Monday, June 17, 2013

Anticipation of the Consummation

A key theological orientation for the Vineyard is what we call Kingdom theology. I've been teaching a course on eschatology in North America and spoke a lot about the development of this way of thinking about God's reign. Vineyards tend to promote an understanding of the Kingdom as being a tension between the work of God in the now and the final anticipated consummation of that work in the not yet. Today I'm living out an object lesson on this tension.

A month and a bit ago we bought a new house. We signed the agreements, lined up the financing, and it is a done deal. However, closing is today. So we signed some more paper, got the financing to kick in, and now we await a phone call to say we can move in.

The interesting thing is that while it was exciting to sign the initial agreements - it is as the day got closer that our anticipation grew stronger. We have had lots to do while we waited. We've been packing and purging. We've been renovating and buying materials to fix up our current house so we can get as much as possible for it when we sell. We have been living in the implications of what had started when we signed the document that said we agreed to purchase this new home. There have even been times when we've been able to experience the new home in a limited way (we bought a home from friends).

This is similar to the Christian life where Jesus became the yes and amen of all God's promises through his death and resurrection. It was Jesus signing the deal to agree to purchase us. In many senses it is a done deal. And in the light of that done deal we have real moments when we experience the future Jesus has for us. We call those inbreakings of the Kingdom (or the future of God). Much cooler than being let in by the former owners so I can store my tires! When we experience the Kingdom we experience the justice, healing, redemption, and salvation that God has promised and guaranteed through Jesus, God's yes and amen.

But our experience of the world is one of anticipation. This is the most powerful idea in a view of the Kingdom as tension. As we experience a world that is still full of brokenness, sickness, and sin we grow in our longing for the final consummation of the Kingdom, when the King will return. This anticipation grows in us, just as the anticipation of our new home grows when we pass by it in our car every day (it is just down the street from our current home). The more we see the Kingdom breaking in the more we realize how awesome the return of the King will be. The creative edge is that in the tension between what we experience of this present reality and what we know of the promise of God, in that tension we are propelled to act in cooperation with God's Kingdom purposes for our world. We pray for the sick, reach out to the lost, work for justice, and overcome the ravages of sin. This is what I believe Paul means about living in the power of the resurrection. And it is much more awesome than a new house.

But for today, a new house is pretty cool.

Come Lord Jesus!

Frank Emanuel - Ontario Region

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Congress 2013 - Victoria

As promised a report from Congress. I attend Congress every year, primarily for two societies: the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association (CETA) and the Canadian Theological Society(CTS). Both are amazing. CETA is a fairly generous conversation amongst Canadian evangelical theologians and the people who study us. CETA was not well attended this year despite some really interesting papers. What is up with the Heidegger love at Regent? I didn't see that one coming. Attendance was actually down all around this year, the problem with having non-central meetings every third year or so. What is most encouraging with CETA is that our regional conferences in concert with universities like McMaster, Northwestern, Trinity, and Tyndale, those conferences are taking off big time. I worry a bit about the loss of non-evangelical voices in our conversations, but having just reviewed 64 paper proposals there are some solid entries in there. (Word of advice: if you propose a paper avoid jargon.) This year I presented a paper at CETA on the impact of doing worship in third spaces (alternative liturgical settings). 
Student Luncheon CTS
I am also part of CTS, in fact I am now their communications officer. CTS is an ecumenical (in the broadest sense) conversation. As a Canadian conversation Christianity is the most common religious framework, but I did take in a Muslim scholar doing an amazing paper on Muslim-Christian dialogue. For CTS I organized my second joint CTS/CETA panel. Last year, you might recall, I did one on the Armageddon Factor. It was very well received. This year we had a decent size group (about 22) for Eschatology and Ecology. This time I sat on the panel approaching this conversation from an evangelical theological perspective. In fact when it was my turn to present, instead of using the traditional read a paper approach I dropped into a somewhat autobiographical approach. I spoke about the problems with evangelicals and ecological issues and how reading deep ecology (Thomas Berry in particular) shook my worldview. My way into the deeper conversation about ecology came through an inaugurated eschatology. So I presented four benefits of an inaugurated eschatology for the person engaging the environmental crises of our day. 

The first two have to do with God's part or role in this ecological response. I spoke about the proleptic kingdom, meaning that when we experience the kingdom we experience the full potential of all the kingdom can and will be. Ladd talks about it being a taste, that the taste is real. This opens up the second resource (benefit) which is that with God in it there are possibilities not possible from our ability or work alone. This is a great counter to the paralysis one often feels when confronted with the gravity of our environmental situation and our complicity in making it so bad.

The second two have to do with our part or role in responding to the crises. This began with the idea that God is actively inviting us to participate with God in the renewal of the earth. God's redemptive presence is what we are called to cooperate with. There is a real call to act, but not out of our resources, rather from the vision God gives us. But because it is us acting, albeit with God, we can really screw it up. The check and bounds here is that the kingdom is also provisional. This provisional nature allows for a hermeneutic circle by which we always check our efforts against the kingdom vision, trusting God to continually refine our approaches. Provisional means we can ask hard questions about justice and trust that God's kingdom is big enough to allow justice for all (including the earth). 

All in all it was a great trip. Victoria is beautiful and I stayed not far from Royal Roads University and its amazing gardens. I got to meet face-to-face some friends from that coast who I have known through the internet. I also got to hang out with Rik Leaf, one of my favourite people. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Congress: A View from Here

It has been a wild week so far. Here I am in beautiful Victoria (BC) enjoying the scenery and an amazing academic conference. This morning I heard a brilliant paper on the theologian's task of articulating the experience of God in a society where belief in God is suspect (at best). He was advocating a vulnerability as the way forward, that we need to allow God to be God and not reign God in through our efforts to articulate our experience. Sounds complicated, but the simple message was we need to humbly approach our work because God is indeed mystery beyond our words.

I'll post more details (and maybe a few pictures) next week. But just wanted to let you know that it has been a very encouraging time. God certainly resides at the heart of some amazing projects.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Gathering our Ontario leadership family

It it so good to be with family. That is the overwhelming sentiment that I feel every time the Ontario Vineyard pastors and leaders gather together.  In fact, that’s the overwhelming sentiment at any of these gatherings of the shepherds and shapers of our movement.

This past week, pastors and leaders of the various Vineyard congregations across Ontario spent three days together in Bancroft, ON. We welcomed to the table David Ruis, who recently returned back to Canadian soil with Anita. They now live in Kelowna.  David brought a wealth of riches for us, speaking life into those formational values that make us distinct as a movement, and valuable to both the world and the larger expression of the Church: contending for the radical middle; the beautiful (and sometimes tense) interplay of worship and justice; inviting the poor as equal members in our family; standing on a firm theological centre while reaching out, open handed, for deep Holy Spirit encounter; moving playfully with the Spirit while avoiding the temptation to hype.

Much depth of relationship happened over the meal table. There was no trace of divisive cliques among this diverse group. The company around each table changed every meal. Old friendships were sustained and new friendships formed. Our stories, passions, concerns and mutual histories mingled over good food. To that I say: Yay!

There was celebration for the goodness of the past year as we shared what God has been doing among us. There was planning for next year’s Vineyard National Gathering, which will take place in Cambridge on July 27-30, 2014 -- save the dates! There was also challenging dialogue as we discussed what the future looks like and how to navigate well in these historic uncharted waters.  And of course there was mourning as we came alongside Sandy Caldwell in the loss of her husband and our friend, David.  David was with us last year and his absence was keenly felt.

The take away for me this year is that there is health in the bones of this Vineyard movement.  Don’t get me wrong, these are challenging times. We feel the effects of cultural upheaval, tight economics and past missteps, but there is something fundamentally healthy and vibrant in our communities.  We are in good company.  The best times are ahead of us.