So we were told that we would have electricity in our hard-top tents but as it turns out we don’t, so my ability to blog during the week will be very limited but I’ll try and post a few times as long as my battery doesn’t die completely on my computer.
Your prayers will be greatly appreciated this week. The town or Pearlington, Mississippi is a forgotten and depressed down that hasn’t received much help.
Location: Motel 6 – Chattanooga, TN
We’re about half way to Mississippi and spent the night here in Chattanooga. We’ll arrive at our final destination today, probably sometime around dinner time tonight. We enjoyed dinner at the Waffle House that is in the parking lot of the Motel last night and got to listen to Thomas’ stories. Thomas grew up in India, and has many really funny stories about riding a scooter in the monsoons when you can’t see the potholes because they’re flooded, and other good ones about traveling behind water trucks that leak, and gravel/dirt trucks that make it impossible to turn without wiping out on the scooter.
I also took a great deal of abuse at dinner last night from a group of the women on the trip when I divulged that I do sometimes get out of bed, take my breakfast, and go to class – and do so without brushing my teeth! (Side note: I don’t like the taste of orange juice and tooth paste, so I brush them after class). All in good fun however. The irony was that our fearless leader, the Rev. De Niece Welch, the esteem Associate Pastor for Outreach at Shadyside Presbyterian church couldn’t find her way into the Waffle House last night because she couldn’t find the door…
So this will be an interesting journal, because it’s going to serve two purposes. The first is that in lieu of taking a final exam I am going on this mission trip to Mississippi to do hurricane relief work with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. But the second is to keep people back home up to date on what I’m doing and what we’re experiencing. Too often mission trips are so overwhelming to be summed up easily when one returns home and you end up basically telling people “It was quite an experience.” So I hope that by blogging/journaling during the trip I can prevent that from happening.
So what are my expectations and understandings of this trip? Well as far as expectations go I’m not sure really. The group is a mixed group of people from Shadyside Presbyterian, Bidwell Presbyterian, and the seminary. We’ve got a few young people in the group with the youngest being a teenage girls who’s way-cool mom (who’s also on the trip) allowed to take a week off from school in order to take part in the trip (talk about having your priorities in the right order!). There are four seminary students, three of us in our 20’s, along with a girl who is a sophomore in college.
Right now as I write this we’re on Interstate 81 in Tennessee heading for Chattanooga where we’ll spend the night tonight before finishing our trip to Mississippi. Because of the advent of modern technology, I am able to be online via my cell phone in the van. So really we’ve got two days before we get down to business really.
So why mission? And why Mississippi? This is really my third mission trip. The first one was with Habitat for Humanity in conjunction with my housing group in college, and the second to the Dominican Republic my first year of seminary. Both were interesting and very different experiences to say the least, and I really enjoyed both of them. But looking back on them, I don’t know why I did them really. I guess it just seemed like it was the “right” thing to do and I was a Christian, so that’s what I did.
Reflecting on it now, in light of having taken Missiology I want to argue that we do mission work not primarily because it’s good for us (although the value of pilgrimages are well known) and its not because we’ve got something good that we can share (although there is an element of charity involved in the work). I believe that the church is called to do mission work because we are called to participate in the mission of God in redeeming the world. In Jesus Christ God was reconciling the world to himself (according to the Confession of 1967) and that works continues through the church. We believe that God is at work in the world and the church’s role is to put hands and feet on that work, which is you think about it is a pretty awesome job. But mission is primarily eschatological – we do things that we know God is doing/will do in bringing to fullness the new heavens and the new earth.
So here’s an example. Rev 21 tells us that God will wipe away every tear and there will be no more mourning, crying or pain in the end. If this is how things will be at the end, the church can better discern God’s lead by looking for opportunities to where God is doing that here and now. This is where I see this mission trip fitting in. We’re going to Mississippi not because we’re “super-Christians” who are earning brownie points by doing this. We’ve doing this because we know that this is where God is at work, making right what is wrong. In essence mission work is a living example of the Kingdom of God coming near because as the body of Christ we are Kingdom people. We recognize that the rulers of this day, while useful and ordained by God, are not the real rulers of the universe and that it is only God and God’s work that will make the world right.
We also read in Philippians that there will be a day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD to the Glory of the Father. This is our basis for evangelism. Because we know as Christians that this is an “objective reality” (to use Karl Barth’s language) we seek to bear witness to this and be apart of God’s work in showing this to the rest of the world. We don’t do evangelism (primarily) to increase the size of our church or to help others find eternal life (because the work of salvation is God’s alone) but because we as Christians are aware of and acknowledge the Lordship of Christ as the true ruler over all the universe and realize that by following him we can be exactly what we are intended to be.
All of this can sound very self-glorifying because after all, “Look at us! We’re being Kingdom People! We’re acting for God, look at how right we are in what we’re doing!” But I hope that’s not my attitude. I believe the call to participate in God’s service is a high one and one that must be taken with all seriousness and therefore with a great deal of humanity. I almost didn’t write the sentence above about the Kingdom of God coming near in mission work because even our work will be sadly imperfect, despite our best intentions. We just can’t get past our broken and sinful selves. I almost wonder whether mission trips shouldn’t begin with a prayer of confession first, acknowledging our own inability to be completely faithful in that which God has called us to, but also recognizing that God has called us to this task in spite and precisely because of who we are.
5:54 PM, from somewhere on the road in Northeastern Tennessee.
So for all intents and purposes I am done with my second to last trimester of seminary. I took my Hebrew final this morning and am in the process of finalizing my paper for Theology/Ethics of Karl Barth (well, my outstanding editor is currently reading it – she's the best)
Tomorrow morning I am off to Mississippi in conjunction with Shadyside Presbyterian and Bidwell Presbyterian churches to work with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. IN THEORY I will able to keep my journal of experiences online as we're supposed to have cell phone access (and hence I'll have internet access through my phone) but we'll see if that actually happens. I'm a little cautious about taking my laptop with me, but I've got a security device for it and if nothing else, I'll just keep it locked in the van during the day. I am doing this trip in lieu of taking the final for missiology so I need to keep a journal and would really rather not have to write it out handwritten.
I've got a full bag of books to keep me entertained during the long, did I mention really long trip? About 20 hours driving across two days actually. Anyway, this includes Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics 1.1 "The Doctrine of the Word of God", Stanley Grenz's "A Primer on Postmodernism" and "Rediscovering the Triune God", Dan Kimball's "Emerging Worship", and William LaDue "A Trinity's Guide to the Trinity." As you might be able to tell, I'm taking Doctrine of the Trinity next term and feel the need to brush up on my knowledge, since I didn't take Introduction to Systematic Theology my first year. More importantly, while we're down there we'll be taking part in the mission of God in the world, which will be part of the sermon I'm preaching on the 19th after we get back.
This could be my single weirdest post ever, and it could be that I’m totally off my rocker, and it could be that the end of the term is finally getting to me and I’m just plain going to crack up. But here goes…
The world we see around us and the people that we know and even our very own selves do not exist. We are false creations, we were never intended to be, and we will not be in the end.
A former pastor of mine told me that if I wanted to see what the world really was I should read Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22. Sometime try doing that, read the first two chapters of the bible and the last two. Why? Because that is how the world was intended to be (Gen 1-2) and how the world will be in the end (Rev 21-22). The whole rest of the bible, from Gen 3 through Rev 20 is the story of how things got messed up and what God has done, is doing, and will do to restore things.
The real world is the world that really exists, and what really exists is the world that God created and intends. That is not the world we live in right now to say the least. Even our very own selves are not as we were intended to be, and even we will be made new in the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15).
Want a concrete example of why the real world doesn’t exist? George Bush, the President of the United States may be the most powerful man in the world (some would dispute this and say its actually those who run the banks, etc. but my point remains). And in fact, one might say that George Bush is lord over the whole world. And, in a similar fashion there are governments and institutions around the world that exercise control over the world and all that is in it. However, they are not the real rulers of the universe. (By the way, this is not some anarchist argument about the inherent evil of all government, I’m just pointing out that whether it be the best or the worst leaders of this age, they are not the true lords of the universe).
It has been argued that Jesus was really a failed political revolutionary, not the Lord of the universe and that he basically died as a martyr for a failed cause (a la Albert Schweitzer). This view is typical of those with Christologies that deny Jesus being fully God and fully man. What’s ironic is that I think these people are right, Jesus did die for political reasons, but it is precisely because he was fully God and fully man that he died. Because Jesus Christ was the Lord of the Universe as the one through whom all things were created (Col 1, John 1) he threatened the principalities and powers of the day (mainly the Jewish establishment that had close links to the Roman government) because he exposed them as frauds. They were not the real rulers of the universe, he was! No one likes to be exposes as a fraud so they killed him.
Here’s where everything went tragically wrong (for the rulers of this age). In the resurrection Jesus’ claim to Lordship of the Universe was vindicated as even death which is the ultimate weapon of the principalities and powers of this world, could not ultimately contain him. So this sets up the book of acts, in which Paul goes throughout the Roman empire and declares quite openly and publicly that Christ crucified is the Lord of the Universe, not Caesar and because Jesus is the true Lord of the Universe people should place their faith and trust in him.
Ultimately the purpose for the church, and its task of preaching the Gospel, is not to increase the population of heaven, but to participate in the mission of God in bringing about the creation of the New Heavens and the New Earth. This does not preclude eternal life, but eternal life is only one aspect of salvation in a much larger scheme.
So what does this all have to do with the non-existence of the world around us? As Paul writes, “For the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31). Note, Paul does not say “For this world is passing away” but rather this “form” (schehma in greek) is passing away, not the world itself. In other words, the world which we see and live in isn’t the “real world” because its not as God intends, that is the only real world. The one we see is only a “form” with temporary rulers (who at their best are like those of 1 Cor 13, and at their worst are Rev 13) and even our own selves are not as we were intended (Gen 2) nor how we will be in the end (1 Cor 15)
This past weekend I took part in the 30 Hour Famine with our youth group. Rather than trying to do a blog entry, I took my voice recorder along with me and have generated a fifteen minute file, complete with interviews and recaps of the weekend’s events. It can be downloaded here or picked up via podcast here
So I had planned on writing a blog post on the non-existence of the Emerging Church, but BJ beat me to it. But to sum up, there is no "emerging church" singular as church has traditionally been defined. There's no official list of emerging churches, no common statement of faith, etc.
What there is what I call the "emerging ethos" which at the same time exists and but doesn't really exist. It's comprised of people, meetings, blogs, relationships, emails, faith communities, and conversations. It's something that is ridiculously hard to quantify, because it avoids being quantified. If one wants to quantify anything, the organization Emergent might be the easiest, but even that organization acts largely as a catalyst for the "ethos" of people, etc. While I think there are some commonly held threads that make up the "emerging ethos", namely it’s a group of people who desire to critically engage the culture around them in a missional sense. However, there are people in the "emerging ethos" who would disagree with that statement that I just made, and truthfully, that's part of what makes it so interesting.
To give a more concrete example, take a look at pomomusings. I came across Adam's blog because he was dating a girl I went to college with, and kept following it because without question is interesting (I've exchanged a few emails with him but never spoken with him in person). Now, if you spend much time on Adam's blog you'll figure out that he and I disagree on some pretty significant issues, but yet we both have that e-shaped banner "Friend of Emergent" on our blogs. Now, I have no idea if Adam would consider me apart of the "Emergent ethos" but despite our substantial disagreements on certain important issues, I consider him apart of the "emergent community" (for what that's worth).
I guess part of what I've found refreshing about the "emergent ethos" is that I've never been asked to leave my particularities at the door in exchange for seeking some "one-size-fits-all" solution but rather encouraged to bring my particularities to the table and discuss them honestly. Unlike the General Assemblies that I've attended where it was "right" and "left", the emergent ethos is more of an "us" than anything else, because people are so different and are invited to bring those differences with them into discussions.