Thursday, February 19, 2004

flaming the chaff

I was flamed by Mr Wheat yesterday – using the definition here of – A public post or email message that expresses a strong opinion or criticism. Flames can be fun when they allow people to vent their feelings, then return to the topic at hand. Others are simply insulting and can lead to flame wars

I was flamed in regard to the emerging church. At the risk of starting a flame war, I will pick up on specific things said in relation to my site, my theology and my writings.

1. Exegesis of 1 Peter
God made language and culture (Genesis 1, 11 and Revelation 7:9). Culture is like the air we breathe. Without it we die, but we have to watch for pollution. My exegesis of 1 Peter is based on the fact that every text has a culture, has a context and if we understand that, we are better hearers, and likely to be more accurate doers, of the word of God.

Hence my exegesis of 1 Peter was an attempt to better understand the Biblical text. I argued that when read in context, Peter suggests a way for Christians to challenge culture, or as Mr Wheat says “cultural transformation”. So my exegesis of 1 Peter finds me and Mr Wheat agreeing in the need for cultural transformation.

Mr Wheat notes that Paul (I presume this was a typo, because 1 Peter was written by Peter) was promoting timeless truths. To argue this could imply a legitimation of slavery (1 Peter 2:18). Rather than having to try to explain slavery as a timeless truth, I chose to explore the cultural world of the text to suggest a way of Christianity to live distinctly.

2. The emerging church A-Z as driven by culture.
My post was a mix of observation and theology. The post was tongue in cheek and often urged the emerging church not to stay where it is. It was at times a challenge to the culture of the emerging church, especially around gender and inclusion of non-Western culures. A lot of emerging church people blog and so I noted that as a sociological observation. I believe the emerging church do DJ and I will come to that in a minute.

3. I doubt many Catholics would consider me “the same as Catholics”, so I will leave that.

3. The U2 quote.
I used the quote in an article. It was not my quote but I will stand by it. I used it in the article for 2 reasons, firstly it describes a sense of dislocation from church, which needs to be heard.

Secondly it affirms that ancient theological understanding that God is in the world, and can provide “spiritual experience to U2”. Biblically God is revealed in the cultural world. God spoke through a donkey to Balaam in Numbers 22, God acts through a foreign oppressor in Nehemiah 2 and Esther 5. The exile is the story of God using “pagan” things to teach the people of God some lessons. God is present in our culture and the U2 quote named that Biblical reality.

Now I realise this is scarey terrain. Does following God in the world mean I will sell out or lose the Bible? I find it helpful to remind myself of the Pauline understanding of the Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus. It is a term unique to Paul. The Spirit is in the world, yet the Spirit I am looking for is the Spirit of Jesus, distinctive in the Christian gospels. This allows me to follow Jesus and remain faithful to the Biblical insight of God in the world.

To seek God in the culture is not paganism. Peter is warned in Acts 10 not to dismiss the pagan, the culturally different, as unclean. This does not mean that I take stuff from “the culture and reinterpret it.” Rather, I DJ. DJ’s sample – bits and pieces from here and there. Some bits they will sample to affirm, others they sample to subvert (the mixes of Howard Dean are a fine recent example.) DJing is a metaphor I use (explained much more in the book I am writing), to get beyond the dualism of “culture is bad so withdraw from the world” or culture is good “so celebrate the world”. The DJ image gives me a way to explain that God is both present and absent, that human culture is both flawed and an echo of God.

4. Pandering to pagan rituals.
In Matthew 6:26 Jesus commands us to look at creation and in John 3:8 he uses creation to explain the work of the Spirit. The gift of the koru at the baptism was a following of the instructions of Jesus. The koru represents the unfurling fern, a symbol of new life and growth. Rather than paganism, we were following in the way of Jesus, looking at creation as a way to celebrate the new life of baptism.

My terms “thin spaces” was an attempt to describe an experience. I used it in a Christian Celtic sense and I am unaware of other “demonic” connotations. I could equally have used the fact that often in the Bible people encounter God in the Bible (Mt Sinai, Sermon on the Mount, Transfiguration) and in this sense mountains are “thin spaces” or places of encounter with God. It was not a pandering but a metaphor for saying God was there.

5. Like Mr Wheat I am not interested in marketing or new church models. Nor am I overly charmed about the term Generation X.

I believe in the Bible, that God loves the world, that the Spirit of Jesus is in the world and that my following of Jesus is Incarnational, the Word made flesh. Just as Jesus became Jewish to redeem humanity, so I need to be postmodern to redeem humanity. This is only sucking up to culture if Jesus was sucking up to culture. To help me not suck up to the culture, I have the resources of Scripture, the example of Jesus, the power of the Spirit and the community of God to keep me faithful.

Paul rebuked Peter to his face, a relationship born out of journey together. I value the people, who take the time to journey with me, and over time, like Paul, speak truth to me. I hope that this response can build understanding and respect among those who journey with me.

Posted by steve at 04:47 PM


  1. very graceful. may it be received so.

    Comment by Bald Man — February 20, 2004 @ 4:06 am

  2. My reply is up. I figured, why shouldn’t my site benefit from all the work I put into writing it? 🙂

    Comment by Matt Powell — February 20, 2004 @ 12:10 pm

  3. Sorry- here’s the permalink:

    Comment by Matt Powell — February 20, 2004 @ 12:11 pm

  4. Matt – can you enable comments on your site? Or perhaps post an email address. I just read your (well thought out) post and wanted to comment on a small point. It’s almost small enough to do here but I don’t want to use up Steve’s bandwidth.

    Comment by Lisa — February 20, 2004 @ 2:32 pm

  5. Yeah, the email address is on the site. I never put comments up. I’ll probably get around to that. But my email address is

    Comment by Matt Powell — February 20, 2004 @ 2:49 pm

  6. Well, Matt can come on over to my blog…I’ve got all kinds of stuff for the bar-B!

    His point of view seems so…constipated.

    I am sure it feels very “defender of the faithish” but in the end it paints one into a narrow and lonely corner.

    So high minded sounding, I was waiting for a mark of the beast…drum beats cause sex…KJV only…diatribe to come next.

    Comment by Eric — February 20, 2004 @ 2:51 pm

  7. Eric, my biblical text for this sunday (my 1st sermon in the new church) is 1 Corithians 12 – about honouring different parts of the body. I’d like my blog to be a place that does that, honours you and me and matt and other wayfarers. We are all pretty fragile at times underneath (see my post from monday if you want to dine on my fragility). There is a conciliatory and dialogical tone to matt’s 2nd post which I appreciate.

    Comment by steve — February 20, 2004 @ 3:15 pm

  8. Eric,
    Good to know that attempts at connection are always wasted on someone. If you think a theological position that’s been around as long as the Christian Church itself is narrow and constipated, then go be a Buddhist or something. The Christian faith itself is too narrow for some folks.


    Comment by Matt Powell — February 20, 2004 @ 4:19 pm

  9. Matt, you have no comments page (you should?) so a quick word to you here. I appreciated your reply to Steve’s reply, and see here the character of real conversation which was not there in your first commentary on EC.

    Just one simple thought about why Steve may have felt like flamed-chaff, and you couldn’t understand why. If you harshly or unreservedly critique a website that represents a movement or organisation that is one thing, and I think there are some grounds for it. But the very nature of blog is intrinsically individual; wholly intertwined with one person’s thinking, worldview, faith and experience. So as I read anyone’s blog and discover the extent to which they are linked to a wider movement or idea(l), I think it is crucial that I still see that there is an individual behind the words. If I critique, then I have to do that in dialogue with that person surely?

    Not preaching at you, or trying to represent you Steve (!) – just observing.

    Comment by Finker — February 20, 2004 @ 10:13 pm

  10. Finker,
    I agree, that we always ought to consider the people that represent the positions, when we attack the positions. That’s why I apologized for my tone in the first post; I failed to do that.

    But I still feel the need to maintain some distance between the people and the positions. Like the baptism that was discussed- if I criticize the mode of the baptism, that should not be construed to mean I doubt the faith of the one baptized or the one baptizing.

    The reason I made an issue out of the fact that I did not flame Steve, is that if every difference over doctrine or practice is taken as a personal attack, then discussion becomes impossible.


    Comment by Matt Powell — February 21, 2004 @ 3:41 am

  11. “Attempts at connection”…
    Yikes bro, verbal lighter fluid is a strange way to try to connect in my opinion.

    I know you have said that you didn’t “flame” but it read like a flame, not that “there is anything wrong with that” (to use a Seinfeld quote), in fact it is stimulating comments. Not sure if it is conversation yet, but potentially so.

    Sorry if I was too caustic in my reply…sometimes our responses or posts don’t always reflect ourselves as gracefully as we would like.

    The whole “go be a Buddhist” thing…hummm, that strikes at the root of my initial reaction to your post. One of the reasons I read Steve’s blog is the open, exploratory, honest, refreshingly thought provoking nature of it. Which is a rare experience within most of the Christian circles I pastor within.

    I think it’s people like Steve or at least the ideas, thoughts and reflections he presents that give me hope that there are Christians that are more accessible. I find blogs like this like onramps, where a lot of conversations with Christians that unfortunately seem like red lights or cautionary yellows, rarely green…I am guilty of this too.

    I am sure you are a great guy, sorry if I muddied the waters more than help clear them.

    Comment by Eric — February 22, 2004 @ 2:44 am

  12. Eric,
    I was referring to my second article, Emergent Church II. I felt I tried to tone it down quite a bit there. Yes, the first article was “verbal lighter fluid”, and I apologized for that. Then I come back to Steve’s site and read your rather personal attack which was directed specifically at me. Now I find that you’re even a pastor.

    Apology accepted. But I think this is a welcome lesson- you claim that it’s the open, honest conversational tone that attracts you to Steve’s blog, and yet you engaged in pretty vicious personal attacks. Would you call that a green, yellow, or red light? That’s one thing I never did. I never called people names or impugned their own character. So perhaps the issue isn’t so much whether you call yourself ‘premodern’ or ‘postmodern’ or anything else- but how you actually choose to treat people, that matters.

    And the ‘go be a Buddhist’ thing- I think I’m well within the range of Christ’s or the Apostles’ own ministry here. People calling themselves believers is not the most important thing in the world. People actually being believers is.

    Comment by Matt Powell — February 22, 2004 @ 5:04 am

  13. Matt,
    Wow, I said I was sorry twice above, and sent a personal email to you and steve as well expressing the same.
    What more do you want bro?
    Geez, lay down the flame thrower.
    I said uncle 😉

    Comment by Eric — February 22, 2004 @ 6:39 am

  14. I said, Apology accepted. But if you’re going to take shots at me even in your apology, pardon me if I attempt to refute those shots while accepting your apology.

    Comment by Matt Powell — February 22, 2004 @ 10:07 am

  15. Eric and Matt
    Both of you have offered apologies and I am delighted. If you keep chewing what seems to me to now be an old bone on this blog, then I reserve the right as blog owner to delete comments. I don’t want to do that because I like having you both visit.

    Comment by steve — February 22, 2004 @ 4:34 pm

  16. Steve,

    Been reading the back and forth between Eric and Matt. Read Matt’s stuff on his site, as well as your response, then his response. Why do you suppose conversations like these have the potential to become so antagonistic so quickly? I’ve been thinking about how important it is to so many of us in the western world to be right. Do you think that has anything to do with it?

    I find that tendency for me, and so many others, (the need to be right) to seem a bit contrary to the whole idea of living in grace. Don’t you suppose that if I really believe that I stand in grace, as Paul says in Romans 5, that “Am I right?” “Am I wrong?” wouldn’t be the first questions I would ask? But then, I can’t help but wonder, what would be the first question I asked? “Am I being faithful?” “Am I honoring God?”

    Guess I’m just babbling. Apologize for doing it on your site.

    Any thoughts?



    Comment by Ron — February 26, 2004 @ 6:55 pm

  17. i think it’s to do with the medium; the www has no facial gestures, no grins to weaken a statement. consider how much communication is body language and thus how limited the www is as a way to communicate.

    Comment by steve — February 28, 2004 @ 4:49 pm

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