like this?
Every human thinks a different thought when he or she hears the word, “theology.” Some may consider theology to be an archaic series of thoughts and words that describe God. Others immediately default toward thinking of their religious context and experience. Many desire to engage in a “theological” conversation to help them think differently about God. Typically, theology involves a lot of words and ideas that construct a quasi-foreign language. Those who observe confusing and generally dull, uninteresting, and monotonous, theological discourse find themselves unengaged, confused, and needing to confront arrogant claims on authority. The vocational assignment of the missional leader is to deconstruct distorted understandings of theology and initiate an active, embodied theology.
Any of those who might be bored with required religion classes at liberal arts universities would be refreshed by the liveliness of theology when it is understood within its original context and applied within our current cultural reality. Modernism has crafted the definition of “logos” into “word,” “description,” or “study of.” It is very mechanical and symptomatic of our post-enlightenment era. Contrastingly, for the Hebrews, the word “logos” was understood with greater depth than our modern interpretation. “Logos” was equated with the “expression of the wisdom of God.” Johanian literature’s language about the person of Jesus as “logos,” reveals that God’s expression of wisdom is self-disclosed through the incarnation. Theology is something that is something that is alive and active in our world as demonstrated through the life of Jesus.
Though some may think that theology is “not for them,” all Christians must seek to understand their place and responsibility for enacting theology. Every person possesses the theological sources of formative life experiences and tradition that are informed by human reason. For Christians, Scripture also serves as a resource for developing one’s perspective. Throughout much of modernity, the use and primacy of Scripture formed an appeal toward rational and quantifiable structures. Author Philip Clayton points out the shift within post-modernity stating, “Christians are not particularly interested in exact lists of doctrines. They do not think that there is a universal right answer for how Christians should act in all cultural situations and at all times. They do go back again and again to the life and teachings of Jesus, since these continue to be the model for Christian practice and belief.” It may be a daunting task to transpose Jesus’ life to our postmodern context but such a task remains accessible and manageable for those who have not been formally trained at universities and seminaries on complex “theology.”
The theological change that is upon us is one that is hopeful. It may be met with resistance but requires an embrace of moving forward with innovation and creativity. As a young and motivated leader in the church, I have had moments of feeling stifled and discouraged from exploring new ways of enacting theology and being the church. In the midst of the obstacles I have faced, it has been a tempting option to “give up on the church.” Sometimes it doesn’t feel worth the fight when hoping to move away from stagnant and failing structures that no longer impact our culture. I have sought to run away from the pews and the buildings that continue to contain and restrain the church from being a missional community. My struggle is not only continuing to progressively move in a different direction but also moving in a capacity that invites and leads the church into participation without leaving people behind.
I don’t want to get caught in the trap of continuing to be overly concerned with the church and finding myself and others living stagnantly without actually enacting theology. Just as the battles between the conservative evangelical and liberal camps need to cease, so does the tension between progressive postmodern followers of Jesus and old-fashioned, modern Christians. I may possess a certain level of idealism but recognize the importance of ecumenism and unification when hoping to enact the kingdom of God. A reinvented church with a redefined mission would provide a story that mimics the resurrected Christ. As Clayton describes, “We have to learn to tell our story as individuals and as communities, together with Jesus’ stories.” In order to tell Jesus’ stories we must look through the same lens mentioned previously – a framework that moves beyond spoken words to an enacted theology.
Transformed theology is a socially active response to the love of God observed in the person of Jesus. It is important to note that Jesus did not operate by himself. He called a community of people around him to work together for the salvation of the world. Missional leaders must take theology seriously and thereby extend an invitation to others to look beyond the shallow confines of religious discourse and construct an alternative reality that involves action. Theology that is otherwise a series of convoluted words and simplistic explanations is simply not theology.
It’s coming. The day marked for the celebration of the birth of Jesus is nearing. Comments are frequently made about the origination of the holiday being pagan. I would argue that which was pagan and made religious has largely become pagan again. The “celebration” that we now call Christmas has become the commercial exploitation of God’s incarnation. Is there another way of celebrating?
It’s here. Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving, millions of people are sacrificing a full night of sleep and either stay up all night or awake very early to drive their vehicles to shopping malls and retail stores across the country. Long lines, crammed traffic grids, and hateful behaviors are no deterrent from the cost savings for the mass purchasing of items that may or may not be needed.
Black Friday is an interesting social phenomenon. Why do consumers think they are saving money? Do consumers consider what money actually is? Are the majority of purchases on Black Friday for items that would be purchased even if “sales” didn’t exist? Is the purchasing of items encouraging unfair trade or even slavery in other countries? May we all begin to consider the fullness of what it means to consume, buy, worship, purchase, and enslave while imagining what alternative behavior may be more life sustaining as we celebrate the coming of God into human reality.
I have three ideas/propositions wrapped up in one benediction for how we might go about Black Friday:
May we be most concerned about our relationships with others. May we purchase only what we or others need. May we embrace our imaginative capacities.
While sharing a meal with some friends in the Dining Commons of MVNU, the conversation centered around the type and quality of food that we put in our bodies. Someone was eating hummus, which led us to begin trying to list the Top 10 Most Trendy Foods. With the help of Nate Okuley, John Ballenger, Scott Lomasney, Ryan Schmitz, and Lyndsey Oldham, I landed with a list as follows:
1. Sushi. Suddenly, everyone likes raw fish wrapped in seaweed. For those that don’t really like sushi but still want to be trendy there is the standby California Roll.
2. Dunkin Donuts. This one is for the trendy people that don’t want to be trendy because Starbucks Coffee is too trendy for their need to be different and edgy. Starbucks is better. So is Cup O’ Joe. So is Nevin Street.
3. Guacamole. It’s very green and very tasty. I have yet to have this avacado concoction quite like that in Juarez, Mexico, handmade by Hermana Elodia, la pastora de La Iglesia Del Nazareno Juarez.
4. Yogurt. There used to be TCBY. Now there’s Yagööt.
5. Fish Tacos. Apparently it’s an acquired taste and/or is popular with the folks in the southern California area. I’ll take my taco with no fish unless I’m really trying to be trendy. I’ll eat my salmon grilled on a cedar plank with Ben Winkler.
6. Hummus. The word is transliterated (like the word “baptize” from the Greek “baptizo”) from Arabic. It’s really not fancy. Just smashed chickpeas with some pepper, oil, garlic, and/or salt.
7. Burritos. Even though Chipotle is starting to become or already is mainstream it still counts as trendy along with Noodles and Co.
8. Sweet Potatoes. Often found in a fry version complete with fresh-ground sea salt, this orange delicacy is prepared in many forms and has found itself overshadowing the Idaho original.
9. Hibiscus. Green tea and pomegranate tea (or pomegranate anything) have been around long enough. It’s time for them to move over for hibiscus.
10. Local, organic vegetables. Let’s be honest, anything organic could have made the list, right? Organic is taking over.
The local, organic, and fair trade consumption trends are proving that “trendy” is not always bad (take note Dunkin’ Donut coffee lovers). But when does “trendy” turn bad? Are there trends in Christianity that are counterproductive to the Kingdom of God? Could one unhealthy trend possibility be the “megachurch movement,” where congregants desire to attend the sexiest, stylish production that is primarily a place for personal consumption and conscience appeasement? What about the “house church” model? Is it just a trendy phenomena for those who despise the megachurch model and want their own homogenous self-owned gathering or is there worth and substance behind it? At what point are our practices of Christianity just cultural adaptations and pleas for some type of desired relevance? Do we do the trendy Christianity thing because its trendy or because it really represents the Kingdom of God?
In honor of our most recent Election Day in the U.S. I decided to republish this post from the archives:
I am somewhat frequently interviewed by students here at MVNU for Research Writing projects, Public Speaking presentations, or Christian Life and Ministry papers. Tonight I was interviewed by Daniel Coutz. It was one of the more thoughtful interviews that I have experienced and I appreciated the approach. The conversation went something like this:
Daniel: “Respond to this statement: The United States is a Christian Nation.”
Travis: “No earthly empire is distinctively in keeping with the way of Jesus. Those who claim the United States to be a Christian nation need to enroll in a post-reformation church history course that discusses the period of American colonization. Also helpful would be a study in theology and philosophy to explore the definitions of theism, deism, and idolatry.
Daniel: “Do you feel the American flag should be displayed in churches? Why or why not?”
Travis: “No. The church is laced with a history of symbol and icon for visual engagement in worship and when one considers what the American flag represents I would have to question what one is worshiping. I would have no problem with displaying a flag in a church if it was displayed beside every other flag of every other nation so long as the symbol is understood to represent equality and unity.
Daniel: “Respond to this statement: The loyalty of a person belongs first to his country.”
Travis: “Why would one view an earthly empire as something to which giving loyalty is necessary or a priority? My suggestion is that most would give said loyalty due to an enculturation that promotes a sense of loyalty as nessecary. I would also suggest it has something to do with the supposed ‘safety’ provided by the military branch of a certain country’s government. Fear would be that which fuels loyalty to an earthly empire.”
Daniel: “Respond to this statement. Christians living in the United States should be patriotic about the United States.”
Travis: “One’s definition of patriotism would be primary. I find it problematic for a follower of Jesus to pledge his allegiance to an earthly nation. So in the sense that the recitation of the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ is patriotic, then patriotism may be considered contrary to ‘worshipping no other gods.’”
[Be sure to check out the questions at the end of this post.]
I just read a blog post by Prodigal John (Jon Acuff) at Stuff Christians Like. I realized as I read his confession that I, too, am a Christian Culture Snob (though I think I already knew that I was). I would suggest that the proper language to use would be “Christian SUBculture Snob” since the Christian subculture is not a dominant presence within a broader culture to which many Christians conform, the dominant culture of the American empire. Nonetheless, I am a Christian Culture Snob according to Jon:
A Christian culture snob is a Christian that makes fun of people and things that are deemed “Christian.” I believe am cooler than you and able to edit “Love your neighbors” to actually say, “Love your neighbors unless you deem them cheesy and then instead feel free to kick them like a hacky sack woven of burlap and sarcasm.” Basically, I am prone to turn my nose up at some of the things you do.
Although I’ve reduced my degree of Christian culture snobbery in the last few years, during high school it was at an all time high, which is when I ran into you Carmen. I think you were doing that Champion song with the devil cameo and maybe the whole God’s Army thing with the dog tags at the time. And Christian radio, you were just so bright and chipper all the time. I had a field day with both of you. But looking back on it, and fearing that I’ll fall prey to Christian culture snobs when my book comes out, I realize that I was wrong and really unloving. And even though I wish I could eradicate Christian culture snobbery, I am but a meager blogger, one man who wears a retainer at night, a unibrowed writer with only a small voice. But the least I can do is to help other people know if they’ve fallen into the same trap as me. The least I can do is create the …
Christian Culture Snob Scorecard. Here are my results:
1. +0 points. I equally crucify cheesy Christian programming and The Bachelorette.
2. +3 points. Not “Jesus Junk” but I do have some other phrases to describe the knick knackery that Christian bookstores often sell at the front.
3. +2 points. Chris Tomlin, no. I met him and he was cool. Casting Crowns, absolutely!
4. +1 point. I don’t get the goosebumps from “I Can Only Imagine” but Shane and Shane might get me a little.
5. +5 points. But… you can usually tell.
6. +10 points. This is my worst offense!
7. +3 points. Ha! Ha!
8. +2 points. Only mildly embellished jeans.
9. +5 points. That’s me.
10. +0 points. Nope. I’m fully aware.
11. +3 points. Indeed. It’s true.
12. +3 points. Not Man on Fire but… yes… many other films.
13. +1 points. Maybe even 18-19%.
14. +1 points. Ditto “The Fray.”
15. -2 points. I’m proud that I went to a Michael W. Smith concert because I brag about the fact that I fell asleep.
16. +2 points. You have an abnormal amount of disdain for the movies “Facing the Giants” or “Fireproof.”
17. +8 points. Once again… I fell asleep after 5 minutes of “FtG” and refuse to watch “Fireproof.”
18. +2 points.
19. -2 points. I regularly criticize the cheesy nature of Christian culture but do all that I can to change it.
20. +3 points. He is intense. Saw Stephen Baldwin at Ichthus and the crowd started chanting, “Bio Dome.”
21. +10 points. I just say that there is no such thing as Christian music.
22. +2 points. Kirk is right up there with pleated khakis and the Republican haircut.
23. +3 points. I’m not a middle-aged female.
24. +0 points. I checked out the site because I was hoping it would be satire.
25. +16 points. Indeed.
26. +4 points. Complete lack of wisdom.
27. +0 points. Not really.
28. +3 points. Oh, Thomas.
29. + 4 points. Forget the strong, godly man with the mysterious past. I just make fun of Christian romance novels in general.
I scored 93. Off the charts. Once again, I have to agree completely with Jon:
How did you score? To be honest, I fluctuate a little but on most days, I am on off the charts. But what this site is teaching me is that mocking doesn’t really do awesome things for Christianity. I’ve definitely blown that sometimes with what I write and am probably the guiltiest of all of us, but I realized something the other day. I’ve never once had a non-Christian say to me, “You know, this faith you’re making fun, this Christian culture you’re mocking sounds really intriguing. I think I do want to start an everlasting personal relationship with Jesus. Thank you for being so willing to make fun of Carmen for me.”
I must ask a question. OK… a couple of questions. Is it good that there is a Christian subculture? Is the current, popular Christian subculture even really “Christian?” What does a real, healthy, and good Christian culture look like?