Saturday, July 31, 2004

emerging criticisms

Sam, commenting over at living room, makes some thoughtful criticisms of the emerging church. Let me respond to 2 of them. (My context is not mainline or liberal, so I can’t really speak to his 3rd criticism.)

(a) the risk that we will “out-relevant” ourselves, ironically succumbing to the post-modern culture to which we claim to be bringing the gospel;

There needs to be a distinction between relevance and mission. God in Jesus came in human form to a culture and spoke to that culture in its own accent. The point of this Incarnation was not relevance, but redemptive mission.

If we are committed to following Jesus, the point of the emerging church should not be relevance, but mission, seeing Jesus in human form in the video loops and samples of postmodern culture.

The problem is that relevance and mission can look the same. However, some pointed questions should help tease out the differences. Perhaps more importantly, will be the fruit of the Incarnation. When the mission to postmodern culture is able to intentionally welcome and embrace that which is absent, then we will see not relevance but a mission heart which, like Christ, makes room for the Other.

(b) that “no church form” has in actually become a “church form” and, therefore, is subject to being championed and attacked in the “my way’s best” argument;

Any experimentation runs the risk of fossilizing. This might not in fact be the fault of the form, but be the fault of the on-looking public, eager to find a model to photocopy. The wind of the Spirit is dynamic. If the “no church form” becomes a “form,” if the emerging church becomes stuck in its moment, then it will probably find the Spirit blowing in fresh ways, fresh forms. At this point, the depth of humility (or otherwise) of the emerging church will be interesting to observe.

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM

Friday, July 30, 2004

internet joy

This morning I woke up to 150 emails. 145 were comments to the website, 145 were all the same spam. Wish I’d had this earlier. (thanks coops)

Fight Spam! Click Here!

Posted by steve at 10:40 PM

Thursday, July 29, 2004

mcdonald lasts well


Last week I blogged about teaching a class on Gospel in a postchristian society and using McDonalds as a way to read our culture. Today in class we used McDonalds to read the church, Alpha and the labyrinth; is the church driven by the same processes of efficiency, control, predictablity and calculability?

I can report that the burger I used as a class exhibit last week is still in fine form, as durable as the moment it was birthed, not a sign of deterioration.

Posted by steve at 05:10 PM

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

will bloggers be worse theologians

Further to the good comments by maggi and others here:

I think there’s a category of faith seeking understanding that is not explicitly aware of theological tools and theological history. This is a blog that describes themselves as a “postmodern pilgrim”; and they write Christianly about community or leadership or whatever.

They might not be a professional theologian like maggi dawn or steve garner, but they are wrestling with their pain (experience) or some Scripture or some culture or some bad tradition. This is still faith seeking understanding. This is still theology.

How do we couple the riches of the professional theologian and the depth of the tradition and the awareness that we are not the first kids on the block/blog to wrestle with community or leadership or whatever, with such widespread blogging reflection?

Blogs democratise knowledge. I am not convinced that democratisation will enhance theology, not because their is anything elite in theology, but because blogging can be a surface, skimming occupation that leaves less time to think and reflect.

So could blogs actually make poorer thinkers? Could they mean people skim and link more, yet know less? What does the democratisation of blogging mean for “professional theology”?

Posted by steve at 04:48 PM

stories, stories and their educative value

I love stories. But 3 times in the last week I have wondered; do they help or hinder?

I am in class and someone asks me for an example. I am writing a book and I am told to provide more stories to demonstrate some ideas. So, I start to talk, to write, about a story from my experience.

And I pause…
does the use of story make me into an expert?
does the use of story make me seem more together than I am?
does the use of a story reduce people’s own ability to be creative?

I want to open up horizons, free people to be who God wants them to be. What is the place of personal story in teaching?

Posted by steve at 04:28 PM

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

emerging values

a weekend away + pictures of our local community + postmodern culture through the lens of coffee cups + hand drawn pictures of where we would like our church to be in 5 years = 1st go at a set of re:emerging values for a church on mission to a postmodern world

We honour God as energiser of our life and mission.

We place the cross at the centre. We want the gospel at all places in our life and all of our life to bring the gospel into focus. We want a discipleship that mirrors Jesus, that is relational and serving and gospel basic.

We value where we have come from, the heritage and history that has shaped us.

We value lives transformed, in such a way that witnesses to those close to them and to the community.

We value step by step processes in mission. We want to provide multiple stepping stones into the church community.

We value wholistic well-being and lifestyle discipleship. We want people to leave a legacy. We want deep foundations through training, whole-life coaching and spiritual disciplines.

We value transparency and open communication. We want an information highway through the church and into the community. This will include the use of media and internet.

We want to connect with our world and our community to connect with us. We want mission to be a two-way flow, to change us and our architecture and our appearance.

We value a workplace reality. We want a bi-vocational pastoral team and our worship to engage with life 24/7.

We value all age and socio-economic groups. We want the elderly to have a purpose. We want all age groups to “age well.” We want a flow of shared resources in which all groups – the addicted, the digitally impoverished, the wealthy – enhance and challenge each other. We want to be a place that offers participation, in which people are encouraged to “buy-in” to resource a Kingdom vision.

Posted by steve at 01:38 PM

Can daddy leave please?

I am a vegetarian and when I am away from home, the family get to eat fried chicken at Kentucky Fried Chicken. We were driving past the local KFC last week and Kayli, our 4 year old asks from the back seat; Can Daddy leave please?

All this to say that her dreams are coming true. It looks like I will be at the emergent convention in San Diego, Feb 2-5 next year, doing some stuff.

I am available that weekend, Feb 6, if anyone in the US wants to use me. Ideally, you’d be able to share some plane fare with the promoters.

PS: I am white, male and under 45. But I have NO dabs in my hair (just a few natural grey streaks!). What do I do?

Posted by steve at 07:57 AM

Sunday, July 25, 2004

numbering up

I arrived as Pastor at Opawa Baptist about 5 months ago. The church had been in decline for a while. It had lost 400 people in 10 years and 150 in the last 5 years. When we arrived there were about 150 people at 3 services.

Over this week, there have been 300 people at 5 services. That’s twice as many people as last year. Now this was not an average week, and I don’t expect that many people around next week.

And Opawa has a long way to go. Nevertheless, it is quite amazing what has happened in the last 5 months. It is neat to see new faces. It is neat to cruise outside after church and see people smoking! It is neat to see people with no church background wondering when they will be baptised.

Posted by steve at 10:22 PM

Saturday, July 24, 2004

the sifting of the sands of idealism

the next generation of theologians will start as bloggers, according to Dan Hughes.

permit me a moment to ask why? and if they start as bloggers, where will they end?

By definition, theology is faith seeking understanding. It is not an elitism occupation but is the output of any and all. We are all theologians. Some of it is good, some of it is bad. So definitionally, the statement is accurate.

But if the statement is to input some magical status to theoblogians, I will need more convincing. As an inhabiter of both clasroom and blogoshere, the debate in the blogosphere is no deeper or more incisive than the debate in a theological classroom. In fact, often the debate in the blogosophere is less incisive. At least in the classroom there are things called assignments that encourage reading.

I love the idealism of the statement; “an explosion of nuanced thinking around the myriad details of existence … a million empowered perspectives … from the interconnected lives and words of the normal women and men of Santiago, Montreal, Mozambique and Bangalore … justice and mercy transforming the small spaces that hold the secrets of the worlds yet to come.”

Yet I note that when Maggi introduces to the blogosphere some inherited and introductory classroom theology , the bloggers swoon here and here.

And so they should.

Will the future learn from the nuanced thinking of the past, theological linking disciplined by critical review of class and peer and editor, thinking weighed with time, so that the dross of a hundred quick thoughts is filtered to leave some real insite around justice and mercy?

Or, will the blogosphere be a pooling of ignorance (no, of course I am not talking about your blog, so don’t get offended), in which, to rephrase Tim Bednar, bloggers become more arrogant than there pastors, and remain so emmeshed in the interlinked present that they gloss over any inherited wisdom?

Posted by steve at 03:02 PM

Friday, July 23, 2004

a burger at my theological table

I am teaching a course this semester called Gospel in a post-christian society. I really enjoy it, sitting with a group of people, looking at contemporary Western culture as a mission field.

I have taught this course 3 times now, and in 3 different ways.

1 – History of ideas: a look over time, a survey with nods to Descartes, Humes, Pascal, Wittengstein, etc.

2 – Philosophy: a look at key thinkers, usually postmodern thinkers, Derrida, Nancy, etc.

3 – Socio-cultural: a look at McDonalds and e-culture and movies.


So yesterday I brought a hamburger into class and we began to explore our culture. In a world in which processes of efficiency, calculability, predictability and control are driving forces, what does this mean for the way we are human and the way we do church? All of a sudden, the nature of gospel becomes a whole bigger. All of a sudden, mission is more than saving souls, but becomes a deep analysis of what it might mean to be counter-cultural.

As I said, I love the course and the stimulation.

Posted by steve at 07:59 AM

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

prayer as snowboarding or skate boarding video

I am leading a prayer time for a community youth service tomorrow nite. I am wondering about praying “eyes open” – ie showing a video of snowboarding or skateboarding and then praying that in God we will have the same freedom, fun and discipline ie learn the moves.

any suggestions on useful video clips, as its not my scene?

Posted by steve at 01:11 PM

Sunday, July 18, 2004

tribalism and difference

mine difference rather than manage difference

This was a throwaway line from the conference I was at. maggi blogs about the different tribes in the emerging world. Tribes can be tribal, wagons drawn in, hunched against diversity. Yet this leaves me unable to manage difference, let alone mine it for all its depth and colour.

I was told that dialogue requires me to put aside my own beliefs, in order to fully engage the Other. Yet such a notion seems frightfully modernist. I can’t change who I am, my social location. I am Kiwi, male, etc. I always bring this to the table. Pure objectivity does not exist. I can only bring my embedded subjectivity.

So equally, if I am evangelical or liberal in my roots, that is all I can bring to the table. I need to mine my embedded subjectivity, be increasingly aware of my unique differences.

When I engage with other tribes, I can only do this from my social location. If I want to mine, rather than manage the difference, then I need to learn, listen and speak about my tribe, and about others tribe.

In other words
– we can’t change our roots
– the better we know our roots the better we can learn from others
– the task is to listen, not to weave webs of psuedo tolerance.

Posted by steve at 09:19 PM

Saturday, July 17, 2004


I always find it hard to assess my public speaking. On Thursday I talked to a conference of NZ missiologists and theologians. It was a tremendous privilege for me, as a 35 year old, to address such a distinguished audience. Paul was there to listen:

It was stimulating experience. It was a real priviledge to see / hear the giftedness and learning of both a friend and an important young voice in local and international sense … Steve’s metaphor of re-weaving the broken rope as a way of reflecting on task of theological scholarship in Aotearoa New Zealand was wonderfully provocative and evocative. He lightly reflected on themes on brokenness, the marginalised voices in society, welcoming the stranger, hospitality, story-telling, friend-making, plural perspectives, inclusion, exclusion. I’m sure that the metaphor will have been wonderfully enriched by interdisciplinary conversation over the remainder of the conference.

Thanks Paul.

Posted by steve at 07:48 PM

Friday, July 16, 2004

a moment of cyncism

donut blogs = a blog in which the outside looks much more better than the reality. this need not be deliberate.

raising my google ranking = elevating crap

RSS feeds = a commitment to letting headlines shape one’s priorities

Posted by steve at 02:31 PM