Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Christian Unity



I'm working on a research project creating an online archive of Anglican - Roman Catholic ecumenical work. I find ecumenical work fascinating, the goal of greater unity and building cooperative relationships between traditions is close to my heart as a person who likes to build relational bridges. Working on this project makes me think of my own tradition and evangelical identity. It is often a tricky thing working through relationships between traditions. I wonder sometimes if within the evangelical tradition our goals have become skewed, as we seem to think that unity means uniformity. A great book on this subject is Gerald McDermott's Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?. What McDermott presents is key to Christians engaging with other traditions even within the family of Christianity. In true evangelical form he insists that when we engage in such conversations we bring our whole selves to those conversations. This is contrary to some ecumenical thinking that says we lay down our distinctives for the conversation. McDermott, instead, wants us to lay down our need to defend our distinctives by seeing what is distinctive about ourselves as a valuable and unique contribution to the conversation. And that in conversation we are mutually enriched and challenged. I often direct new students to this book as it is a much better way to navigate academic life as a person of faith.

The key here is how we understand boldness. In evangelical culture we've often associated boldness with the assertion of our distinct views. But boldness really has more to do with our confidence in our own views and the willingness to hear and learn from other people. Hence McDermott's central question - can we, as evangelicals, learn from world religions? His answer is yes. But it requires us to enter into conversation. A conversation requires contributions from both sides - and the evangelical in me rejoices at that prospect.

So how do you express boldness? How do you interact even with Christians of other traditions? Not all of us are in ecumenical environments, but I bet all of us have people around us we can engage with. In writing this I was thinking of a few stories of some great conversations I have had recently. In particular one with my muslim neighbour about how we instill moral values in our children and what help/hindrances come from our religious traditions. But I'd love to hear your stories, your encounters.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Falling is Easy...

OK, so it is Wednesday.

Falling is Easy, Walking is HardI was delighted earlier this week to get an email from my dear friend Colin Benner. I met Colin maybe a year or so before he and Denise came to pastor a church that had been adopted into the Vineyard but was in a messy situation. Colin and Denise are some of the wisest leaders I've ever met, and it was amazing to watch them bring that church to a place where they could healthily close their doors. I know that sounds odd, but they started with a real mess. When they left, they left behind healthy people who were at a place where they could choose how best to honour God. The Benner's are no strangers to tough church situations and now to tough life situations. Many of you who know Colin will also know that he's been battling cancer for the last while even while they pastor a church in Thailand.

Now I do get the odd email from Colin, telling me how he's doing and asking for prayer, but this one was telling me about the book he just finished: Falling is Easy, Walking is Hard. I managed to get an advance copy today and have had a bit of time to leaf through it (virtually as it is a kindle book). I love that I hear Colin's voice in the pages and can't wait to have time to dig right in.

I want to encourage you to pick it up. I'll do a proper review when I've had a chance to read it. But I have not problem recommending it right now.

Have a great week!

Frank Emanuel, Ontario Region.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Upcoming...



Monday is quickly escaping me. I have been neck deep in renovations for the last six weeks, yikes. But I did sign up for posting this week so fear not I will. Just I have to wait until Wednesday because I am going to be blogging about a book a dear friend of mine just told me he published. The teaser is that we've featured his blog here before and I know the book will be profound. In fact I'd like to highlight a few books that have come out of our movement in Canada. I'm thinking of Tim Davidson's Passport, Gary Best's Naturally Supernatural (which we use as a textbook in the ThoughtWork's curriculum), Peter Fitch's Learning to Interpret Toward Love and the book I'll talk about Wednesday. I'm sure there are others. If you know of a helpful book written by one of our Vineyard family let us know. If you want to write a review of a book from our family let us know that as well. One of the most profound resources these books provide is in conveying the journeys of our people as they minister and reflect on their years of ministry. 

Talk to you all Wednesday. 

Frank Emanuel, Ontario Region

Monday, August 5, 2013

writing a letter

Let's say a group of your friends are fighting over some controversy (could happen, right?).  Or someone you know is going off in a weird direction that is sure to end badly.  Let's say some people in your family are confused about the issues facing society (and the church) today.  Or some of the people you have known for a long time are drifting away from their faith.  What do you do?  What kind of letter do you write to them?  Do you 1) give them a straightforward talk that starts something like this: "What is wrong with you?"  Or 2) gently love them through the chaos, careful not to say anything that might upset them or exacerbate their situation?  Or do you 3) tackle the issues head-on, providing reasoned and biblical answers to back up your points? 

My guess is I would fall mostly in category 2, insisting that love is the first and last word, with a dash of category 3 thrown in just to give them something to think about. And this is what I expected from the writer of 1 John who is sending a letter to a group of Christians who are torn apart by controversy and entertaining false teachings, no doubt confused yet still hot-headed and stubborn in their dealings with each other.  The writer does not start with a call to love.  He does not start by correcting their wrong ideas.  He does not start by addressing the issues at hand.  He starts by going back to the beginning, and the beginning is Jesus.  He starts by getting back to the basics, the basics of encountering Jesus - of seeing, hearing, and touching him - because this is where everything first changed for all of them.  And it remains the only place where transformation is possible. 

He reminds them that God is light and remaining in this light is the only way to find truth, fellowship, purification, forgiveness, and loving acceptance.  Straying away from this light leaves one stumbling around in the dark, blind, angry, and even self-righteous.  He talks about the necessity of confession, obedience, and integrity.  He points out how badly they are treating each other.  He talks about living the way Jesus lived.  Throughout, he uses the inclusive pronoun “we,” essentially placing himself in the middle of their chaos instead of in the privileged place of an expert or unbiased observer.

I have much to learn from the writer of 1 John in how to communicate with other Christians on controversial topics.  I must learn not to start with the issues but with Jesus.  I must learn not to draw attention to my credentials or education as a way to impress or convince others. In fact, the writer of 1 John skips the customary introduction (where he would identify himself and his position) and jumps right into announcing God’s revelation through Jesus.  I must learn to place myself in the shoes of others, talking about “we” instead of adopting an “us and them” posture.  I must learn to call people back to encounter with Jesus instead of just trying to set their theology straight.  I must learn, with directness and clarity, how to announce the living Word of the Father that has been revealed to us.  I must learn to speak truth without apology, yet never without compassion and understanding.  And I must learn that I cannot call others to the light unless I make my home in the light.

GOD IS LIGHT and no shadow of darkness can exist in him. Consequently, if we were to say that we enjoyed fellowship with him and still went on living in darkness, we should be both telling and living a lie. But if we really are living in the same light in which he eternally exists, then we have true fellowship with each other, and the blood which his Son shed for us keeps us clean from all sin. If we refuse to admit that we are sinners, then we live in a world of illusion and truth becomes a stranger to us. But if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil. For if we take up the attitude “we have not sinned”, we flatly deny God’s diagnosis of our condition and cut ourselves off from what he has to say to us.  (from 1 John 1, trans. J.B. Phillips)

Matte from Montreal