Monday, January 28, 2013

Academic Paper Proposals

Matte Downey rocking a paper at CTS last year!
I'd like to encourage you to present papers in academic contexts. It can be very intimidating, but it is one location where the bridge between church and theology can be made. Some societies, like SVS (Society of Vineyard Scholars) and CETA (Canadian Evangelical Theological Association) encourage non-scholarly submissions, although you will find that some of these societies will require non-academic folk to present their whole paper before hand. I have been on the evaluating end of these things a few times now and I see some pretty common mistakes, so in order to help you with the proposal aspect here are a few tips.

1) Follow the Instructions.

It seems pretty obvious, but you would be surprised how many (even seasoned) academics just send along whatever they want instead of following the directions. In the last batch of paper proposals I evaluated almost half were over the word count, and some of them very much over the word count. What that communicates is that you will not respect the format for the presentation (which is often strictly timed to allow for conversation and getting all the other papers in there).

2) Tie it to the Theme

Many times conferences will have a larger theme. It is not always necessary to tie your paper to the theme, but it will rank higher if you do. I put together a proposal for a society today and even though it is for a paper I have already written, I massaged the title and proposal to connect explicitly to the theme of the conference.

3) Show Your Sources/Data

Many of us pastors are used to drawing from many wells and not always giving credit for the wisdom we garner. That doesn't fly in academic circles. In your proposal say who your work is influenced by. Also if you use anecdotal evidence or examples, like most great practical theology does, then say that. You don't need a bibliography but you do need to give the evaluators confidence that you are not just making stuff up. BTW I love practical theology presentations, probably the best presentation at the last conference I went to was all based around real experiences of a person working at an inner city church in Toronto. Absolutely encouraging, challenging and brilliant. 

4) Avoid Jargon

You might think that theologians love their jargon. But actually we spend a lot of time trying to precisely define the terms we use. The worst proposals use a lot of technical theological terms without reference to how they are using these terms. For instance the term missional seems like a great term, but which flavour of missional? Is it the Gospel For Our Culture missional? Or is it missional meaning you like missions? Or something else? If you want to use the term then budget words in your proposal for defining them, even briefly.

If you are keen on trying out the paper proposal then you still have a few more days to propose something for the annual meeting of the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association in Victoria. And I also noted that there is an online conference coming up that has a call for papers out: Ecclesia and Ethics. I encourage you to give it a try - you might just open up a whole new area of encouraging relationships to help you in your ministry.

Frank Emanuel - Ontario Region

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Main and the Plain

One of the things that I keep coming back to what John Wimber's encouragement that was focus on the main and the plain of the gospel. John thought it was very important that we got the gospel right, in Power Evangelism he said that "Proclamation of a faulty gospel will produce fautly or, at best, weak Christians." (opening sentence in chapter 4). There are a lot of things that can distract us from this sacred trust, lots of issues compete for our attention but I think we need to heed John's encouragement and keep the gospel central in everything we do.

Here is the problem though: what is the main and the plain of the gospel?

We tend to use gospel in funny ways. We call the four testimonies about Jesus in our Bible the gospels but at the same time we evangelicals tend to think that the gospel is reduced to the message of substitutionary atonement. The truth that Jesus' sacrifice is sufficient to restore our relationship with God is important but what of the rest of it? Is that all that matters? In the Vineyard we've followed a theological tradition that goes back at least as far as Albert Schwietzer, one that recognized that to Jesus the gospel has something to do with the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. This isn't incompatible with substitutionary atonement, but it certainly is much broader. And what about the Jesus stories we call gospels? Where does the proclamation of Jesus life, death, and resurrection fit into the main and the plain of the gospel?

There are two ways we can go about this, first we could greatly simplify things - this is the approach that a primacy on substitionary atonement takes (but there are many other simplifications). Second we can over complicate things - in fact many of us do that when we make the gospel about believing certain things in specific ways. This would be fine if we could have agreement on what things are essential - but that has never been the reality of the church in all of its 2000 years of existence. Besides there is a huge tendency to reduce God to a set of propositions rather than encountering the God that completely undoes all our presuppositions.

In the Vineyard we often look for a middle way, a third way - the radical middle.

So we do affirm with John that there is a main and a plain, that is a central core or heart of the gospel. But at the same time we recognize that there is little that is simple about it. The implications of such a gospel make complex demands on us as human beings, John called it a costly gospel because it cost God everything! The gospel of the Kingdom was John's main and plain simply because it wasn't a focus on our individual need but on what God was, is, and is going to do. It is the proclamation of what we experience and what we long for - the Kingdom of God breaking into the here and now.

The gospel includes God taking our sinful separation seriously. But this isn't simply a cross building a bridge for us to walk over - rather it is God breaking into our reality with an extension of love and grace that seeks to unravel the hold and effects of sin on our lives. The gospel is the promise of God that we encounter enacted in the presence of God who is near when we call, always at work transforming us and the world around us. The promise is more than just a guarantee for the future - although it is that too - but it is an action of God that meets us now as we long for that which will be when Christ returns in fullness and God is all in all.

So what is included in the main and the plain?

This is the challenge. I personally would include salvation, healing, God's promise and faithfulness, God's presence, and the call to participate in God's redemptive work in the world. But like any main and plain there are details that it is our responsibility to work out. And to work out with God. So what does it mean to participate in God's redemptive work in contemporary North American society? I can guarantee that just in the Vineyard we will get a wide range of answers to this question. May I suggest that the main and the plain is the call to participate - but complex side is the how. The gospel calls us to salvation, the complexity is what that means for how we live our lives as the redeemed. And I could go on.

The challenge is to not miss the central aspect of the gospel for all the different ways it is realized. When we do that we take our eyes off God and put them on ourselves (too often on our own fears and preferences). The gospel is the story of what God did, does and will do. It is the story of the Kingdom reality that is inaugurated by what Jesus has done, enacted in what God continues to do, and will be consummated in what God will do at the end. The main and the plain is that we are invited to be part of that story, even to have our lives caught up into that story in ways that we couldn't imagine.

So I'm interested in how you think about the gospel? What is main and plain for you?

Frank Emanuel, Ontario Region

Monday, January 14, 2013

like little children

Running to Dean on a beach in Scotland
There is a game that my mother-in-law and my two-year-old nephew play.  While she stands in the kitchen, my nephew walks to the far end of the hallway.  He backs up against the wall, waits to see her open arms and hear the word, "Come," and then he runs with all his might down the hall and into her arms.  General merriment and laughter ensue.  When we visited our families over Christmastime, my nephew demonstrated this game with grandma.  And then he did it with grandpa.  And in no time at all he was doing it with me, too.  In fact, he would run to just about any adult that opened their arms and uttered the trigger word, "Come."  Except for Dean.  For some reason, he was afraid of Uncle Dean. 

Now I know and love this man called Dean and admittedly, he is big and boisterous and a bit scary-looking.  But once you get to know him, you discover that he is a very kind and gentle man.  I don't really know why my nephew was uncertain about running to Dean.  I guess it just didn't seem like a good idea to him.  Perhaps it was the fact that we hadn't seen him since last Christmas and Dean was a bit of a stranger.  But that didn't seem to stop the boy from crashing full force into me (whom he also hadn't seen for a year) when I bid him come.  Even after Dean had spent several days hanging out with the whole family, the young boy still turned away when Dean opened his arms.  Dean really tried to win him over.  He even got down on his knees, hoping that his size, his height, and his big, booming voice and laugh would be less intimidating.  That didn't work, either.

A few nights later we were playing the game again.  My nephew ran into grandma's arms and then into my arms, over and over.   Then Dean took my place and my nephew refused to run.  It was a no go.  No amount of reassurance could convince him that it was okay.  Dean was kneeling on the floor at the end of the hall.  My nephew was in the kitchen and we were all around the child, trying to convince him to run to Dean.  He just turned his face away, so I looked at Dean's inviting arms and decided that if my nephew wasn't going to go, I would!  So I ran to Dean!  I landed awkwardly in his arms, I giggled with delight, everyone laughed, and we held each other for a few seconds.  Then I extricated myself from Dean's arms and the next thing I saw was my nephew catapulting himself into Dean's arms as well.  Just like I had done a minute ago.  And then he couldn't be stopped.  He loved running to Dean!

Sometimes we think that talking is how we convince people of something or reassure them that it's going to be okay.  We think that giving someone a book to read on a subject will change their minds or convince them of some great truth.  We believe that reasoning with someone and explaining things to them is an effective path to transformation.  These methods may very well be part of someone's faith journey, but no one can really explain a relationship with God.  We can only show it.  We can only run to him over and over again while the doubters and the fearful ones watch, and hope that they see someone they would like to run to as well. 

Matte from Montreal

Monday, January 7, 2013

Worshipping in Alternative Spaces

I'm working hard on an article about the effects on worship of moving church into alternative spaces, such as coffee shops, pubs, homes, libraries, etc. There are quite a few communities looking for ways to better connect with the people who would never set foot inside of a traditional church. This is sometimes the domain of the Missional church, but there is a long history of evangelicals moving into different architectures in order to better reach the lost. But when we change our locations we also need to change the content and form of our community worship.

My central argument in the piece is that in these alternative venues we, as evangelicals, are trying to negotiate a middle road between two concerns. On the one hand we want to make sure that our worship is not so alienating that we are asked to leave. This is especially true of churches that bring their services into cafes and pubs, public spaces. On the other hand we also want to make sure that we do not lose the core of what we are doing as a worshiping community. Most of the people who take the whole service into traditionally secular spaces do so with an understanding that worship in some way is just as missional as the rest of what we do, I'm not convinced that we should have different expressions in different locations, but the point is that we need to reflect more on what we do where and why. This is what I mean by the negotiation - it is never a clear path, one size fits all thing. In fact I am convinced that God never intended it to be a one size fits all kind  of thing.

As I write this paper I'm reading lots of stories of churches and people doing just these kind of evangelical experiments. I'd love to hear your stories. How has doing church in non-traditional spaces changed the way you approach worship? How do you find space for intimate worship when you meet in an alternative venue? Do you feel more like you have lost something or gained something?

In our own context where we do a lot of intentional community building we found it important to protect a special place for corporate worship (in homes). We didn't think of it as not being part of the evangelistic edge of our community, but rather as a compliment to what we are doing and a place where people interested in what it means to worship with us will be like. I must admit it is pretty tame compared to some of the communities I've worked with in the past - but the worship is deep and meaningful, intimate and precious to us.

Frank - Freedom Vineyard

ps. the picture is one of our guys playing at an open mic in the local coffee shop. This is us being part of the community at large.