Posts tagged Post-modernism
An Open Letter to the Pope: Sorry Dude, but Doctrine Matters

Note: I published this article in 2014 when the media was buzzing with recent protestant steps toward reuniting with the medieval church of Rome and bringing the reformation to an end. Today, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the reformation I decided to re-share this post. It is just as relevant today as it was 3 years ago when I first wrote it. Enjoy!

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The religious world has been buzzing after Pope Francis appealed to the Pentecostal conference for unity among believers. For some, Pope Francis' words are exactly what they have been longing for. And no wonder! Ever since the early days of the reformation the followers of Jesus have been fragmented into ever increasing splinters. Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptist's, Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Adventists and the list goes on and on. As a matter of fact, these denominations represent only some of the larger bodies. But the reality is that Protestantism is broken into thousands of smaller components resulting in a plethora of beliefs all claiming allegiance to the Bible. For many years Christians have been clamoring for unity in Christ and decrying the walls that separate Protestants from Protestants and Protestants from Catholics. It is with no wonder then that Pope Francis' humble appeal for unity is received with enthusiasm and joy by many.

In his video to the Pentecostal Conference Pope Francis' used an illustration to clarify his appeal. He said:

The Holy Scripture speaks of when Joseph's brothers began to starve from hunger, they went to Egypt, to buy, so that they could eat. They went to buy. They had money. But they couldn't eat the money. But there they found something more than food, they found their brother. All of us have currency. The currency of our culture. The currency of our history. We have a lot of cultural riches, and religious riches. And we have diverse traditions. But we have to encounter one another as brothers. We must cry together like Joseph did. These tears will unite us. The tears of love.

I don't actually disagree with Pope Francis on this. I think it is absolutely imperative that Christians treat one another as brothers and sisters, with love, respect, and appreciation regardless of our theological differences. I agree with Pope Francis when he says, "[a]ll of us have currency.... [b]ut we have to encounter one another as brothers." However, here is where I draw the line:

Does Pope Francis define doctrine as currency?

He doesn't actually say so in this video and I refuse to put words in his mouth. However, he does come awfully close when he speaks of all of us having "religious riches." As a Seventh-day Adventist the greatest religious treasure that I have is our doctrine, or (as I prefer to put it, our God-story). While I am all for more unity, respect, compassion, and love among believers of different denominations I cannot sacrifice Adventisms God-story for the sake of unity. It is just way too beautiful to sell out.

Some may be wondering what I mean by that so here are some examples. Am I meant to sacrifice the beautiful message of the Sabbath, which celebrates Gods creation, redemption, and restoration of humanity, in order to be united with those who don't value the Sabbath? Am I to sacrifice the truth about Hell which shows us that God is not a sadist or torturer but is instead a loving and just Judge, for the sake of unity? Am I to surrender my commitment to Sola-Scriptura, and replace it with pagan philosophers like Plato and Aristotle whose works set the foundation for much of Catholic and Evangelical theology? I am all for unity, but not at such an expense.

But why is the God-story of Adventism so important to me? Two reasons. First of all, suppose you are married and your spouse is accused of committing a crime. Everyone in your family is out to get him/her and only you know the truth about your spouse. But to stand up for your spouse means that your will not be united with your family. What do you do? Do you tell the truth about your spouse? Or do you embrace the lies for the sake of unity? I don't know about you, but I choose the former.

Likewise, much of what is believed and taught about God is a lie. Am I supposed to embrace those lies so I can be united with those who believe them? Or am I supposed to stand up for the truth about God and tell others what he is really like? I don't know about you, but I chose the latter. I believe Adventisms God-story is the most accurate and beautiful picture of God from any other theological system around. And I will tell that story even if it means division.

The second reason why I believe the God-story of Adventism is so important is because your God-story ultimately determines your ability to love. We become what we behold. And if our God-story muddles the love of God you will be constantly beholding a muddled picture of God which will result in a muddled concept of love. While I can appeal to the long history of Christianity for this, allow me instead to give you a few examples from my life and my own denomination that evidence this.

As a Seventh-day Adventist I have encountered many people who get it and many people who think they get it. By "it" I am referring to the truth. Those who get it are always balanced, loving, tender, and compassionate. They care about others and give of themselves unreservedly. But there are others who think they get it. These are often imbalanced, unloving, rigid, and more concerned with the "standards" than they are with souls. This group is often characterized by conspiracy theorizing, criticism, and legalism. But what is the difference between these two groups? Aren't they both Adventist? Yes. But they have a totally different picture of God. The former group is passionate about the gospel. They speak much of the love of Jesus, his tender mercy, his compassion, and his grace. They recognize their own daily need for mercy and forgiveness. They see God as caring, interested, and empathetic. They see him as an intimate friend in whom they can place all of their trust. The find rest in him and their hearts and minds are always filled with Jesus. Though far from perfect they always aim to be more like Jesus and reflect his perfect love for humanity. This is their picture of God and the more they behold it the more like him they become: kind, warmhearted, and merciful.

The latter group is passionate about the rules, the standards, and the law. They speak much of the sins of the church and how bad it is. They criticize church leadership as much as they change their underwear and they are fascinated with the negative, the pessimistic, and the controversial. They see God as strict, unbending, and rigid. They see him as one who demands holiness or else, and one whom is pleased with harsh obedience. They believe they must be sinlessly perfect in order to go to heaven and as such, they strive against sin and are always ready and eager to rebuke another. This is their picture of God and the more they behold it, faulty as it may be, the more like it they become: mean, critical, and unmerciful.

The same is true outside of Adventism. It has been in the past and will be in the future. All those who have the wrong picture of God will, in his name, and as the believers of old, justify all kinds of sin and atrocities in the name of Jesus. It was his picture of God that led Saul of Tarsus to persecute and murder Christians. It was their picture of God that led the medieval Christians to do likewise. It was a wrong picture of God that justified the Crusades and the Inquisition. It was a wrong picture of God that justified the Protestants as they drowned Anabaptists for no other reason than denying infant baptism. And it will be a wrong picture of God, a faulty God-story, a twisted doctrine, that will justify persecution again in the future.

It is because of this that I must say to the Pope:

Sorry dude, but doctrine matters.

It simply is not possible to love like Jesus if you have a broken doctrine. While there may be exceptions such is not the rule. Generally speaking the masses treat each other in a way that is consistent with their view of who God is and what he is like - a view they derive entirely from their doctrine. I know you never actually spoke of doctrine but you came awfully close. I also know that there are doctrines you yourself would never deny for the sake of unity. I cannot see you denying apostolic succession, Sunday sacredness, or transubstantiation for the sake of unity. Neither can I deny my faith as a Seventh-day Adventist for its sake. The Pentecostals may have accepted your call and many others may follow. But I must lovingly and humbly decline for I can never compromise the truth about who God is for the sake of unity.

Truth matters. Doctrine matters. The God-story matters. Not only must I tell the truth about who God is and what he is like, but doctrine is the brush that paints the picture of God. Use a bad brush, you get a bad picture like the one that says God will torture sinners in Hell throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. Use a good brush and you will get a good picture like the one that says that while God is just and will punish the wicked he will not needlessly torture them for endless ages. Use a bad brush, you get a bad picture like the one that says that salvation comes by way of works. Use a good brush, you get a good picture like the one that says we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Doctrine is also the brush we use to indirectly paint our characters. Use a bad brush you get a bad character. Use a good brush you get a good character; one that strives to love like Jesus no matter the cost.

In conclusion, the popular concept of "let's just love another and forget about doctrine" may sound good on the surface, but the reality is:

It is a self contradicting mindset.

Doctrine and love cannot be polarized for they are intimately related and for that, dear Pope, I cannot and will not compromise.

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Pope Francis' Message to the Pentecostal Conference:

Note: It needs to be made clear that Pope Francis did not call for either compromise nor uniformity and neither did he call for unity in doctrine but for unity in love. Nevertheless, for Catholics and Protestants to move past their divisions, which are rooted in severe doctrinal variances, some level of doctrinal minimization will be necessary. It is this unavoidable consequence that I protest.

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In honor of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I would like to offer the following two eBooks free. They identify Adventism's place in the protest that Luther started and call us toward a deeper commitment to that protest which, in truth is not about us, but about God.

Church is Not for Saints



How can we create a sense of connectedness within a church and between a church and its community?

One of the main stumbling blocks for many believers is that we have come to see ourselves as insiders to a certain club and everyone else as outsiders. While it is true that there are lost and saved, the idea that there are the insiders and outsiders does not follow. The tragedy is that for many being an "insider" leads them to see church as a place that exists solely or primarily for those with the "insider" card. Any talk of making the church relevant for "outsiders" is interpreted as a threat to Biblical faithfulness and orthodoxy.

In this mindset the church is an institution or a club where only a certain class are fully welcome. This picture of church is exclusive. So long as you fit the role perhaps you will be embraced. But if you don't fit the role, then your chances are better off elsewhere. In the best of cases, if you don't fit the role then so long as you make all the necessary changes to fit the role you can be allowed into the club. Unbiblical as this concept may be it is an accurate picture of what church has become for many. Over the centuries Christians have transformed the church into a citadel for saints. As such, we have become defensive about anything that appears to threaten the sanctity of this most sacred of places.

The Bible leaves little room to argue about what the church is. The Greek word church (ecclessia) literally means "community" or "group of people". Not once in the NT do we get the impression that church is meant to be an exclusive club that exists for the benefit of those who fit a certain criteria. Instead, the church is commanded to grow and embrace people of every nation, tribe, tongue, and culture (Matt 28). As such, this community of people exists for more than nurturing itself. It exists to embrace the "other" with intentional passion.

Likewise, not once in the NT do we get the idea that the church is a building. The NT uses repeated metaphors of the church such as "body of Christ", "bride of Christ", "pillar and foundation of truth". Only once is it described as a building and guess what? The stones that make up the building are people not slabs of carbon carbonate and granite (Eph 2:19-20). So this is not a literal building but a metaphorical one. Thus the church is not a place, it is a phenomenon. It is a people. And take a moment to think about that phrase "body of Christ". Why is the church referred to as the body of Christ? Well, what is the body of Christ known for in the Bible? It is known as that which was beaten, bruised, tortured, scourged, crucified, and killed for the salvation of humanity (1Corinthians 11:24). So if the church is the "body of Christ" I wonder, Should we be seeking to simply nurture ourselves? Or should we be seeking to become bruised and wounded for the salvation of our communities?

So if the church is not a fortress for saints or a physical building, then what is it? Clearly it must be a community for people on a journey with God. And note this: When it comes to seeking God we are all outsiders. None of us is on the inside. That's because none of us seek God (Rom 3:11). We are believers only because God has sought us (John 6:44). If there really is an "inside" you are there by virtue of Jesus' perfect life, death, and resurrection - not by virtue of your own character. In other words, I - a pastor - am as much an outsider to the family of heaven as is the militant atheist or the heroin supplier. The only reason why I am on the "inside" is because of the grace of God. But if it were not for that grace, I would be further on the outside than anyone I know.

So back to our initial question: "How can we create a sense of connectedness within a church and between a church and its community?" I would begin by rejecting the notion that there are insiders and outsiders. Sure there are saints and sinners. Found and lost. Redeemed and rebels. But there are no insiders and outsiders in the sense in which we use those terms. In reality, we are all outsiders. And those of us who are saved are saved simply because we responded when God sought us and pulled us out of our mess. However, if it were not for his atoning sacrifice we would have nothing within ourselves which we could offer as a qualification for heaven. It is Jesus-only that qualifies us and in the words of Billy Graham, "Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world."

And this is what the mission of the ecclessia is all about. God calls his family - those of us who have been adopted by his grace - to become his hands and feet toward those whom he is still chasing. To be the community for those whom he is seeking. To be the church for those whom he is pursuing. So if we want to hold on to the "insider/ outsider" concept I would argue that the church exists for the outsider. In other words, the church should not function merely for the nurturing of Christians. Instead, it should seek out every possible means by which it can make the journey of a seeker as simple and encouraging as possible. Surrendering the heart to Jesus is hard enough. We should not make the journey harder by creating a culture that only speaks to mature Christians. Instead, church should be a community that exists to aid in the repentant journey of the sinner rather than over-complicate it by catering only to those with the access card. As Paul so eloquently put it, "[W]e should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God" (Acts 15:19).

Nevertheless, there are still people within this community at different stages in their faith journey. How do we help those who are further along without ignoring those who are just getting started?

First of, I would say that the greatest need of those who are further along is to be actively ministering to those who are lost. If you want to grow as a Christian go reach someone who is not a Christian. Sadly, many of us (myself included) have developed this cognitive approach to Christianity in which spiritual growth is related exclusively to theological knowledge. But such is not the case. You can be a knowledgeable Christian but that doesn't make you a growing Christian - it just makes you a smart one.* So if you are a believer and you want to grow in your faith then make your life's priority about reaching others.

But what about growth in theological knowledge? While my next two paragraphs would require an entire article all on their own, allow me to say it anyways: I grow increasingly skeptical of the idea that theology is meant to be split between newbies and old timers. The only reason why we do this is because us old timers often assume that newbie theology is all about Jesus while oldie theology is all about "other stuff" like prophecy or end time events. Sorry to start on something I wont be finishing here - but I just don't buy it. There is never a time where we ought to graduate from Jesus. Jesus should always be the center of everything we do and say. As such, I'm not convinced that Daniel and Revelation was written exclusively to help Jesus-veterans grow. In fact, God says he predicts the future to prove he is the one true God (Isa 41; 45:21). Sounds like something a newbie needs!

So what am I saying? That the theological bifurcation we often promote (Jesus for the newbies, Prophecy for the oldies) is lame. If Jesus is the center of everything we do then theology reclaims its role as the story of God - a story which puts broken lives together again. And everyone, both newbies and old timers should be constantly basking in the light of that story. Newbies don't need neutered theology and oldies don't need Christ-less discourse. All of us need the whole story as seen in Jesus-only.

So here is my summary. The church is not an institution. It is not a club. It is not a coterie, clique, inner circle, gang, band, clan, league, or alliance. There should be no in-crowd. There must be no access card. The church is not a place. It is not a location. It is not a site, spot, scene, setting, point, area, or region. The church should not be a building. It must not be a thing. Let it be a community for those seeking God. Let it be the body of Christ which was sacrificed on behalf of sinners by sacrificing itself constantly for the salvation of our fellow "outsiders" where we would all rightly be were it not for the cross. In short, let's stop adding our own agendas to what church is. Instead, let us simply allow it to be that which God intended it should be.

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*Thanks to Andy Stanley for this insightful concept in his book Deep & Wide.

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Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com
The Raw Church Movement: Classic VS Trendy

Classic VS Trendy
A recent study by Barna Group collectively asked the question "What is your ideal church?" to a group of millennials. Here are the results:




In the last Raw Church Movement post I shared some thoughts and ideas related to Community VS Privacy. In today's post, I would like to share some thoughts related to Classic VS Trendy. According to the above survey Millennials overwhelmingly prefer classic churches to trendy ones. But what exactly is meant by classic and trendy? Does this mean that Millennials are more into the traditional church than the modern church? Not exactly. All you have to do is look at the final item to see that 60% prefer a modern church to only 40% rooting for the traditional. So once again, what exactly is classic and trendy? And why do Millennials prefer the classic?

While I cannot know for sure how Barna defined those terms I can provide some thoughts from my own culture and experience. If you asked me to choose between a classic Christianity and a trendy one certain concepts would immediately pop into my head.

Classic
Bible-focused, Historical, Profound, Experiential, Time-tested, and Authentic.

Trendy
Fun-focused, Lively, Poppy, Exciting, Cheesy, Phony, Marketed, and Shallow.

Forgive me if my reactions to these two concepts comes across as offensive or insulting of trendy churches. This is certainly not my intention. All I am doing is identifying my own reaction to these two terms. Numerous conversations with millennials, articles, books, and experiences have shown me that I am not alone in these reactions. 

When I think of a trendy church experience I can't help but think of a shallow church experience that leans more toward a cosmetic adaptation of church than an ontological one. I picture myself sitting in a comfy church with a super cool pastor who preaches highly forgettable sermons and smiles all the time. I picture a youth group that has tons of fun, great t-shirts, fantastic slogans, logos, and high quality bands yet lacks in spiritual depth. As a millennial I am not looking for a fun church. I am looking for a church that is willing to get messy with life. A church that is not afraid to explore anxiety, depression and addiction. A church that is authentic and honest about pain and suffering. A church where people don't feel the need to pretend they are OK. A church that encourages activism and justice in the world. A church that gets involved with disenfranchised communities. A church that explores the life of Jesus with astounding depth. A church that goes beyond a "God loves you" talk and steps into a "God loves you" walk. A church that explores the entire God-story of scripture, including its gritty parts. For some reason, none of this pops into mind when I think of a trendy church.

I could be wrong of course. Me and a large percentage of my peers. But most of us feel as though the trendy church is mostly a reaction to the horrors of the traditional church as opposed to a proactive attempt to reach the lost. So if it were me answering the survey I too would have chosen "classic".

However, as mentioned before, this does not automatically mean that the traditional church is the place to be. As bad as a trendy church is in my mind, a traditional church is way worse (more on this in the future). But the concept of a classic church is something I find quite appealing. When I think of a classic church I think more in terms of ontology than I do of cosmetics. And there I see a church that embraces the gospel in all its fullness. It may not be flashy and cool, but it changes lives. It's a church where people find their greatest joy in sharing life together and opening up an ancient book written by God himself. It is a church that is intentional about reaching the lost and helping the suffering. A church that speaks the language of its culture, meets people where they are, and leads them gently toward God's call over their lives. That's exactly what I long for. This is not to say that there is nothing to learn from a trendy church. Nice logos, fun events, and down to earth environments are certainly important. But nothing can or should replace the old rugged cross.
Should Christians Respect "Other" Beliefs?


Should Christians Respect "Other" Beliefs?
Last week I attended a gathering titled "The Dare Effect" with guest speaker Dilly's Brooks. This blog series are my thoughts on some of the conversations we engaged in.

Alterity is defined as "the state of being other or different". At first glance, alterity appears to be just a fact of life that we must all learn to live with. After all, our world is full of diversity. But how do we relate to this concept of "otherness" when it comes to faith and worldview? For example, Jesus declared that a connection to the Father is not possible outside of himself. In truth, Jesus has just declared that there is a gulf that separates man from God and that there is only one bridge which allows man to reconnect with God. Jesus then declares that he alone is that bridge. By default, all other bridges are faulty. In his immediate context these would have been the bridges of Platonism, Aristotelianism, Hellenism, Pharisaism, and contemporary Judaism. Jesus doesn't seem to mind that he is offending his hearers by neutering the perceived effectiveness of their systems of belief. He declares unequivocally: "No one can come to the Father except through me" (John 14:6)


So where does this leave us in the present age? In a world in which many worldviews and religions coexist? How are Jesus-followers to relate to the Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews? How are we to connect with the Marxist, Humanist, Skeptic, and Post-Modern? Do we respect their worldview? Or do we condemn it as just another faulty bridge unable to fully bridge the gap between God and man?

The question is truly not difficult to answer. All one needs to do is observe the many decades in which the church has attempted to force its belief on other cultures to realize that it never has nor will it ever work. If there is a faulty bridge that eclipses all other faulty bridges in its faultiness it is the bridge of coerced religion. If there is one thing guaranteed to not only keep man and God separated but to compound the separation it is this: religious intolerance. If the Jesus story is to penetrate the human heart one thing is clear - it cannot be forced.

However, the opposite is just as true. In our Post-Modern world tolerance has taken on a whole new meaning. What was once seen as a healthy respect for the "otherness" of another has now morphed into a type of indifference which considers the very proclamation of an alter-story the height of arrogance. In order to avoid being seen as Bible bashers many Jesus-followers embrace this hyper-tolerance and in doing so lose their sense of urgency - or even necessity - to share the Bibles redemptive alter-story. We reason that telling the story is too confronting so we stop telling it even though Jesus himself charged us to tell it.

So is there a middle ground? Is it possible to be intentional about the Jesus-story without being intolerant toward the "otherness" of the culture around us? I believe so. Here are some of the ways in which I personally approach this tension:
  1. Don't try and convert people. Just love them. It's God's responsibility to lead the conscience of man, not ours.
  2. Don't make relationships with people because you are looking for a baptism. Connect with them because you really, truly care.
  3. Seek to be with people. 
  4. Seek to understand people rather than argue with them about their beliefs. Ask them to explain their worldview to you and seek to truly enter into their world and see the world through their eyes. In other words, become an other with he who is another.
  5. Find common ground with other worldviews and celebrate those.
  6. Live out the Jesus-story in your personal life and be ready to connect others to him. Don't hide your faith. Instead, live it out in an organic and enriching way.
  7. Plant seeds. Let God water and grow them.
  8. Be prepared to teach the gospel from the Bible and to lead someone into a relationship with Jesus. Although God is the one who waters and grows the seed, he is known to use us as his watering-can.
  9. Seek God constantly for indwelling of his Spirit. Apart from him we can never hope to connect anyone to Jesus.
If we approach the religious tensions of our day this way we will find a good balance between being hyper-tolerant and intolerant. In this way we will fulfill the way of Jesus:
The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, "Follow Me." - Ellen G. White
Do you have any other ideas that can help? Share them below!



Church is Not Just About God


If you go to church or have gone to church you've probably heard this saying before "We don't go to church for other people. We go to church for God." It sounds noble. And if you don't look into it you may end up believing it. But it turns out, it isn't really true. 

The New Testament introduces us to the concept of church. The Greek word it uses is the word ecclessia which literally means "group of people".* So when Jesus says to Peter, "On this rock I will build my church" he is literally saying, "On this rock I will build my group of people". Likewise, when the NT speaks of believers having church it simply means that they were having community. Nowhere in the NT do we get the idea that the church is a building or a location. Not once. Instead, the church is a non-building, non-temple, non-institutional group of people who do life together with God and each other.

With this concept in mind, it's impossible to maintain the old adage that "We go to church for God not people." What we are literally saying is "We go to a group of people for God not for people." I don't know about you, but that sounds really weird.

If the church were a place you go to worship God then yes, it would be exclusively about him and no one else. But the church is not a place! It is a community. It is a group of people. When we go to church we go to connect with God and with this group of people who love him and worship him. Most of the time when people say that church is just about God and no one else, they are trying to convince someone who has been hurt by someone in the church or who is tired of the hypocrisy to come anyways because its just God you are there for. It comes from a good place. But its horribly flawed. People are not supposed to come to church just for God. They are supposed to come for the people as well! The church was made for community. For friendship. For togetherness and withness. It was made for companionship and social support. Its about God and people.

If this is true, then we need to stop excusing our hypocrisy and failures with the "its just about God" cop out. Instead, we should take a good hard look at ourselves and an even longer/ harder look at the cross of Christ. What are the areas in which we are failing to be the kind of community that God has called us to be? And how can we become that ecclessia? 

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* Ecclessia: 1) a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly 1a) an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating 1b) the assembly of the Israelites 1c) any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance, tumultuously 1d) in a Christian sense 1d1) an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting 1d2) a company of Christians, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order's sake 1d3) those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body 1d4) the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth 1d5) the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven Synonym [https://lumina.bible.org]

The Raw Church Movement: Community VS Privacy

Community VS Privacy
About two years ago I had to do a University project for the church I was working at. Part of the project involved interviewing members regarding different topics related to the church, including community. One answer captured the problem so well I will never forget it: "Relationships at this church end when we walk out the front door."

I remember reading that answer and thinking, ouch! But harsh as it sounds, its true. The majority of the churches I have attended fail miserably when it comes to community. It seems as if people are content with a private religion. When they come to church they only come for God - which is not a bad thing, but its also not a good thing. While the worship experience is about God in an ultimate sense, there is no denying the element of community. Pious as the proposition may be, church is not only about God and no one else (if that were the case, just worship at home!). Instead, church is about God and others.

A recent study by Barna Group collectively asked the question "What is your ideal church?" to a group of millennials. Here are the results:


Millenials Share their "Ideal" Church
Image by: Kah-Wai Lin

As you can see, the very first item on the list relates to community. A whopping 78% of those who were surveyed said they preferred a church that has community over a church that is private. But what exactly is community? Why is it missing from our churches? Why do millennials crave it so much? And how can the church move in the direction of community?

Community is a very simple concept that can be defined as "a group of people doing life together". Profound relationships, intimate connections, raw conversations and an authentic experience of "withness" are all elements that make community what it is. Community gives a sense of security and identity. It provides a strong foundation for people to embark on the often scary journey of faith that Jesus calls us to. Community helps us to belong.

Why is this missing from our churches? It's hard to say. I suspect the answer is complex, but the concept of individualism is what I would consider to be the main culprit.[1] Individualism is a predominantly western concept that basically states that the individual is supreme in life. In other words, nothing is more important than me. Anything beyond that is not really my concern. This concept of individualism leads us to invest our lives primarily in the pursuit of self-gain. Relationships are thus sacrificed at the altar of success. While such a worldview is perfectly in line with secular mentality, the oddity is that it has made its way into the church. What do you get when your churches are filled with people who are individualistic? The answer is simple: individuals who prefer a private religious experience to a communal one.

But the culture is beginning to change. Individualism has been exposed as the dry and lonely way of life that it is. As a result, it appears that younger generations are increasingly resistant toward it. Today, more than in recent times, people are craving real relationships. Millennials want to be a part of something, they want to do life with others. Sadly, when they come to church in search of this communal experience what they encounter is the individualistic culture that they are longing to escape. But the problem is worse than this for not only is the church individualistic but it pretends to be communal! People speak to you as if they care - and they do - but not enough to walk through life with you. There is a facade of community present in many churches. It feels like a family when you walk in, so you keep going hoping to eventually become a part of this family. But the longer you attend the clearer it becomes: there is no family. At best its a Sabbath morning club that repeats itself each weekend for a period of 1-4 hours and then its "see you next week". Visitors and members alike exit this place called church where they have just collectively worshiped God only to face six entire days of lonely warfare. They then reconnect the following weekend with shallow conversations that pretend everything is fine. Then they re-exit the church and are immediately confronted with another six days alone. How overwhelmingly tragic.

This is not what millennials want. In fact, I don't think any human being honestly wants this. It's terrible! But for some reason, this is what we have and we can't seem to break free from it. So what can we do to change our culture? How can we create community in our churches? While I don't know all the answers, here are some suggestions:


1. Confess: All change begins with admitting where we are. The first step is to admit that we are individualistic. Any attempt at justifying this must be rejected. We need to own our mistakes - even the unintentional ones.  
2. Repent: The next step is choosing to turn away from where one is currently headed. But we must do more than turn away. What we need is for God to give us the gift of repentance which includes sorrow for sin. We cant change by simply saying "bad idea. Sorry God." What we need is to experience true sorrow for what we have done. We need to hate individualism, not just dislike it. But this can only come from God. 
3. Believe: God alone can change us. We can't change ourselves. Individualism is so ingrained in our psyche we do it without noticing. We need a miracle to change and this God can do for us. Any ideas of self-help or self-improvement must be put away. God doesn't want to improve our churches. He wants to uproot them and plant something new. This cant be accomplished through human effort. It is by faith that we can experience this. 
4. Cooperate: God wants to do amazing things in our churches. Let's move out of the way and let him do his thing. This includes abandoning our comfort zones and being intentional about creating strategies to help foster a community culture. 
5. Repeat: The above process is not something we do once and move on with life. It needs to be constantly repeated even if we feel as though we have "arrived". We will never truly arrive and the battle to become a community focused church is an uphill, counter-cultural, battle. We need to constantly seek God for more grace to accomplish it.
Over the next few months I will be blogging on this, and other issues raised in the survey above. Through it all, I hope to give more practical strategies and methods that can help us turn our churches around. I call this process the Raw Church Movement meaning the pursuit of recapturing a vision of church in its most natural state. I hope the series gives lots to think about and engage in. But never forget, culture takes a long time to change. So don't be discouraged by slow movement.

Jesus to the culture,
Marcos
___________

[1] Individualism: Dominant feature of the Western societies that encourages individual freedom at the cost of traditional family ties and social cohesion, and stresses individual initiative. It relies on the belief that individual freedom forms the basis of entrepreneurial (capitalistic) culture which is the best guarantee of an ever expanding economy. [Source: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/individualism.html#ixzz3dI47YOuV]
The Problem with Reconstructing Christianity (Bricolage? pt 1)

Several years ago I spoke with a friend who had just spent the night partying and clubbing. He was disappointed in himself and felt that his life was heading in the wrong direction. God, he felt, was calling him to himself, but my friend was headed the other way. With a look of remorse on his face, he told me he didn't want to live the party and booze life but the God-honoring one instead. I was stoked about our conversation until the next day when he got on the phone and spoke to one of his friends. For some strange reason the remorseful "I-want-to-follow-God" person was replaced by the "I had a great time at the club last night" person. At first I was blown away by the change in his story until I remembered that my friend was helplessly addicted to being the center of attention. This internal motivation led him to do and say whatever he could in order to get noticed. If telling a Jesus-follower that he was repenting of his sin got him attention, he would do so. But if telling his secular friends that he was enjoying his sin got him attention he would switch his story. In short, he would do anything and say everything just to get noticed. Perhaps, in the words of Chris August, he felt "alone and undiscovered"[1] and was willing to play moral, ethical, and personality bricolage so long as he got the attention he was craving.

Most of us have done the same thing in our lives. At the very least, we know someone who we can easily identify as the proverbial people-pleaser. They are willing to tinker with their personality just to be accepted and liked. People who live this way are often referred to as phony, fake, wanna-be's, spineless, chameleons, untrustworthy and  the list goes on and on. At the end of the day people who catch onto their game lose respect for them. The saddest part is this: Phony people may feel as though they are gaining popularity, but ultimately they damage themselves. Our likes and dislikes, our fashion, our morals, our values, our ideologies and beliefs, our personality and uniqueness all makeup who we are. Seen together all of these tiny elements are like paragraphs and chapters which together make up the story that is you. But when a person tinkers with these elements for the sake of popularity they damage their story, their authenticity, and their identity.

In 1941, a German theologian by the name of Rudolf Bultmann proposed a theory known as demythologization. Although the theory did not originate with Bultmann, this was arguably the first time it was popularized. Bultmann's basic contention was that mankind had become too enlightened to believe the miracles in the Bible and that if Christians were to succeed in spreading their faith they would have to demythologize (erase the myths) from the Bible (ie. Noahs Ark, Miracles of Jesus, etc.) in order to make it more appealing to modern thinkers. 

Weird as that may sound, Bultmann was not the first, and neither would he be the last theologian to propose a redefining or restructuring of Christianity in order to make it more appealing to the culture. In recent years movements such as the Emergent Church[2] have attempted to redefine Christianity in order for the secular world to notice it. Matt Slick expressed the post-modern challenge well when he stated that,
The danger of postmodernism is that it tends to deny the ability to know things for sure. It even undermines the construction of language by stating that words can be interpreted differently, that language is fluid, and that the Bible, written in ancient languages, is open to various interpretations of equal validity."[3] 
In an attempt to reach this rising relativistic generation, many emergents have proposed a redefining of Christianity. For some, it is not enough to simply rethink the way we "do" church. Instead, we must also rethink our beliefs as a whole. One proponent of emergent theology summarized it well when he said,
"We do not think this [Emerging Church Movement] is about changing your worship service. We do not think this is about…how you structure your church staff. This is actually about changing theology. This is about our belief that theology changes. The message of the gospel changes. It’s not just the method that changes."[4]
As a result, many emergents have come to deny core Christian beliefs such as baptism and the sacrificial atonement of Jesus. Brian McLaren, a popular emergent church proponent "went as far to trivialize baptism as being no more than a statement of 'We are clean; they are unclean.'"[5] In his article "A Generous Apostasy", a first hand account at an emergent convention, Aaron Muth said,
After lunch, I spotted McLaren making his way to the table of the young freshman girls... that I had just had lunch with, so I made my way to their table. One of the students sheepishly asked McLaren, 'Do you believe in the blood atonement of Christ.' McLaren confidently and forcefully answered, 'Absolutely not.'[6]
Noble as their intentions may be, Christians who play theological bricolage in order to gain popularity among the secular, post-modern generations damage Christianity. By subverting core biblical truths, they are damaging the story the Bible tells about God. Much like the personality, values and beliefs of a person each biblical doctrine (teaching) is best seen as a paragraph or chapter within a book. Alone it makes little sense, but when united with every other chapter and paragraph, a beautiful, authentic, and genuine story of God emerges. This story is perfect, attractive, powerful, and experientially life-changing. And whenever limited human minds attempt to tinker with doctrine for the sake of popularity they inevitably change the story of God. And unless we are willing to suggest that we can tell a better God-story than the one God has told of himself then any attempt at theological bricolage only serves to make God less attractive, less powerful, and consequently, less experiential and life changing. In the end God becomes a people-pleaser, a chameleon, and a phony capable of altering his story for the sake of approval.

Thankfully, the emergents are wrong. The God-story of scripture does not change. "Jesus the Anointed One is always the same: yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb. 13:8).[7] David the poet said of him, "...You are the same, You will never change..." (Psa. 102:27). The seer Malachi quoted him saying, "I am the Eternal One, I never change" (Mal. 3:6). And James the brother of Jesus said, "Every good gift bestowed, every perfect gift received comes to us from above, courtesy of the Father of lights. He is consistent. He won’t change His mind or play tricks in the shadows." (Ja. 1:17). 

It was because of the truth of this unchanging God - a genuine, authentic, for-real kind of God -that Peter the friend of Jesus could say, "false teachers will rise up in the future among you. They will slip in with their destructive opinions, denying the very Master who bought their freedom and dooming themselves to destruction swiftly, but not before they attract others by their unbridled and immoral behavior. Because of them and their ways, others will criticize and condemn the path of truth..." (1 Pet. 2:1-2). John, the student of love, also said "do not trust every spirit. Instead, examine them carefully to determine if they come from God, because the corrupt world is filled with the voices of many false prophets" (1 Joh. 4:1). And Paul, the converted tyrant warned, "No matter the source of the false gospel, even if it is preached by us or a heavenly messenger, ignore it. May those who add to or subtract from the gospel of Jesus be eternally cursed" (Gal. 1:4)!

This is who God is. Consistent. Steady. Unchanging. Unvarying. Unswerving. Undeviating, Unwavering. Unfluctuating. True to type. God is not phony, fake, a wanna-be, spineless, a chameleon, or untrustworthy. He is who he is. He has revealed himself as he is. And he will always be who he has been. His story never changes. His message to mankind never alters. His word is not up for auction. His truth is not for sale. He will not lie for as Solomon the wise said, "Lying lips disgust the Eternal" (Pro. 12:22). He is transparent, trustworthy, authentic, genuine, and honest. In a word full of scams, charlatans, and liars we need a God who is for-real. And the moment we decide to play theological bricolage we take away the very thing this starving generation needs - someone they can trust.

Not only do we ruin the God-story when we attempt to redefine Christianity, but we also damage the authenticity and identity of Christianity. These elements are ruined because the God-story of Christianity is rooted in the ancient self-revelation of God known as the Bible. Therefore, any attempt to reconstruct the story must deny the reliability of this book. Inherent in this book is also the identity of Christianity. Emergents say that it's OK to question or reinterpret the book because words don't have real meanings but then they go on and publish books on which they teach their views and expect others to place their faith in those words. So words do have meaning so long as the book has been published by an emergent author. But when it comes to scripture - that we can question all we want. The self-refuting and hypocritical nature of this position is evident. Emergent's are not attempting to reinterpret scripture. Instead, they are effectively creating their own religion complete with its own set of sacred writings and practices which are loosely based on Christianity (and other religions) and heavily rooted in post-modern philosophy. This "new" Christianity cannot be demonstrated from the faith-journey of the ancients who experienced God and, inspired by his Spirit, wrote the story for future generations. As a result, to call this "new Christianity" Christianity is disingenuous and perfunctory. The story it tells does not gel with the story the ancient seers and apostles told; thus, it cannot be the same faith or even the same God. Emergent Christianity is an ersatz Christianity - a faith without foundation, roots, and identity.

But true Christianity stands firm. Its story continues to change lives all over the world for it is grounded firmly on the testimony of God-lovers who were moved by God himself to write the Bible we now hold. In the Bible is chronicled the memoirs of a God who loves so relentlessly and recklessly that he was willing to be separated from his son in order that he might reconcile a rebellious race back to himself. God made mankind, but mankind rebelled against him and was consequently lost. But Jesus Christ gave everything he had in order to win us back. Jesus himself tells the story of a merchant who found a precious pearl. When he did, he sold everything he had and purchased the pearl. The pearl was so valuable to him that he was willing to give all in order to have it. The merchant is none other and Jesus himself and the pearl is you. That pearl is me. The broken, destitute, cast aside, broken, rebellious human race. That is the central story of scripture and every doctrine it teaches adds to the beauty of this story. Thus, to change one doctrine is to damage the story. But the story is charming, delightful, graceful and satisfying. It doesn't need to evolve. It doesn't need to be changed. It stands on its own beauty as the most life-altering and propositionally experiential narrative that has ever been told.

While this post is far from complex or exhaustive I would like to suggest that, apart from all of the other more "scholarly" reasons for rejecting the reconstruction of Christianity, the damage such a reconstruction poses to the beautiful God-story of scripture and the authenticity/identity of Christianity is reason enough to avoid the temptation to play bricolage with theology.

_____

[1] Christ August. 7 x 70, Song lyrics.
[2] Note: The Emergent Church movement, as all movements, has its conservatives and liberals, its original proponents and its fanatical/ extremist wings. The ideologies I refute in this article are more often found among those extreme wings of the movement. It is not my intention to paint the entire movement on the ideas of those fanatical proponents. However, because those proponents tend to be the most influential and popular it is their overall concepts that I refute.
[3] Matt Slick. "The Emerging Church and Postmodernism", [web: http://carm.org/emerging-church-postmodernism].
[4] Tony Jones (“A New Theology for a New World.” A workshop for the 2004 Emergent Convention in San Diego) [Web: http://www.alwaysbeready.com/emerging-church?id=142].
[5] Brian McLaren as quoted by Cherie Lynn Milliron. "Student Responds to Third Way Conference," [Web: http://advindicate.com/articles/2013/10/3/student-responds-to-third-way-conference].
[6] Aaron Muth. "A Generous Apostacy," [Web: http://advindicate.com/articles/2013/10/3/a-generous-apostasy].
[7] All texts are quoted from The Voice Bible version
Bricolage? An Introduction


Welcome to Bricolage? In this blog series I am going to be diving deeper into the topic of Christianity and post-modernism. Unlike Enigma (which was more of a type-as-I-think series) Bricolage? is going to approach the conversation from a more systematic and practical angle. Enigma was an introduction, or to put it another way, a brain stimulator on the topic of outreach in post-modern culture. But now I am ready to dive deeper and lay out some useful concepts for post-modern apostles to consider as they seek to reach this seemingly unreachable generation.

Before we begin, allow me to answer a question many are asking: What in the world does bricolage mean? Bricolage is a French word which basically means "tinkering". Google dictionary defines it as: "Something constructed or created from a diverse range of things." And in post-modern terms it is defined as "a processes by which traditional objects or language are given a new, often subversive [disruptive], meaning and context."[1] In laymans terms, the word bricolage represents a complex and often corruptive (mingling things that are not meant to be mingled) type of change. 


Some contemporary thinkers in the Christian faith see the process of bricolage as something that should be brought into Christianity. For them a certain degree of theological tinkering is necessary in order to reach emerging post-modern generations. As such they attempt to subvert Christian beliefs in order to "create" or "construct" that new type of Christianity. Bricolage? will therefore seek to answer the following questions: Does Christianity have to be reconstructed and redefined in order to be relevant to emerging generations? Should it be left as it is? Or should it be deconstructed (as opposed to reconstructed) in order to enable its biblical rediscovery? And lastly, what does it all mean? After these questions are answered the stage will be set for some practical insights.

Before I begin it is also important that I admit my biases. I am a biblical Christian. While I do not consider myself conservative, traditional, dogmatic or fundamentalist I do consider myself a bible based believer and as such I operate from the bias that scripture is the inspired word of God and that in it we discover timeless principles for all of life's challenges. While I do not believe that the Bible answers every question I do believe that it keeps us safely within the perceptive boundaries of God's will.

Finally, it is not my intent to be original or exhaustive. These are blogs not research papers. Don't see this series as an attempt to offer "the answer" to the problem. Instead see it as a continuation of a much needed conversation. While there are a myriad of views and opinions on this issue the views that I will be sharing are views that I believe to be biblically sound, balanced, and sensible. I invite each of you to seriously consider them.

More to come.

_____

[1] http://www.onpostmodernism.com/terms/#Bricolage
Some Thoughts on Emergent Spirituality



Below is an email I wrote in reply to a question concerning contemplative spirituality. Though this is a hot topic in Adventism it is one I have not written much about. While I affirm that truth is not absent in the world views that espouse mystical spirituality, and while I view biblical spirituality as being far more experiential and other-worldy than do many conservatives I do not embrace the emergent spirituality so prevalent in progressive Christianity. In addition, I don't reject emergent eastern spirituality for the same reasons other conservative Christians do. These often argue that the practice is unbiblical, demonic, dangerous, evil, deceptive, and sinful. While I don't necessarily disagree with these points (though I would nuance them differently) I prefer to analyze the issue from the lens of authenticity, identity, and relationship. In this regard I find emergent mysticism to be an inauthentic attempt to experience God, a denial of the human identity in order to experience God, and a rejection of the unique Christian perspective of relationship over religion. In the coming months I will be engaging this topic a little more but for now here is a snap shot of my thoughts on emergent spirituality.


Hello J! 

Marcos here. Thank you so much for your question. It is an excellent one. I have actually been wanting to write an article on the whole issue regarding contemplative spirituality. In the near future a fellow pastor and I will publish a series titled "Bricolage?" in which we will deal with the issues facing the church in the wake of postmodernism and the emergent church movement. This includes the rising popularity of emergent spirituality which includes contemplative prayer etc. 

Before I answer your question though, I need to clarify our terms. The term contemplative prayer has a different meaning depending on who you are asking. The same can be said of silence. If you ask King David what he thought of silence he would [quote] God saying "be still and know that I am God." If you asked Habakkuk he might say "the lord is in his holy temple, let everyone on earth be silent in his presence". If you asked Ellen White what she thought of contemplation she may tell you that we are to "contemplate the life of Christ" each day. However, if you asked an eastern mystic the same questions using the same words you would get a different response. So as I reply to you I am going to use the term "pagan mysticism" and my reply will be based on how I see pagan mysticism as being dangerous to a genuine relationship with God. 

Now, I dont have much time so I am going to go straight for the jugular here as to why I find pagan mysticism (which forms the basis for emergent spirtuality) so unattractive. Pagan mysticism is built upon a world view. All eastern religions share this world view and hence, all of their attempts at connecting with the divine are similar. At the heart of that worldview is a god, or gods, that must be appeased. There is no intimate, romantic, trusting relationship with the divine in the pagan worldview. God is often seen as an energy or a life source and nothing more. In other systems there are a multiplicity of gods whose favor needs to be earned. If God were like this, then there is no way I would dare approach him as a friend in simple, biblical, honest prayer. It would be impossible! So the pagan worldview has developed a way to connect with a divine being that doesnt actually want to be connected with mankind. Trancendental meditation is one example, but all of pagan mysticism boils down to this simple formula. You must transcend yourself in order to connect with the divine. All kinds of exercises are used to accomplish this such as mantras etc. The point is that you have to transcend, or rise above, yourself in order to connect with God. But there is a problem here. When we transcend ourselves what we are essentially doing is hiding [or denying] ourselves [or our humanity] in order to connect with God and this is entirely anti-biblical. Scripture [invites] us to come to God as we are, not to hide, transcend, or deny ourselves. It is through our broken humanity that God initiates an intimate relationship with us and when we deny that humanity we amputate the possibility of having a relationship with God. God wants our brokenness. He wants our filthiness. Ellen White says that Jesus loves to have us come to him with our sin. God takes great pleasure in our honesty, openness, and authenticity because he can then cleanse us and make us new. 

The pagan way of approaching God is simply incompatible with the Biblical way of approaching God. The pagan way has you deny your essential humanity. The biblical way has you embrace it. The pagan way has you hide yourself in order to connect with the divine. The biblical way has you confess yourself in order to connect with God. He then provides the garment of righteousness that allows you to come boldly into his presence. He is a friend. He is easy to reach. He is never far away. In the pagan worldview god is energy not friend. He is difficult to reach. And in order to connect with him you have to engage in complex trance-like exercises. This is simply not compatible with the God who said, "come let us reason together".  

So those are my thoughts in a nutshell. 

Blessings!

photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
The One Project: Danger or Blessing?

The One Project: Danger or Blessing?
By Nathaniel Tan and Marcos Torres

A few weeks ago I (Marcos) had the opportunity to attend a One Project gathering here in Perth, Western Australia along with pastor and friend Nathaniel Tan. We were both excited to be at the One Project for various reasons. 


First, we are passionate about communicating the message of the Adventist movement in relevant and innovative ways. Second, we both have experienced Gods conviction to be apostles to the post-moderns, and part of that work involves new and creative ways of doing ministry. Third, we are both in love with the distinctive Adventist message as seen “in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary.”[i] And fourth, both Nat and I recognize the urgent need for Adventists to proclaim truth. Not Bible facts or "right" answers as we have so often done, but truth – truth as it is in Jesus. 

What We Had Heard About the One Project
But there was another reason why Nat and I were excited to go to the One Project. Over the years we have heard good and bad reports about this gathering. Those who say it is good insist that it is a powerful, Christ-centered experience. 


Those who say it is bad insist that the One Project diminishes the importance of doctrine and,- has an emergent/ ecumenical undercurrent; they criticize the involvement of non-Adventist speakers and the promotion of emergent authors. (A recent gathering in Seattle featured Leonard Sweet, a popular proponent of emergent, New Age, and ecumenical agendas.)

Innovative and non-traditional as Nat and I may be, there are few things as unattractive to us as ecumenism, New Age/mystical spiritualism, and the emergent church. Scripture tells us that we are to "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God's holy people" (Jude 1:3) and this is an admonition that we take very seriously.

What follows is our reaction to the One Project as we experienced it here in Perth and through the book For the One: Voices from the One Project, a compilation of One Project presentations that capture their vision and passion. 


It is our intention to be both objective and balanced, avoiding speculations and accusations that require gathering random facts like puzzle pieces only to place the puzzle pieces together in a biased way. 

Nevertheless, we do not claim to be apologists for this ministry. There are questions only the leaders of the One Project can satisfactorily answer. In addition, we are not here to suggest that the One Project or its leaders are perfect. Our intention is therefore simple: to analyze what we have experienced in the light of the Bible and the writings of Ellen White and to present our thoughts in one voice through this article.

What We Experienced at the One Project
When I (Marcos) first arrived in Western Australia I had no intention of attending the One Project. I couldn’t afford the registration but more importantly, the rumors had gotten to me, and quite frankly I wasn’t willing to go out of my way in order to attend. But as providence would have it, my wife and I were offered tickets our first Sabbath back. 


I gladly accepted the offer though a sense of trepidation remained. Nathaniel expressed the same concerns to me as we dialogued about the One Project and the concerns presented to us. However, being familiar with those who argued that we stick to the "old landmarks”[ii] in 1888, we were not willing to embrace a position that would find us fighting against God.

Reflections and Recalibrate

The weekend came and went and I (Marcos) would have to say that the One Project is one of the best experiences I have ever had as a Seventh-day Adventist. Message after message spoke directly to my heart and challenged me to “place my feet on higher ground.”[iii] I experienced conviction of sin and was challenged to “press on toward the mark that is in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). The Holy Spirit spoke to me in such a way that I honestly felt shell-shocked when I left and was unable to even talk about the event with my wife when I got home until about an hour had passed and the shock had worn off a bit. I was amazed how the speakers were able to include so much depth in their short 15-minute sermons known as “Reflections.” Not one sermon was shallow or, as my conservative buddies like to say, “wishy-washy.” Each sermon challenged, rebuked, exhorted, and best of all, uplifted the crucified and risen Saviour as the only hope for humanity. 

After each presentation a 10-minute time period called “Recalibrate” was given for open discussion (we all sat at round tables) about the sermon. There was so much depth in each presentation that 10 minutes was not enough to chew on what we had heard. The 10 minute sessions over the two days with new people who've just met was hardly the atmosphere where one would feel 'safe' to be transparent. While conversations around the tables might have been both interesting and eye-opening to many, we felt that they could have gone on for a good 20 minutes, depending on the discussions that were happening at the tables. Apart from the shortcomings of the 10 minute Recalibrate sessions, we found the "Reflections" and "Recalibrate" sessions refreshing.

32One
Another aspect of the gathering that we really liked was a series of segments spread throughout the weekend called 32One. The objective of 32One was to have a speaker present one of the 28 fundamental beliefs. The speaker had 3 minutes "2" point to the One – hence, 32One. The Sabbath, Stewardship, and the Sanctuary Message (Investigative Judgment) were brought up in the 32One segments and communicated in relevant, Christ-centered ways along with other fundamental beliefs.

Worship Music

Kicking off each session was a worship band comprised of musicians and singers from across Western Australia. The worship band was absolutely fantastic. The musicians were very skilled and each song was sung beautifully. Having attended churches that lack in contemporary christian music for so long I (Marcos) was refreshed to finally be immersed in the music of my heart. 

Nevertheless, it would be all but impossible to deny that a majority of the attendees did not appear to be connecting. As we looked around we witnessed a hall that was filled with worshipers who were standing up, expressionless, as they stared at what was happening up front. Of course, people worship differently. Not everyone will express their praise by raising their hands and having a huge smile on their face but in our experience as worshipers and worship leaders we are convinced that there is a difference between worshiping quietly and looking uninterested.

We are not entirely certain what can be done to remedy this. Worship is a very complex phenomenon that involves the worship leaders and the worshipers in an intimate connection with God. Thus to suggest that the worship vibe was lacking because of one thing or another would be unfair. In the spirit of practicality we will suggest that while the band at the One Project was wonderful the song selection was composed mainly of contemporary worship songs. This failure to celebrate the worship traditions of the ancients may have been one of the missing keys. Of course, this cannot be said to have been the only reason why some people appeared uninterested. Culture, familiarity, experience, taste, conviction, and a new setting can all contribute. Nevertheless, this is a complex issue that goes beyond the scope of this article.*


Result of the Gathering
So what was the result of the One Project? Although we cannot speak for everyone we can say this: when we left the One Project we were more proud to be Adventists then when we arrived. The entire program was un-apologetically Adventist. One would not confuse the One Project gathering for a Baptist or non-denominational gathering. It was clearly an Adventist gathering – one that did not shy away from Adventist history, Adventist doctrines, or the writings of Ellen White. It was, in our humble opinion, “full-on Adventist.”

Nevertheless, there were certain elements that caused us to wonder and sympathize with the critics. At times the temptation to speculate, read between the lines, and take what we had heard to unfounded conclusions was there. Therefore, after the event we put our minds together and wrestled with some of these concepts. While we cannot say that we have had all of our questions answered the rest of this article represents the conclusions we have come to thus far.

What About the Criticisms?
We will begin by dealing with the criticisms regarding anti-doctrine, ecumenism, and emergent agendas. As we stated before, we are not One Project apologists. Only the One Project can fully answer those difficult questions. However, I (Marcos) will say this: If the One Project has an ecumenical and emergent agenda they are doing a lousy job at promoting it. When I left the One Project I was so thankful for the uniqueness and distinctiveness of Adventism that I now view ecumenism and emergent ideology as less attractive than I already did. In other words, I am less likely to support ecumenism, the dissolution of doctrine, or the emergent movement since having attended the One Project than I was before attending – and that is coming from someone who has never even liked those ideologies. Jesus was lifted up through Adventist doctrine in such a beautiful way that I walked away thinking, this is why Adventism is so beautiful.

The "Ecumenism" Charge
However, Nat and I can certainly sympathize with those who have expressed concerns about the One Project. While Adventists have historically used doctrine to needlessly separate themselves from others and unwittingly divorced it from Jesus, the One Project is placing the emphasis on allowing doctrine to bring us closer to others, to tear down divisions, and to see Jesus as the ultimate foundation and objective of each of those doctrines. This emphasis is so strong at times that it appears to be birthing a reactionary response and it was this emphasis that tempted us, at times, to "read between the lines." 


For example, in his presentation Sam Leonor emphasized how the early Adventists were divided on many doctrinal issues and yet united in their common desire to see Jesus return. They were, as he put it, a “one-doctrine movement.”

In the book, For the One: Voices from the One Project this theme comes up repeatedly as well. For example, on page 12 Tim Gillespie writes, “Is the overflow of your heart Jesus or have you spent the majority of your time talking about church and its ecclesiology?” On page 15 he writes, “rather than spend our time doting the bridegroom (a metaphor to obsessing over Jesus), we are spending our time concerned about the wedding dress (a metaphor to obsessing over doctrine). We are in danger of becoming obsessed with looking at ourselves in the mirror. And when narcissism leads to excluding those we deem unworthy of the grace of God, we are in danger of telling the Bridegroom whom He can and cannot love.” And finally on page 17 he writes, “We will live different lifestyles. We will prioritize different things because we are different people, built differently from the DNA up. But we have this tie that binds and His name is Jesus.” This thought pattern continues throughout the book. 

On page 20 Sam Leonor writes, “He [Jesus] didn’t—and doesn’t—call people to follow a religion, a denomination, a congregation, a preacher, a cause or a movement. He calls them to Himself.” And on page 38 Lisa Clark Diller writes, “We don’t always have to choose between having Jesus and being right. But we should be sure which one is most important to us.”

With this in mind, we can see how those who value Adventist doctrine would be concerned. After all, doesn’t this come awfully close to ecumenism and the relativism inherent in emergent philosophy? To diminish the importance of doctrine by claiming that it’s all about Jesus and not our distinctiveness is a scary thought for many of us. And indeed it should be. Paul warned the Ephesian church stating "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock" (Acts 20:29). These savage wolves have existed in every generation of the church's existence and will continue until the end of time (Matt. 13: 24-30) and as much as I hate to talk about it (I have been burnt out on "alarmism" by my conservative Adventist background) the Bible does say that we cannot afford to be gullible in matters of faith. 

Nevertheless, we must be fair. Preaching unity in the midst of diversity and calling for a more Christ-centered approach to our faith is a far cry from ecumenism and emergent theology. Ellen White in Evangelism states that we should not “build up unnecessary barriers between us and other denominations” (573) in the context of engaging other denominations in love so as to prevent ourselves from creating a “combative spirit” that “closes ears and hearts to the entrance of truth” (574). 


The approach of immersing ourselves in Christ to be able to reach those seeking Christ makes total Biblical sense and is rightly advocated. We are called to uplift Christ, through the lens of the three angels’ messages which forms the doctrine we hold on to, not to uplift doctrine in place or in the hope that Christ is uplifted. In addition, Ellen White advocated that Adventist ministers come near ministers of other denominations. In Testimonies for the Church 6 she writes "Our ministers should seek to come near to the ministers of other denominations. Pray for and with these men, for whom Christ is interceding. A solemn responsibility is theirs. As Christ’s messengers, we should manifest a deep, earnest interest in these shepherds of the flock" (78). In The Review and Herald she counseled, "let the ministers ...call the attention of the people to the truths of God’s Word. There are many of these which are dear to all Christians. Here is common ground, upon which we can meet people of other denominations; and in becoming acquainted with them we should dwell mostly upon topics in which all feel an interest, and which will not lead directly and pointedly to the subjects of disagreement (June 13, 1912). 

Ellen White's thought is directly in line with scripture here. Jesus was clear that "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice..." (John 10:16). And in Johns vision of the fall of Babylon we read the angel say "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues..." (Rev. 18:4). It is interesting to note that, 1) The angel refers to those in Babylon as "my people" before they leave Babylon and, 2) is inclusive (not exclusive) in his appeal to come out of Babylon. The message is therefore clear, as Adventists we are not meant to reject relationships with people of other denominations in the name of doctrinal purity. Nicholas Miller said it best in his article "Adventism and Ecumenism" when he wrote, "...there is a positive ecumenism and a problematic ecumenism. The positive is about practical, on-the-ground, issue-oriented fellowship, support, and caring between Christians. The negative is a more formal, ideological search for doctrinal and institutional unity."[iv] 

The evidence therefore suggests that Ellen White supported the positive ecumenism and rejected the problematic. Japhet De Oliveria summarized it best when he wrote, "We should be ecumenical in community but not in theology."[v] The One Project appears, in our estimation, to follow in that same tradition of promoting the positive ecumenism not the problematic.[vi] 

And while questions remain the consistent message we hear coming from the One Project simply is not compatible with ecumenism (the problematic) or emergent philosophy (which is extremely relativistic). 


For example, on page 23 of For the One: Voices from the One Project Sam Leonor writes “The Desire of Ages book had a pivotal effect on us. For one thing, this line, “For in Christ there is life eternal, unborrowed,” finally settled the Arianist question.” 

This is a very anti-relativistic statement and I don't see how such absolute truth could ever be amalgamated with emergent philosophy, which constantly questions Christology. 

On page 56 Emily Whitney writes, “Because men and women risked such depths, we have the truths we follow today. Because they ventured into the deep of scripture, we have this great belief called ‘present truth,’ meaning we have the expectation that there is always more of Jesus to be revealed and to experience” (see end note: More of Jesus). 

On page 57 Whitney adds, “What if as a church we didn’t have mothers and fathers of the faith who dug deeper into the Word of God? What if we never wrestled with righteousness by faith?”

On page 61 Mark Wittas presents the message of the little horn, pointing out that “[i]t wasn’t long before the church warped and perverted Gods character.” He then proceeded to trace the ways in which the church did this by critiquing the doctrines of eternal hell, confession to a priest, Mary as mediator, and the veneration of dead saints. Wittas also adds that the church apostatized when “[t]hey elevated human teachings and traditions above the will of God as written in the Holy Scriptures.” On page 65 Wittas adds, “The primary purpose of [Adventism] is to tell the world the truth about God—to dispel the false picture of God that the church has saturated the world with for centuries.” And he tops it off on page 67 by writing, “I believe that each doctrine this church holds dear is a wonderful revelation of God’s character.” 

Though there is much more, by now we can easily see the trend in the One Project. It is not, in our humble opinion, diluting doctrine or cunningly bringing in ecumenical or emergent ideologies. To do so would mean that the leaders of the One Project are conniving and unethical, because the message they are proclaiming now is simply not compatible with either of those ideologies. They would literally have to flip the script in order to make their message compatible with these deceptions, and we are not willing to believe that they lack the ethical and moral back bone to knowingly mislead the church in one direction, only to later go in a different pre-planned direction. If this were ever to happen we would say it took place because they lost their way - not because they had planned it all along.

The "Emergent Agenda" Charge
I (Nat) had the privilege, along with the other pastors in the Western Australia Conference, of sitting down with the One Project leaders. The Western Australia Conference had taken the concerns and accusations against the One Project seriously, and its pastoral team met with the One Project's Japhet De Oliveria and Alex Bryan to talk about them.

During the meeting, Alex Bryan was questioned over the video of a sermon he preached that went viral - Bryan had preached the sermon in total darkness. The assertion was that Bryan was teaching that one could find God by isolating oneself from the world - entering darkness. Bryan explained that he darkened the hall during that sermon to emphasize how how the simple act of closing one's eyes (and "entering" darkness) immediately cuts off distractions that we are bombarded with, and for some, helps to better focus attention on God. In short, the darkness was used as an object lesson and the point of the sermon was that we can experience God better without distractions. Bryan denied that the sermon was intended to promote some kind of mystic theology and even went as far as to deny the "contemplative spirituality" charges so often made against him.

The meeting covered other questions, including the association with Leonard Sweet and the One Project. While Leonard Sweet is known for his new age theology, little is known about his retraction of his early writings and beliefs. A quick read of Sweet's statement on his website (title “A Response to the Critics" in which he asserts “for me, New Age rhymes with sewage") would reveal that though many of his earlier books are no longer in print, they are still circulating and come back to haunt him. 

Reading the statement satisfied the team, together with the responses to all other issues brought up in regard to the One Project. As concerned Adventists we need to be willing to look at all the evidence. Are there One Project statements that seem to promote ecumenism and emergent ideologies? Sure. But only when they are read in isolation of the statements that promote the solidity of doctrine and truth. When both statements are considered we find it very difficult to believe that this is their agenda. 

Does this mean that the issue is settled and that there are no questions left to ask? Not at all. But what it does mean is that we have a strong foundation of trust from which to ask those questions instead of a foundation of speculation, accusation, and suspicion.

And what of Leonard Sweet, the emergent, ecumenical, New Age promoter? Interestingly enough Sweet recently published "A Response to the Critics" in which he asserted, "...for me, New Age rhymes with sewage. I have such a low threshold for Gaia worship that in the middle of the movie 'Avatar' I had to take a break, so severe was my attack of Gaiarrhea. In fact, I have challenged 'new age sensibilities' (which now are known as 'integral spirituality' or 'Enlightenment,' not 'New Age') for the way in which they goddify the self and expect others to orbit in a Youniverse that revolves around them as if they were a god. 'The Secret' of the universe is not that you can have life your way. 'The Secret' is that Jesus is The Way (Colossians 3)." Further down in the document he states that "I am under attack for being Emergent or a leader in the 'emerging church' movement when I am known in emerging church circles as one of its severest critics.... In panel discussions I have looked Brian McLaren in the eyes and lamented 'The Unbearable Wrongness of Brian.'"[vii] But, some may ask, what are we to make of Sweet's books such as "Quantum Spirituality"? According to Sweet, he wrote that book specifically for people in the New Age movement. In order to reach them he used a language they would understand. In doing so he employed phrases such as "Christ consciousness" and others. His attempt was to present the gospel to them in terminology they could easily grasp. However, he admits that this was not wise and that if he were to write the same book today he would not use that method. It appears then, that if we are to criticize the One Project for inviting Leonard Sweet to speak at their Seattle gathering we may be walking on shaky ground. (For those who would like to read his entire "Response to the Critics" you can access it in the footnotes below.)

The "Promotion of Emergent Authors" Charge
Another accusation that has been made against the One Project is the use of quotations and statements made by emergent authors. The same accusation has been made against Leonard Sweet, and in his "Response to the Critics" document, he provides an answer that we believe is relevant to the One Project's use of these authors. 
By quoting and referencing people outside the faith, I am doing nothing more than Peter, Paul and Jesus himself did. Paul circumcised Timothy and made a vow in the temple. Some Christians could have easily interpreted these actions as proof that Paul was a legalist. But he was simply being "a Jew to the Jew," speaking their language to get their hearing, yet not compromising the gospel at the same time. Because I quote someone does not mean I agree with everything that person ever wrotePaul quoted pagan philosophers in the Book of Acts.... The key consideration to whether I quoted someone was not "Do I agree with them?" but "Does this quote energize the conversation?" "Guilt by association" is intellectually disreputable and injurious to the whole body of Christ. (emphasis added)
AW Tozer, an American Christian Pastor whose works have been highly influential in the evangelical world, has also been criticized for the same thing. In thebereancall.org, website to The Berean Call (TBC): A Ministry of Biblical Discernment, the question was posed: "You have promoted books by A.W. Tozer, yet Tozer constantly quoted from Catholic mystics, and some have said that he even practiced 'Lectio Divina.' In view of your warnings regarding the Contemplative Movement, how could you offer his books, knowing of his practices?" This is a relevant question for The Berean Call for this ministry takes a very strong stance against the mystical practices that emergents promote. Their response was clear, 
To quote someone does not necessarily include recommending him. Yet, we would take issue with Tozer regarding some of the people he quotes.... the gospel that Tozer preached and wrote about so well couldn't be more contrary to the gospel and dogmas of Catholicism.... TBC does not condone Tozer when he quotes those with whom we have serious theological disagreement (and with whom, we are sure, he would also disagree).(emphasis added)
 TBC then finalizes their response with wise counsel:
The Scriptures warn us to fully discern the truth of a matter. Discernment is more than suspicion. We are cautioned in the scriptures against "evil surmising" (1 Tm 6:4), which today might be called "evil suspicion." To establish Tozer as a "Catholic mystic" cannot be done objectively, without exaggeration, and with only selective use of evidence.[viii] (emphasis added)
In the same vein we propose that to establish the One Project as an emergent movement simply because they quote emergent authors is disingenuous. The most any of us could say is that they, as AW Tozer and Leonard Sweet, are not being wise in choosing to quote from such controversial figures. But to label them as emergent for doing so is without merit.

The "Jesus. All. Diminishes Doctrine" Charge
Interestingly enough, another criticism labeled against the One Project is its Christ-focus, as seen in the slogan "Jesus. All." The criticisms tend to hover around the question "Is 'Jesus. All.' enough?" This question is answered well one the One Project website under the FAQ section (see end note: Is Jesus. All. enough?). In our estimation Jesus. All. is more than enough provided the statement is used in its "fullest sense" and not in a way that subverts the importance of propositional truth under the guise of "Jesus. All." (see end note: Fullest Sense).

We must also remember as Adventists that this anti-Jesus-only thought pattern, this “suspicion” of doctrinal dissolution in the name of “Christ-centeredness,” is exactly what took place during the 1888 crisis. Those who opposed the message that Jones and Waggoner were preaching did so partly because they felt that it was a threat to Adventist identity and to embrace it would result in widespread compromise on the truth that God had given the church. Their arguments were pious. They sounded righteous. They sounded firm and grounded in the truth. And they were wrong. Dead wrong. 

It is from this crisis that the One Project appears to build some of its philosophy. Many of its statements actually reflect the thought pattern of Ellen Whites life-long ministry, especially the ones she made following the 1888 crisis (though certainly not confined to those). For example, with regard to the Christ-centeredness of doctrine (which seems to be the One Project’s only “agenda”) Ellen White wrote,
You will meet with those who will say, “You are too much excited over this matter. You are too much in earnest. You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ, and making so much of that. You should preach the law.” As a people, we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain. We must preach Christ in the law, and there will be sap and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food to the famishing flock of God. We must not trust in our own merits at all, but in the merits of Jesus of Nazareth (1888M 560.5, emphasis added).
The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers (GW, 315—1915, emphasis added).
Encouragement for the One Project
Jesus. All.
The experience that was created for attendees of the One Project was truly second to no other event that our church has had for decades. From the registration, decor, ambiance, worship, messages presented and the overarching theme of "Jesus. All", it was one well-oiled machine that did it's job remarkably well. 


The caveat is "machine". It inevitably is an event, and one of the main dangers of events like these is the inevitable need to up the ante, to make the next event more polished, exciting, and memorable. While there is nothing wrong in the creation and running of a slick event, the One Project needs to be reminded that it is "Jesus. All" not "The One Project. All." We'll never be able to compete with what the world has to offer in terms of entertainment, memorable events, ambiance, decor and such, but we'll always have something that the entertainment world doesn't have to offer: Jesus. All. 

Intergenerational Mentoring
The One Project should also explore the possibilities of encouraging intergenerational discipleship/mentorship that keeps small groups of three or four accountable to God and one another, while creating a 'safe' space for people to talk about Jesus all year round instead of just a yearly program that is not the cheapest to attend. 

The One Project could then perhaps consider using its yearly event as an opportunity to encourage and empower these small groups to encourage each other while being encouraged by presenters who present the Word to them. It doesn't have to be a super polished program, just a super honest one - God wants our hearts, not just a nice program held for Him. We believe that this is a concept that the One Project is well aware of and therefore encourage them to continue on that path.

Paradoxical Balance
Leroy Moore says it best in his book “Adventist Cultures in Conflict” when he speaks of the paradoxical nature of truth. Truth, he argues, is by its very nature a paradox. This means that each truth has two opposing poles that appear to contradict one another but that, in reality, complement one another. A perfect example is law and grace. Law and grace form a paradox. One pole is law and the other pole is grace. At first, they appear to contradict each other but when studied carefully we discover that they actually complement one another. Truth is lost when only one pole is emphasized. For example, those who emphasize only the law are legalists. Those who emphasize only grace are antinomianists. In order for the truth to be seen both poles need to be affirmed. However, it is not enough to simply affirm both poles. Instead, both poles must be affirmed in a right relationship to one another. For example, in conservative Adventism it is common to affirm both grace and law, but law is emphasized so much that it actually subverts grace. Thus, while grace is never denied it is subordinated to law and the end result is legalism. In order for truth to be properly understood it is imperative that we not only believe in both poles, but that they be in a proper relationship to one another. This is how we maintain balance in faith.

But here is the main problem. Many people focus on part truth. And by focusing on part truth they invite other people to focus on part truth. The man who focuses only on law invites another man to focus only on grace. The end result is division of the deepest kind. Both men are fighting for truth and yet neither of them realizes that they are both right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny. Focusing on part truth always invites others to focus on part truth and this always leads to more division.

It is no lie that Adventists have historically misused doctrine. We have used it to divide, to criticize, to isolate, and to puff ourselves up. We have not always seen the truth as it is in Jesus. We have not always realized that Jesus is the point of all doctrine; that it is all about Him. For this reason, I am thankful that the One Project exists. It exists to bring us back to where we are meant to be – in Christ. It exists to remind us that the purpose of doctrine is not elitism (we are better than those people), division (if you disagree with me I hate you), or exclusiveness (stay away from those people) but humility (we are privileged to have unique truth), unity (I still love you even if we disagree), and inclusiveness (why don’t you all come join us?). However, I would like to encourage the One Project to remember the words of Leroy Moore: “When we focus on part truth we invite other people to focus on part truth.” Thus, the end result is more division instead of the unity that the One Project seeks to foster. While we are thankful for the emphasis the One Project is placing on inclusiveness an over-emphasis on this, without a proper emphasis on the validity of doctrine and the danger of false teachings and apostasy, will cause those who value doctrine to begin over-emphasizing what you are failing to emphasize. 

This is bound to happen for as Ellen White herself said, "Not all comprehend things in exactly the same way. Certain Scripture truths appeal much more strongly to the minds of some than others."[ix] A failure to recognize this natural human tendency and to consequently make efforts to avoid exacerbating it by focusing on part truth will result in failure to secure the unity you so clearly want to foster. Do not focus on part truth. Focus on all truth and thus we can avoid the reactionary responses (mentioned earlier) that seem to be currently taking place.

Conclusion
In conclusion, we affirm and support the mission and vision of the One Project and we understand that mission and vision to be incompatible with ecumenism, emergent theology, and mysticism. We see in the One Project an enormous blessing for the Seventh-day Adventist church. We sincerely hope that it continues to grow and lead the church toward a more Christ-centered expression of our faith without the negation of the pillars that make us who we are. We hope that our encouragement toward paradoxical balance in truth is well received and we pray the leaders of this amazing movement will be filled with the Spirit and truth.

________________________________________________________________________




Authors

Originally from New Jersey, Marcos now lives in Australia with his wife and children. His dream is to share the story of Jesus with the post-modern culture that pervades the continent. Marcos’ greatest passion is to help others realize that Christianity is a passionate and committed relationship with God, not a religion. He is also the host of this blog.

Nathaniel Tan, a pastor/singer/songwriter, loves his family, asian food, cycling, the occasional blog post, and currently serves as the associate pastor of Livingston Seventh-day Adventist church in Perth, Western Australia. Listen to his music at www.nat-tan.bandcamp.com



Foot Notes

It has been brought to our attention that this section of the article is unfair in that it seeks to interpret worship intentions though mere outward expression. As a result, Nat and I have thought it necessary to supply this footnote in order to clarify what we meant without taking attention off the main point of this article which has to do with the One Project as a ministry and not the worship experience at Perth, WA. We would first like to begin clarifying that it is not our intention to judge or criticize the sincere worship expression of anyone. Just because someone looks uninterested does not automatically mean they are not worshiping.  Neither do we want to encourage a culture of fake enthusiasm so as to not be viewed as "dead." However, we stand by our thesis that much can be said regarding our lack of enthusiasm at worship settings that is often present in other non-worship settings. As pastors and experienced worship leaders we have the responsibility to encourage introspection and conversation with regard to these topics. We invite the readers to therefore consider our point of view as an addition to the conversation to be explored and not as an absolute judgment or theory.

[i] White, Ellen G. Ev, pg. 190.
[ii] The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials (pp. 187, 323, 403, 518, 841).

[iii] Oatman, Johnson Jr. “Higher Ground” (song lyrics).
[iv] Miller, Nicolas. "Adventism and Ecumenism." [web: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2013/04/adventists-and-ecumenism]
[v] De Oliveira, Japhet. email to author. August 14, 2014.
[vi] For more see: a) Knight, George R. "Another Look at Babylon" [web: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2002/04/another-look-at-babylon.html] 
b) Weber, Martin. "How Adventists Are Blessed by Other Christians" [web: http://sdaforme.com/_blog/SDA_For_Me_Blog/post/How_Adventists_Are_Blessed_By_Other_Christians/] c) Johnson, William G. "Seventh-day Adventists and Other Churches" [web: http://www.adventistreview.org/2013-1517-p16]
[vii] Sweet, Leonard. "A Response to the Critics" [Web: http://www.leonardsweet.com/article_details.php?id=63].
[viii] http://www.thebereancall.org/content/question-you-have-promoted-books-aw-tozer-yet-tozer-constantly-quoted-catholic-mystics
[ix] White, Ellen G. CT, pg. 432


End Notes


More of Jesus.
Some may take issue with the idea that present truth is progressive resulting in "more of Jesus" to be revealed. In some Adventist circles it is orthodox to believe that present truth is fixed and non-progressive. The idea that there is more of Jesus to be revealed is viewed as an invitation to apostasy. However, this point of view is contrary to scripture (Dan. 12:4, John 16:12-13), the history of Christianity, the development of Adventist doctrine, and Ellen Whites own belief.  She wrote, for example:
 
There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation. 
We are living in perilous times, and it does not become us to accept everything claimed to be truth without examining it thoroughly; neither can we afford to reject anything that bears the fruits of the Spirit of God; but we should be teachable, meek and lowly of heart. There are those who oppose everything that is not in accordance with their own ideas, and by so doing they endanger their eternal interest as verily as did the Jewish nation in their rejection of Christ. 
The Lord designs that our opinions shall be put to the test, that we may see the necessity of closely examining the living oracles to see whether or not we are in the faith. Many who claim to believe the truth have settled down at their ease, saying, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing” (CW 35-36, emphasis added).
Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths. This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus it will continue to the end. But as real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth. Men rest satisfied with the light already received from God’s word, and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative, and seek to avoid discussion (CW 38.3, emphasis added).
Is Jesus. All. enough?
This question is posed with sincerity and with an inquisitive spirit. At times it has been posed with anxiety that the Jesus conversation held within the One project is somehow ignoring the two other entities included in the Trinity. Perhaps, it feels that if we focus so laser-like on Jesus that we will ignore so many other aspects of God, the Holy Spirit, and his church.
However, we believe there is biblical precedent to see Jesus as the full revelation of God in the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2, Colossians 1:15-23) And as that full revelation, when we speak of Jesus we are clearly speaking of God the father. Jesus, fully present in creation (John 1:1), and fully present in the plan and execution of our salvation (4 gospels), and fully present at the second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:13ff, Revelation) encompasses all that God is. When we see Jesus, we see the Father (John 14:9). Therefore, in every conversation about Jesus, there is an embedded conversation about God the Father. You cannot speak of one without speaking of the other, as their perichoretic relationship implies. One IN the other. An interweaving of God the father and God the son. (John 14).
In much this same way, the function of the Holy Spirit; sometimes called the “shy” member of the trinity, is to bring people to a greater recognition of Jesus. (John 16:13-14; Acts 4:8-12; 1 Corinthians 12:3). As such, if we are speaking of Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit that has led us to the speaking, to the recognition of Jesus as God, and in the speaking of Jesus we reveal who God is to the world. As Emil Brunner states: "The Spirit filled person, the spirit filled church, is the church; is the person, for whom Jesus is the most central and Present."
Having said all this, it is our contention that when we speak of Jesus it is a trinity-conversation. A Jesus-drenched conversation can be called a Spirit-Drenched conversation, or a God-Drenched conversation. It is a continual process of discovery, regardless of the entry point to whom God is, in all his three revelations (https://the1project.org/about/faq).
Fullest Sense.
We are told that the people of these countries will be pleased with our discourses if we dwell on the love of Jesus. Of this they never tire, but we are in danger of losing our congregations if we dwell on the sterner questions of duty and the law of God. There is a spurious experience prevailing everywhere. Many are continually saying, “All that we have to do is to believe in Christ.” They claim that faith is all we need. In its fullest sense, this is true; but they do not take it in the fullest sense. To believe in Jesus is to take Him as our redeemer and our pattern. If we abide in Him and He abides in us, we are partakers of His divine nature, and are doers of His word. The love of Jesus in the heart will lead to obedience to all His commandments. But the love that goes no farther than the lips is a delusion; it will not save any soul. Many reject the truths of the Bible, while they profess great love for Jesus; but the apostle John declares, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” While Jesus has done all in the way of merit, we ourselves have something to do in the way of complying with the conditions. “If ye love me,” said our Saviour, “keep my commandments”(MTC 182.1, emphasis added).
The Erratic, Unstable, Whimsical, Uneven, Self-Refuting Nature of Relativism


Below is an excerpt from an article written by Dr. Stephen Bauer titled "Identity, Exclusivity, and Inclusivity." In this excerpt Dr. Bauer works with material from Francis Beckwith to demonstrate the fallacy behind religious and moral relativism. The content is so genius that I just had to share it. To read the artile in its entirety click here.

Identity, Exclusivity, and Inclusivity
(an excerpt) by Stephen Bauer, Phd.



Francis Beckwith states: “Many people see moral relativism as necessary for promoting tolerance, non-judgmentalism, and inclusiveness, for they think if one believes one’s moral position is correct and others’ incorrect, one is close-minded and intolerant. I will argue . . . that relativism itself cannot live up to its own reputation, for it is promoted by its proponents as the only correct view on morality. This is why relativists typically do not tolerate nonrelativist views, judge those as mistaken, and maintain that relativism is exclusively right.”12

Further, Beckwith observes that “the principle of tolerance is considered one of the key virtues of relativism.” He then reveals a paradox: “The moral relativist embraces the view that one should not judge other cultures and individuals, for to do so would be intolerant. . . . Ironically, the call to tolerance by relativists presupposes the existence of at least one nonrelative, universal, and objective norm: tolerance.”13

The fact that tolerance functions as an absolute moral value causes the relativist a problem. Thus, in another volume co-authored with Gregory Koukl, Beckwith levels the challenge that “if there are no objective moral rules, . . . there can be no rule that requires tolerance as a moral principle that applies equally to all.”14 Beckwith summarizes his complaints in three points. “First, the relativist says that if you believe in objective moral truth you are wrong. Hence relativism is judgmental. Second, it follows from this that relativism is excluding your beliefs from the realm of legitimate options. Thus relativism is exclusivist. And third, because relativism is exclusivist, all nonrelativists are automatically not members of the ‘correct thinking’ party. So relativism is partisan.”15

Beckwith concludes that the moral relativist is thus confronted with a dilemma: “Judging someone as wrong makes one intolerant, yet one must first think another is wrong in order to be tolerant.”16 Put another way, because relativism has an absolute moral standard—tolerance—while denying there are absolute moral standards and because tolerance acts judgmentally and intolerantly, Beckwith charges that “Ethical relativism is thus repudiated by itself.”17

In Shakespearian imagery, the moral relativist is “hoist[ed] with his own petard,” or, as expressed by Paul, “You who pass judgment on someone else, . . . are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Rom. 2:1). This paradox, however, can work in reverse as well.

Beckwith explores the obverse side of the tolerance paradox by arguing that to be tolerant of others in moral debate, one must first be an absolutist. Arguing from a major dictionary definition of tolerance, Beckwith asserts, “tolerance, then involved permitting or allowing a conduct or point of view you think is wrong while respecting the person in the process. Notice that we cannot tolerate others unless we disagree with them. We don’t tolerate people who share our views. Instead, tolerance is reserved for those we think are wrong.”18

In his other volume, Beckwith refines his point: “Tolerance presupposes a moral judgment of another’s viewpoint. That is to say, I can only be tolerant of those ideas that I think are mistaken. I am not tolerant of that with which I agree; I embrace it. And I am not tolerant of that for which I have no interest (e.g., European professional soccer); I merely have benign neglect for it. (That is, I don’t care one way or another.)”19


The problem, then, is this. To be tolerant, I must first believe something is right or wrong, but to believe something is right or wrong implies some kind of definite standard that reveals the rightness or wrongness of the issue in question. On the basis of Beckwith’s observations, it seems that the moral relativist is, in reality, a closet moral absolutist, making moral judgments of others’ views based on fixed standards of good and evil as defined by moral relativism.

It thus seems impossible to avoid espousing fixed, absolute moral standards in some form or other, and hence the reversal is now complete. In order to be tolerant, one must first have clear, defined standards to know whom to tolerate. Relativism along with its moral norm of tolerance together become entrenched, fixed markers of identity, thus creating boundaries with which to determine who is included in the ranks of the faithful and who is not.

Similarly, when a proposed moral norm like inclusiveness or tolerance becomes the litmus test of identity, such an issue becomes invested, not only with the absolute of a fixed standard, but also with a quasi-political nature that, like medieval church power, seeks to oppress or eliminate dissidence. A crusade mentality is easily inculcated, fostering a fundamental exclusion of contradictory views, relegating them to inferior status. Therefore, for inclusiveness to achieve its stated purpose, there must be some other basis of identity that allows us to recognize who is not part of our “fold” so that we can reach out inclusively. The paradox, then, is that we must have a clear, exclusive identity based in something other than inclusiveness, in order to be inclusive.


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12. Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 3.
13. Ibid., p. 11.
14. Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Planted Firmly in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1998), p. 69.
15. Beckwith, Defending Life, op cit., pp. 13, 14, italics in original.
16. Beckwith, Relativism, op cit., p. 149.
17. Beckwith, Defending Life, op cit., p. 14, italics in original.
18. Beckwith, Relativism, op cit., p. 149.
19. Beckwith, Defending Life, op cit., p. 12.


The Facebook dialogue over this article was pretty interesting. Sadly, it is a bit of a cliff hanger, but still worth sharing!



  • Luke Gonzalez Took a few philosophy classes, and I have to say, this isn't technically true. A Relativist doesn't actually argue that there never can be an absolute truth, but rather, because humans are colored by their surroundings and because we cannot all perceive the same things in the same way (this is actually completely true even for Christians), therefore we cannot arrive at an objective truth because objective truth cannot be obtained through subjective understandings of the world (ie, everything we know as humans since human understanding is entirely subjective). 

    Therefore, there is a maxim within relativism and that's there's no way to obtain absolute truth as we're all subjective beings. Therefore, to a relativist, all truths are true because all truths are only fractions of the truth through subjective lenses. But, the only truth they can claim is entirely false is that a subjective human has obtained objective truth.

    TL;DR: Relativists are more complex than just saying "All truths are equal." They have a mental framework for their beliefs that does have a logical foundation that is based on modern science. As much as I would love to use an argument like this against Relativists, I know it would be lying because I am defining Relativist in the wrong way and then performing a straw man argument and therefore being intellectually unfaithful and, in my opinion, unchristian.
    19 hours ago · Unlike · 2
  • Andrew Ochoa @ Luke, Suggestion: Law of Rational Inference and Law of Non-contradiction.
    19 hours ago · Unlike · 1
  • Candice N Marcos Torres Great point Luke! I would counter this, however, by stating that it all depends on what kind of relativist we are talking about. For the sake of argument I will say there are 2 kinds of relativists (though there are more). The first is the cognitive relativist and the second is the pop-cultural relativist. The cognitive relativist is one who actually ponders the philosohy that drives him along with its implications. For this relativist I would agree that the above argument has its limitations. But by the time post-modern relativism makes its way down from the philosophers to the pop-culture it has been oversimplified in order to become a part of that pop-culture. This has to happen because 1) pop-culture is lazy, 2) pop-culture is fast-food, and 3) pop-culture is and has always been "dumb" (to borrow from William Lane Craig). So for the pop-cultural relativist "all truths are equal" tends to be the mantra and little thought and energy is placed into actually developing and understadning that mantra. So again, for a cognitive relativist this argument does indeed have its limitations (though i do beleive it can be strengthened by redefining relativism in cognitive terms). But for a pop-cultural relativist, yes, this argument works perfectly. And the reality is that the majority of relativists are so due to pop-culture, not philosophical epiphanies that they dedicate time to pondering, hence the argument would be helpful in dialoguing with the vast majority of relativists.
  • Candice N Marcos Torres I would concur, however, that a stronger argument built on the philosophical defenition of relativism (what you presented and what I have termed cognitive) would be an exellent resource to have in dialoguing with those whose embrace of relativism goes beyond pop-culture.
  • Nat Tan I do have a question - if a relativist argues that humans, being subjective beings can never obtain objective truth, wouldn't the common denominator between "cognitive" and "pop" relativists still be the fact that there can be no objective truth because we're all subjective?

    I would rather question the extent to which relativists, cognitive or pop by nature, apply this principle of relativism. Because if we take this principle literally, there would be no absolutes. Period. Take computer programming for example - there can be no subjectivity in the coding. The code is the code. If it's not written as it's supposed to, the program won't work. Mathematics isn't relative as well, unless one could argue that the answer to an equation that is solved is not absolute and that you could prove it.

    It doesn't make much sense that "everything is subjective/relative" because people are all subjective and have differing views. There has to be some dogma/maxim/axiom/absolute truth around.
    18 hours ago · Unlike · 1
  • Candice N Marcos Torres I agree Nat, though Im sure Luke may have more to offer in terms of variables lol. The main point of this article however is not so much absolute truth and relativism as it is the nature of tolerance. By its very nature tolerance demands that you believe you are right and the other person wrong. Thus, whether cognitive or cultural, tolerance presents a contradiction to relativistic philosophy
  • Nat Tan Agree about the article. The question however, was more about Luke's post which got me thinking. Lol
Enigma (part 6): Death to Ism
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
Welcome to Enigma 6, the last post in the Enigma series. In this series I have attempted to engage the mind of Christians with the challenges and opportunities we have in reaching the post-modern community. I have not attempted to be exhaustive or unique in my posts, but simply to share some thoughts and observations that have been percolating in my mind since arriving in Australia and observing secular/ post-modern challenge the church faces here. Today marks the end of Enigma and to top it off I want to highlight in a more detailed way the challenges the church is facing and then look at those challenges in the light of eschatology (last day events). 

Reaching the culture for Christ has always been a challenge. Post-modern or not, the human love for sin and our susceptibility to Satanic delusion has always made us anti-God. As a result mankind has always been difficult to reach. Just read the story of the flood (Gen. 6) which introduces us to Noah who preached (2 Pet. 2:5) for many years with the help of Christ himself (1 Pet. 3:19) and never gained a single convert. The challenges the church is facing today are nowhere near as bad as they were in Noah's day. While post-modernism may be a difficult worldview to counteract Noah had to preach to a world in which "every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time" (Gen. 6:5). After many years of preaching the end result was that not a single person listened to Noah. None of them cared.

And take a look at Jeremiah who was sent by God to prophecy to Israel. Israel had become to enamored with its sin that the people were unwilling to repent. After dedicating his entire life to serving God and trying to reach the people the end result was that "they did not listen or pay attention..." (Jer. 44:5). Jeremiah felt like such a failure that at one point he even quit. Although he eventually recommitted his life to God's cause his mission was, by human standards, a failure. He called a rebellious people to reconnect with God and in the end, none of them cared.

The same can be said of Jesus who was condemned and crucified by the very people he came to save, and the apostles all of which died a martyrs death (besides John) because people didn't want to hear what they were saying. And all throughout history Christians have been persecuted, imprisoned, and killed by those who wanted nothing to do with God. We have always been the minority. Nothing has changed.

After the persecutions subsided the pre-modern church emerged. The pre-modern church also faced incredible challenges such as the dark ages, religious apathy, superstition, legalism, pagan philosophy, and biblical illiteracy. Then came the enlightenment era, the age of skepticism, and the liberalization of Christianity with concepts like the demythologization of scripture. Modernism, atheism, naturalism post-modernism, deconstructionism, and relativism have followed. And all throughout we have been challenged by the propositions of absurdism, nihilism, pantheism, asceticism, deism and countless other "ism's." All of these "ism's" have risen at differing points in history and presented monumental challenges to the mission of the church. 

But in Revelation John says something interesting. He says that "all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him [the beast], whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb" (Rev. 13:8). This beast, according to Revelation, is a religio-political power that will gain the allegiance and support of every human being on earth in the last days. Satan is said to work miracles through false Christs and false prophets (Mat. 24, Rev 13:14) that will gather the human race into a final, unified rebellion against God.

John's vision ultimately represents death to ism. Not every ism of course, and perhaps in some strange philosophical way not even death. But the reality is that as Satan begins his final campaign against God and his people he will have to somehow undermine many of the philosophies he has raised over the centuries to delude humanity. Naturalism and atheism will all but die in the wake of last day events and post-modernism, while it may retain some level of reverence, will nevertheless be abandoned by the vast majority. In order for the culture to embrace a religio-political power that claims allegiance to God while warring against him a certain degree of post-modern rejection will have to take place - especially in the realms of relativism and the rejection of meta-narratives.

So what does this all mean? It means that post-modernism, along with many other "ism's" will meet their demise in the face of the religious and miraculous events that will characterize the last days. When post-moderns begin to experience the reality of the spiritual war presented in scripture they will begin to deny the foundations of their philosophy. Unfortunately, at that time the experience will come not simply from a Cristo-centric worldview aiming at connecting man to God, but also from a rebelio-centric worldview aiming at placing its seal of rebellion upon the hearts of as many human beings as possible. Thus, super natural experience will serve to undermine relativism with the intent to maneuver believers from one illusionary worldview onto another.

The challenge this proposes to the church is, therefore, quite serious. Post-moderns crave experience. As a church we have been slow to provide this experience. We are satisfied with our dogmatic, dry, irrelevant, and robotic liturgies. As a result we are failing to speak the language of a generation that craves experience. And the longer we fail to provide them with a Cristo-centric experience the more Satan prepares to deliver his rebelio-centric counterfeit. We must, therefore (and in the words of Ellen White), "awake to the necessities of the time in which [we] are living" (Ev 70.1). While Bricolage? will dive more deeply into this, I would like to end Enigma with the following note: The church must recapture the experiential element it originally possessed in order to reach a generation that is burnt out on liturgies, programs, and irrelevance (all aspects of modern Christianity alien to the original church). In order to do this the church must do two things. Number one, it must rediscover itself in light of scripture and number two (and most importantly) each member of the church must rediscover his/her individual selves in light of that same word. 

As my father once said, "The main problem of a church is the main problem of the members of that church." If a church is collectively unloving, it is because the majority of the members are individually unloving. If a church is collectively cold, its because its people are individually cold. If a church is collectively irrelevant, it is because its members are individually irrelevant. If a church is collectively unable to give post-moderns the experience they seek, it is because the members are individually lacking in that experience. And if we fail to acquire and share that experience with this generation we will have set them up for the enemies forgery.

More to come,

Farewell Enigma.
Enigma (part 5): Dear Method, Farewell
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
Before I write today's post I want to do a quick recap of what I have shared so far with regard to the challenges and opportunities the church has in light of the post-modern affair. The first thing to note is that in order to reach this generation we cannot continue to do the same things we have done for the last 50 years. To do so would be disastrous and unwise. New methods must be introduced without redefining Christian identity or tampering with the very foundations and pillars that make Christianity what it is. Secondly, along with new and radical methods we must also (and foremost) seek a new and radical connection with God through prayer and the study of his word. Third, we must not allow post-modernism to scare us and neither should we feel helpless in its presence. Post-modern culture contains many redemptive qualities and, as history has proven, they are willing to forsake their philosophy if they discover a truth worth dying for. But how exactly do we help them see that that truth is Jesus?

I know that's what everyone has been dying to read about but I wont be going there just yet. Enigma (the current blog series) is not intended to go into "how to's". This series is merely setting the philosophical foundation for the next blog series I will be co-authoring with friend and "post-modern outreach guy" Nat Tan (sorry Nat, I couldn't think of a better title). That series will be titled Bricolage?[1] and will deal more with the how to's. But for now allow me to propose two more concepts that I find absolutely necessary as we embark on the search for the "how to's." The first deals with what blueprint or method would be most effective in reaching post moderns (today's post) and the next one will deal with the post-modern challenge and eschatology (next post).

So what method is best for reaching post moderns? How do we, as I mentioned in yesterdays post, help them see that Jesus is the absolute truth and scripture the metanarrative that is worth suffering for? Before I answer that question allow me to present the post-modern culture to you once more. In the post-modern culture there can be seen a break down of walls and distinctions that separate and alienate cultures, ethnicities, religions, and worldviews. Due to the influence of relativism post-moderns do not feel threatened by differing points of view. As a result post-moderns are very accepting of a multi-cultural society and are open to all sorts of "new" and "different" expressions of faith, art, culture etc. Thus in his paper, "Street Art as an Expression of Post-Modern Consciousness"[2] Christopher M. Suzuki could write, In this respect it [street art] is truly an expression of post-modern consciousness, drawing from all eras and all worlds without regard to traditional boundaries of discipline or taste." Suzuki then goes on to hit the nail on the head when he says, "Part of what defines Post-Modern thinking and art is the belief that all boundaries are constructions and not absolute realities. In reaction to this truth much of post-modern art is a mismatch of different styles, mediums, and disciplines."

Due to this eclectic worldview it is apparent that post-moderns are extremely diverse, random, and undefinable as a culture. While there are foundational values that all post-moderns share the reality is that there is no structure, style, or absolute framework by which one can define or even comprehend this culture. With this in mind I will now return to the question: "What method is best for reaching post moderns? How do we help them see that Jesus is the absolute truth and scripture the metanarrative that is worth suffering for?" And the answer is straight forward: there is no method. There is no blueprint. To take it further, not only is there no method; there can not even be a method. Pre-moderns were reached by a mass evangelism method that worked wonderfully. Moderns were reached by apologetics and reasonable arguments that helped them see the truth behind the faith of Jesus. But in order to reach a post-modern the church can no longer rely on a "blueprint" or a "method". Instead, we must take the foundational values that post-moderns share (authenticity, community, tolerance etc) and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the best way to reach the particular post-modern community closest to us. However, because no post-modern community is the same that one method cannot be successfully used with post-moderns all over the globe. The only solution then is for Christians to do what they are most afraid to do - leave the comfort of their homes and churches and connect in an intimate way with their community all the while seeking to discover the most Biblical way to reach that particular group. Gone are the days when we could just send out flyers and expect a huge gathering. Gone are the days were we could pay some evangelist to fly out and sit on our pews while he and the elders did all the work. That may have worked in the past but it can no longer work. The only way to reach post-moderns is to become acquainted with the culture in our immediate vicinity and ask God for wisdom on how best to connect with them. No blueprint is coming. No method will arise that will give us worldwide success if it is followed faithfully. Each church needs to discover its own method and its own way of reaching the post-moderns within their reach and this can only be accomplished by leaving our comfort zones and connecting authentically and intimately with this generation.

However, this doesn't mean that there are things that wont work and things that will. There most certainly are principles that we can follow that will work on a global scale, but the point is that there is no one blueprint that will work everywhere. Each city, town, and nation needs to connect with its own culture, speak Christ in their language, and reach them in their own unique way. 

The next post will deal with post-modernism, the book of Revelation and how what it says can influence our outreach and evangelism attempts. This post will bring Enigma to a close. We will then dive into more practical concepts in the series Bricolage?

_____

[1] In Post-modernism: A processes by which traditional objects or language are given a new, often subversive, meaning and context. [http://www.onpostmodernism.com/terms/#Bricolage]
[2] http://www.cejournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/StreetArt.pdf 
Enigma (part 4): Discovering the "Edge"
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
The word enigma means "a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand."[1] This is a perfect description of post-modernism. A friend who is deeply involved in post-modern outreach recently told me that it may take more than 100 years before we can look back and make sense of it all. And this is why post-moderns are taking the church for a spin, no one understands them and if we cant understand them we cant connect with them.

However, the situation is not as bleak as some may paint it to be. Post-modernism, while presenting serious challenges to Christian evangelism, also has elements that make it one of the most attractive cultures to reach. Not only that, but I would like to propose that in many ways post-moderns themselves do not fully embrace their own philosophy and are in fact searching for something better. Allow me to elaborate on these two points.

Older generations always have a way of complaining about how newer generations are so much worse than they were. Just pop in on a conversation about the "kids these days" and you are likely to get inundated with an ocean of superiority complex. Those who take the "older generation" side complain about how kids no longer respect their adults like they used to, work hard for something, or are willing to sacrifice. To them this new generation is spoiled, has a misplaced sense of entitlement, and has no respect for the values and traditions of the elder generation. While this may be true in a general sense what the "older generationsists" fail to capture is that the newer generation, while lacking in some areas (such as the ones mentioned) far exceeds them in others. For example, newer generations are less critical, judgmental, rigid, closed minded, and intolerant than older generations. They are also more open minded and creative. Older generations were more culturally insensitive and prejudiced than the post-modern generation which sees everyone as equal and demands greater respect for different cultures and ethnicities. Post-moderns also crave authenticity and sincerity while the older generation was perfectly content with putting on a mask in order to impress the neighbors. So while post-modernism has negative elements it also contains numerous redemptive qualities that are more compatible with Christianity than the older generation ever had.[2]


So let's stop yapping about how terrible the younger generation is and realize that while they are worse in some areas they are also better in others. And the redemptive elements of post-moderns make them one of the most attractive cultures to reach. Post-moderns have the cultural advantage of being able to create the type of church people have dreamed of for generations. A church that values community above individuality, authenticity above reputation, acceptance above self-preservation, and relevance above dogma.

In reminder of my second point I would also like to propose that post-moderns do not fully embrace their own philosophy and are in fact searching for something better. This was clearly exemplified in the "Occupy Wall Street" (OWS) movement that began in 2011. The two aspects of post-modernism that frustrates Christian outreach attempts the most are 1) relativity: the rejection of absolute truth and, 2) the rejection of the metanarrative. How do you reach someone who denies the idea that there is an absolute truth in the universe? No matter what you say and how logical, rational, and defensible it may be at the end of the day you are dealing with someone who could care less for in their estimation, "what is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me" - even if the propositions grossly contradict one another. And how do you reach someone who denies the existence of "a comprehensive explanation" of history, humanity or the universe (metanarrative) such as the Bible presents?

Before I answer those questions allow me to return to the OWS movement. "The main issues raised by Occupy Wall Street were social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the perceived undue influence of corporations on government—particularly from the financial services sector."[3] The movement swept across America as post-moderns took to the streets and cities with the slogan "[w]e are the 99%" which "refers to income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population."[4] So what does all this mean? First of all, it is a rejection of relativity. In order for the OWS movement to even begin there had to be a rejection of relativity. Truth must be absolute. And what was that truth? It was, in the minds of the protesters, the concept that 99% of the population was being held under the thumb of the wealthy 1%. That is an absolute claim, one that is built on data, evidence, historical research, and rational interpretations of present experience - the very aspects of truth that post-modern relativity attempts to deny. Secondly, it is an embrace of metanarrative. The narrative that inspired OWS was a grand tale of corporate greed, corrupt government, and a sense of destiny and power that led the participants to believe that they could take down the massive corporations and agencies that have led to social and economic inequality within the worlds greatest nation. Protesters endured the rage of elements, the brutality of law enforcement, and the bombardment of media for weeks on end in defense of a movement that was built on both absolute truth and metanarrative. They denied their own philosophy, not because they are unintelligent, but because they found an absolute truth and a metanarrative worth suffering for. Their current worldview and life experience was not satisfying enough to keep them quiet. They wanted something better and they were willing, unwittingly I'm sure, to deny the very foundations of their philosophy in order to secure that something better.

So what exactly am I saying? First of all, post-modern culture has many redemptive qualities that make them an attractive culture to reach. As a church we must focus on those redemptive qualities and make use of them to connect them to Jesus Christ. Secondly, scary as post-modernism may appear the vast majority of its believers would be willing to forsake it in the event that they discover an absolute truth and metanarrative that tugs at the core of their humanity. We must discover how to communicate to them the reality that Jesus is that absolute truth and that the God-story of scripture is that metanarrative. When we do we will have discovered an edge in connecting with this generation (more on this tomorrow). 


__________
[1] Google Dictionary: "enigma"
[2] These observations are based on personal experience.
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_Wall_Street
[4] ibid
Enigma (part 3): The Secret to Reaching Our Culture
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc


Whenever the topic of reaching post-moderns comes up eager theologians and ministers (myself included) jump into the convo-pool with their radical ideas. One suggests that the language we use to communicate theology must be updated, another suggests that church architecture must be reinvented, then small groups, community, and relevance enter the discussion. After a few minutes of chatter the wise ones calmly remind everyone that the message can never be altered, only the method, to which everyone responds heartily. Then the conversation starts over, only now the focus has shifted toward the radical ministry of Jesus and how we as ministers need to emulate it. We need to connect with the addicted, the broken, and the ostracized. We need to have ministries at the clubs, bars, and strips. Then someone jumps in and talks about the church that meets at a club and ministers to prostitutes and how its reaching hundreds of people for Christ. The group is on fire now, everyone is excited and ready to go be unorthodox, revolutionary, and radical. Best of all, they have Jesus as their example. The stage is set. The goals are made. The vision is cast. And nothing happens.

I love the above scenario. I have participated in it many times. But none of this chatter is ever going to get us anywhere unless we discover the secret to making it all happen. Now before I continue allow me to make a disclaimer. I am not an outreach and evangelism guru. I have not had 50 years of post-modern outreach experience on which to base this from. Instead, what I offer today is what God revealed to me one evening as I prayed to him seeking an answer to the problem of reaching a lost and confused generation that does not respond to any traditional methods of evangelism. In that moment of prayer I experienced one of those rare instances when the voice of God is clear, and his message to me was this: "If you want to make a radical difference for me you must first have a radical relationship with me." 

The thought hit me like a ton of bricks, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how profound and true it was. As a pastor I always want to do something radical. I want to, in the words of Ellen White, "study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are... do something out of the common course of things... arrest the attention." I want to plant that amazing church that succeeds in reaching post-moderns. I want to preach those relevant sermons that shock the church and the culture with the glory of Jesus. Its not OK for me to do what the church has been doing for 50 years. I want to spark a revolution for Gods kingdom. I want to be radical. Yet, while its not OK for me to do the same old thing in ministry I am perfectly content with doing the same old thing in my relationship with God. I want to be radical in the church, but not in prayer. I want to shock the world with ministry, but I still read the Bible the same way I have for years. Well, Jesus burst my bubble and now I am here to burst yours. Unless you are willing to be as radical in your prayer life as you want to be in your ministry life forget about ever reaching this generation. Unless you are willing to be wild in your Bible time, then give up all dreams of being a world changer for God. As the phrase goes, "Ain't gona happen."

The secret to reaching this generation continues to be the secret that has ignited men of every generation and culture to impact their world for Christ - an out of the ordinary, unorthodox, wild, radical, and revolutionary relationship with Jesus. I once asked a professor how I as a writer could write profound things instead of shallow ones. Her answer to me was, "if you want to write profound things you must first be a profound person." And I conclude, that if we want to reach this post-modern culture with radical ministry we must first connect with God in a radical way. There is just no way we can do the great things necessary for reaching this culture of skepticism and indifference while continuing to pray and read our Bible the way many of us currently do. It's going to require a new and out of the ordinary connection with God in order for us to be ignited with the wisdom and fire necessary to carry this movement forward.

Perhaps some of you are reading this and thinking, I want to do that but you don't know how. Allow me to provide you then, with a practical resource that will get you going in the right direction. It is a small book called Secret Power by D.L. Moody, one of histories greatest evangelists. I have been reading this book this past week and so far it has revolutionized my view of outreach and evangelism.

Enigma (part 2): How To NOT Reach Post-Moderns
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
Post-modernism is old. Surprising as it may sound, its true. While I am not a post-modern historian I am aware that this worldview has existed and grown since around the period following World War II. That's over 60 years ago and yet the church is still trying to figure out how to reach them. Ask anyone involved in post-modern ministry and they will most likely tell you that no one knows how to reach them. They don't respond to logic, rational arguments, or dogmatic preaching. They could care less about your proof texts, apologetic's, or evidences. Truth is not absolute for them, hence if Adventism is true for you then that's fine, but if Islam is true for someone else then it is equally true. Any disagreement is seen as intolerance and any claim to have absolute truth is seen as narcissism. In a future post I am going to present some challenges to post-modernism's worldview that I believe can give us an edge when it comes to reaching them for Christ, but for the time being I would like to share what will single handedly keep us from ever connecting with them.

While not specifically dealing with post-modernism, Ellen White nevertheless captured the importance and need for new ways to reach emerging generations. In Gospel Workers page 468 she said, "The methods and means by which we reach certain ends are not always the same. The missionary must use reason and judgment. Changes for the better must be made..." (GW 468.3). Again, in her book Evangelism Ellen White noted that "New methods must be introduced. God’s people must awake to the necessities of the time in which they are living. God has men whom He will call into His service,—men who will not carry forward the work in the lifeless way in which it has been carried forward in the past.... (Ev 70.1). Whatever may have been your former practice, it is not necessary to repeat it again and again in the same way. God would have new and untried methods followed. Break in upon the people—surprise them (Ev 125.4). Let every worker in the Master’s vineyard, study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things. We must arrest the attention" (Ev 122.4).

The message is clear, we cannot expect to reach this generation with the same methods we used to connect with the previous generation. New methods (not schemes or gimmicks) need to be devised. The way we do church and evangelism needs to be redefined in a way that connects with this generation while simultaneously holding on to the biblical beliefs that make us who we are. In a recent Facebook post I commented that "I always hear Christians whining about how we are not reaching the culture but when I look around I see us doing the same thing we've been doing for 50 years. So is the culture really that hard to reach? Or are we just slacking?" 

So there it is. How to NOT reach post-moderns: Keep doing the same thing we've been doing for the last 50 years and we are guaranteed to succeed (in other words: fail).
Enigma (part 1): A Heart that Burns for the Post-Moderns
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc


Since coming to Australia I have become more aware of the challenges the church is facing in reaching the secular post-modern culture. For those who don't know, the challenges in reaching post-moderns with Christianity are numerous, but perhaps the main challenge is the rejection of absolute truth. How do you communicate Jesus-truth to a culture that rejects the existence of truth?  The questions are many, and the answers are few. 

But we continue to reach for an answer. We reach for an answer because we believe that Christianity is more than an intriguing cultural icon. We seek for an answer because we believe that Christianity is more than a fascinating story, more than a worldview, and more than another religious system among the myriads. Christianity is truth, and although the culture mocks the declaration, those who know it cannot help but predicate it. Jesus is real. He can be experienced and he can be known. But telling the world about Jesus is not simply about inviting them into a marvelous relationship with God - its about leading them to the only source of satisfaction, peace, and eternal life. The human soul cannot straddle the fulcrum of Christ. We must all answer the question of his indirect executioner, the infamous Pontius Pilate, when he asked "What will I do with Jesus?" Try as we may, life does not permit us to avoid that question, and the answer to that question is the only answer that has eternal implications. So it matters to me. It matter to us. Telling others about Jesus goes far beyond any religio-ambitious goals for this temporary world. Telling others about Jesus is about introducing them to a personal constant whose friendship will literally alter the course of their mortality. 

Oh, if only the skeptics could see it! If only the disillusioned and doubting could catch a glimpse of this fire! It consumes to the inward and burns deeper than bone. It takes over every impulse and thought and emotion. That one more may know Jesus, that is the all of life, for his love flows through me and it does not relent.