Monday, April 4, 2011

Thoughtworks Curriculum - Working for You

God Thoughts Year 1 - Naturally Supernatural

Some folks in our church, Freedom Vineyard, are actually working through this course right now. One of the interesting aspects of that study group is that we have one participant who is not from a pentecostal or charismatic background. Naturally Supernatural reads completely differently to someone not familiar with these worldviews. I'll talk about that experience in a bit, but first what I really appreciate about this book.

When I read Naturally Supernatural I can hear Gary Best's voice. If you haven't had the pleasure of sitting in on one of Gary's presentations then I would encourage you to, Gary has been organizing monthly webinars for the Vineyard in Canada which are well worth taking in. For me the experience has been similar to reading Carol Wimber's John Wimber: The Way It Was, another important book for folks interested in the Vineyard. In that book it felt like I was sitting across a kitchen table from Carol and she was telling the honest story about John, good and bad. In Naturally Supernatural it is like sitting in a room full of friends and Gary is on a stool sharing from his heart about his honest stumblings towards a God who calls us to participate in the works of the Kingdom. I use the word stumblings deliberately here, Gary is not pretentious, in fact he lays it all out there including his own mistakes. But over and over the message is that despite our stumblings the God who meets us is ultimately a good and kind redeemer taking joy in our faith. Even when that faith is just tiny.

One of the things that those who don't know Gary might miss is that he is tracking the evolution of a walk with God that he's been on for many years now. This has made the book a bit difficult for those without the same supernatural assumptions as Gary. It has led to some lively discussions within our book study, which is ultimately helpful. I was surprised at details I missed reading it myself, simply because I have been part of the pentecostal/charismatic world for many years now. This problem with the text could be addressed by a little more attention to the context and assumptions at work in the anecdotes Gary tells throughout (but especially in the first chapter). Those of us inside these worldviews will find this book incredibly encouraging. It does a great job of moving the engaged reader to what I find to be a key strength of the Vineyard: situating the power of God in a Kingdom Theology framework.

This framing of the supernatural into the operative theology for the Vineyard is critical for us to wrestle with. It is how Wimber brilliantly made pentecostalism accessible to the conservative evangelical world. This way of understanding the supernatural situates it as a natural part of every believers' world. So instead of talking about special anointings and offices - Gary shares Wimber's view of the gifts as tools in a toolbox as a metaphor for the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit to enable us to live the experience of God in both word and deed. This moves us beyond a paradigm of 'super men and women with the power for the hour' to a paradigm of the people of God working with the Spirit of God to do all the things that Jesus did in his earthly ministry - and dare I say more. As I recently blogged - this is the heart of the Wimberism 'everybody plays'. Certainly there are other ways of understanding a supernatural faith, but this is the view that evokes in me the feeling of "yes! that's what I signed up for."

Like all of the ThoughtWorks courses, this course has an accompanying assignment. Included in that is a short book review and a practical application of the book. This assignment was developed by Cathy Berry when she ran the course in her local church. At our last book club, we made sure to pray for each other - in our group there are some serious health needs. We even had one couple share about their experience of effective healing prayers the night before our study group met. It has been very encouraging.

What have been your experiences of Naturally Supernatural? Have you taken in a Naturally Supernatural workshop with Gary or Joy that really impacted you? We would love to hear your thoughts.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

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