empowered by the spirit for mission

Planting New Life in Detroit’s Vacated Landscape

DetroitI’ve just found this article in Christianity Today about how Christians are on the forefront of a new urban food growing movement spearheaded in Detroit in the States.

Community involvement and particularly food growing is something my wife and I are into. I’ve just posted on my personal blog about our local urban food growers meeting.

Just a few weeks ago I posted about how Jonny Baker said that some small missional communities where meeting among other places on allotments and seeking to transform their communities.

Here are some quotes from the Christianity Today article:

So what is happening in Detroit?

Detroit isn’t exactly an agricultural paradise. Drive across the city, built for 2 million residents, and signs of decline are everywhere. But all the empty and unused land makes Detroit an urban gardener’s heaven. But community development is hard when 70 percent of the houses are empty.

How do they do they make community gardening work?

They sell their produce at local farmers’ markets

Is it just small scale community gardens?

Gardening is good, but it’s not enough to fill the gap in this city. We need some large-scale farms in the city that would make better use of the natural resources.

So what is their mission strategy?

‘A single patch of land allows Christians to minister in a nonthreatening way’, Hebron says. Her church recently baptized neighbors who became involved in the Oakland Avenue garden. The church and this initiative are impacting people’s lives in a way that is saying we accept them and love them and they make a difference to us.

Please follow the link and have a look.

January 30, 2013 at 2:16 pm Comments (0)

Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? – A review

In Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? Brian McLaren argues for Christians to get along with people of other faiths as he is sure that the leaders of these faiths would have been hospitable and respectful to each other.

His main point is that being strong in our faith should result in such a loving attitude and not one that stands violently opposed to those who disagree with us. I would agree with this important message but some of his ideas do need some careful thought and unpacking.

What does McLaren mean by not being hostile?

McLaren challenges the way that many Christians have engaged with other faiths. Rather then excluding people of other religions from our lives if we are to be faithful followers of Christ we should be going out of our way to be friendly and hospitable towards them.

However in seeking to be non-hostile I feel McLaren goes too far by seeing other faiths as somehow compatible with Christianity and underplaying the need for conversion. I wonder if this comes from an over-reaction to the intolerance shown particularly of Muslims by Evangelicals in the States.

Where does McLaren stand doctrinally?

In getting to his conclusions there are some detailed doctrinal arguments to sift through. Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? surprisingly tackles the Christians doctrines of the atonement, original sin and hell in ways you might not have expected.

McLaren certainly believes that Jesus died for our sins but he rejects the penal substitute explanation of atonement. He also rethinks the doctrine of origin sin and rejects the notion that any people end up in hell. Personally I wouldn’t agree with these ideas and I fear they may be too much for many evangelicals to stomach.

Does McLaren say that all roads lead to God?

No. McLaren talks about the uniqueness of Christ and our message and the importance of sharing that. He does not hold to a pluralism that says all faiths are just different paths to God. However I feel that he needs to take care not to lose the distinctiveness of the gospel and the distinction between those who are and those who are not Christ’s disciples.

In one of his stories there is a good description of the work of the Holy Spirit at an inter-faith meeting that many evangelicals and charismatics can say ‘Amen’ to. But there is also some speculation about the ways that the Holy Spirit might be at work in other religions that I felt needed more justification.

How should we apply McLaren’s teachings?

McLaren suggests a place for people coming to faith in Christ yet staying within their own religion. It would be interesting to see how this might work in practice. I must confess to reservations with this but suspect that he is talking more about a cultural definition of religion than a spiritual one.

I think there are some clearer and more helpful applications of this book:

  • He encourages Christian organisations to work together with other faiths in charitable work. Those who see mission as mainly evangelistic may fear this compromises their message. If so, it is obviously not for them. Yet if your aim is primarily to bless and serve people then this could be a very positive move enabling you to rub shoulders and have spiritual conversations with both those you are serving and those who are helping.
  • Something that we can all definitely do as a result of reading this book is to get to know people of other faiths. Invite them to a meal and as well as sharing our stories of Jesus, listen carefully to their stories and begin to see how they see the world.

In conclusion I would see much to engage with in this book. Even though I would not agree with all of McLaren’s conclusions I found plenty of food for thought.


Further Reading

A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin

Tony Jones one of McLaren’s fellow Emergent Church leaders gives more a detailed discussion on what it might mean to rethink the doctrine of original sin.

Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement

An outline of models of the atonement that is both scholarly and readable showing that penal substitution is only one approach to the doctrine of the atonement.

The Evangelical Universalist: The Biblical Hope That God’s Love Will Save Us All

Gregory MacDonald (a pseudonym for Robin Parry) gives a very good Biblical argument for Universalism – that all are saved in the end. Although personally I can’t quite agree with his conclusions I feel that this book clearly shows that this can be a Christian position and should not be rejected lightly.

No Other Name: Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized

This book criticises both the Universalist position and the position that only those who have explicitly made a decision for Christ will be saved – and comes down on a position in between that acknowledges the fact that God is not just revealed through Christianity.

The Cross and the Crescent: Responding to the Challenges of Islam

Colin Chapman discusses how Christians should understand Islam and points out the need for Christians to interact hospitably with their Muslim friends.

Related Posts

Brian McLaren’s Love, Peace and Misunderstanding Tour
Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road: Quotes
Understanding Atonement
What is the Gospel?
The Awareness Course

January 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm Comments (2)

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? – Quotes

jesus cross the roadHere are some quotes from Brian McLaren’s book that I promised last week. The book goes into more detail and covers more controversial ideas than his talk did. I’ll give you my thoughts about them next week as I review the book.

I have sought to faithfully represent McLaren’s meanings as clearly as possible. I have included the chapter numbers for references.

How do we, as Christians, faithfully affirm the uniqueness and universality of Christ without turning that belief into an insult or a weapon? (2)

One: The Crisis of Christian Identity

Shouldn’t it be possible to have a strong Christian identity that is strongly benevolent towards people of other faiths, accepting them not in spite of the religion that they love, but with the religion they love? (3)

A new kind of Christian identity… [is] characterised by strong benevolence, generosity and hospitality towards others, not hostility on one hand and not mere ‘niceness’ or ‘tolerance’ on the other. (5)

The tensions between our conflicted religions arise not from our differences, but from one thing we all hold in common: an oppositional religious identity that derives strength from hostility. (7)

Hostility: I see other faiths as wrong, false or evil, and I maintain a posture of opposition to all faiths but the Christian faith….

Solidarity: My understanding of Jesus and his message leads me to see each faith, including my own, as having its own history, value, strengths and weaknesses. I seek to affirm and celebrate all that is good in each faith, and I build intentional relationships of mutual sharing and respectful collaboration with people of all faiths, so all faiths can keep growing and contributing to God’s will being done on earth as in heaven. (8)

A forty year old Arabian nearly three centuries after Constantine had a series of visions that convinced him that there are not many gods, as his countrymen believed, but only one. God was calling him to bring this revelation to all his fellow Arabs and to the whole world. What was he to do? …When we situate Mohammed in this way, just outside the borders of a powerful so-called Christian empire that claimed divine authority to conquer under the sign of the cross, I trust we can interpret Mohammed’s choices and convictions in a more sympathetic light. (11)

Two: The Doctrinal Challenge

So what is a proper understanding of original sin? It is the crisis of identity that emerges as we reject our original God given name… our original identity as soil creatively organised into ‘the image of God’ within the original harmony and hospitality of creation…. The popular understanding of original sin promotes a dualistic, judgemental, accusatory mindset that breeds hostility and rivalry…. A better understanding exposes hostility and rivalry and so prepares the way for us to rediscover a strong benevolent Christian identity. (13)

The holy fire of God can only consume evil things. And since human beings bare the image of God, their humanity can never be considered an evil thing… (28)

If indeed the Holy Spirit is… active in all creation, not just the church… then we would expect the Holy Spirit to be moving people in each religion to offer their good gifts to others, and to receive the good gifts offered by others. (17)

Three: The Liturgical Challenge

[Derek Flood observes] Paul edits quotations of Psalm 18:41-49 and Deuteronomy 32:43 in Romans 15:8-10. The language of divine mercy and promise is retained. The language of violence and vengeance is gone…. [And in] Romans 3:10-18 Paul is making a very different point from the original intent of these Psalms. In fact, he is making the opposite point – we should not cry out for God’s wrath and judgement because we are all sinners in need of mercy. ‘It is an artful and deliberate reshaping of these verses… from their original cry for divine violence into a confession of universal culpability that highlights our need for mercy.’ (22)

The problematic dimensions of the doctrine [of penal substitution] nudged me to be more at home with Celtic, Franciscan, Anabaptist, Quaker, Eastern Orthodox, Liberationist and other perspectives that proclaim the gospel (and celebrate the Eucharist) with little or no reference to this atonement theory. (23)

Four: The Missional Challenge

So do you have a Sikh neighbour, a Hindu co-worker, a Muslim business associate, a Buddhist member of your PTA, a New Age second cousin? Invite them into companionship over a cup of tea or coffee. Ask them questions. Display unexpected interest in them, their traditions, their beliefs, their stories…. Enter their world, and welcome them into your world, without judgement. (24)

Mission work like this will always involve charity… Community organisers working for the common good must often stand in solidarity with people of other faiths. So we who follow Jesus will discover our true identity… by going out of our way to serve Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews or atheists… also by serving alongside them. (25)

Christian identity involves both witness – graciously and confidently sharing our unique, Christ centred message, and with-ness – experiencing solidarity with people of other faiths worshiping in one another’s presence and working together for the common good. (26)

What did Jesus mean by the term the Kingdom of God? Surely he meant something far bigger than any religion should or could contain. The commonwealth of God… contains all of humanity with all our languages, and cultures – and religions. We anticipate… a ‘marvellous convergence’, and our anticipation inspires participation. (27)

Old evangelism- evangelism as we knew it – was… an unwitting accomplice in the story of European colonialism and empire… In generosity we freely share our treasures with people of other faiths, without requiring them to convert… We invite people to… discover a God… who seeks to bring all things into joyous reconciliation… leading to a conversion so deep it fills with new meaning old, spent, clichéd terms like born again, saved, converted, confirmed, baptised or catechised. (28)

January 15, 2013 at 6:00 pm Comment (1)

Brian McLaren’s Love Peace and Misunderstanding Tour

I recently went to a talk by Brian McLaren launching his book Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?

This was part of the Love Peace and Misunderstanding Tour that he was doing organised by Greenbelt. As well as Brian McLaren speaking it also included a short talk by Malia Bouattia a Muslim post grad from Birmingham University followed by a conversation between the two. There was also some singing by Jasmin Kennedy. The evening concluded with some questions and answers from the audience.

Brian’s McLaren’s talk

Brian McLaren began by explaining that the founders of the major faiths of the world were much more hospitable to those of other faiths than their followers have been:

  • Jesus was known for making respectful contact with those his peers wouldn’t go near. For example he listened to and acknowledged the real faith of the Syrophoenician woman.
  • Mohammed grew up in a multi-faith environment and had relationships with people of other faith. At one point he allowed Christians to pray in his mosque even though some of his followers objected.
  • Moses was a Hebrew brought up in Pharaoh’s household and gained counsel from his father-in-law the high priest of Midian.
  • Buddha was more concerned in finding enlightenment than in taking part in religious conflicts.

Coming from a fundamentalist background, Brian McLaren went on to say, he had been taught hostility towards other faiths that says if you can’t convert someone keep them at arms length. The alternative to this that most people have is a weak identity that implies that our beliefs aren’t important to us. But what he proposes was a strong identity that makes you a good neighbour to those who disagree with you.

It is a popular misconception that our religious differences keep us apart. But actually, McLaren argued, it is building our identity through hostility to others. What the world needs now is solidarity. Our real enemy is the hostility between the groups not the other group per se.

Malia Boulettia

Malia described her feelings of what it was like for a Muslim when someone wants to convert them. She explained how as an Algerian she saw Christianity as part of Imperialism because of colonialism. She said when she went to evangelistic meeting and it felt like the Christians were vultures swooping down on her!

The Q&A

In the question time I asked Brian McLaren about his approach to evangelism. If what we mean by this is sharing the unique gifts of Jesus with people so that they too may experience them he was all for it. His approach to evangelism was telling both our own stories of our walk with Jesus and the stories of Jesus from the Bible. People are interested in stories.

Malia Bouattia commented that one thing that she liked about this book was Brian McLaren’s reservations about the state of affairs in the Church. Brian agreed that an honest open approach to evangelism was the best – sharing your own failings and those of the Church. Though some might not feel comfortable with such an approach I did get his point that it is foolish to cover up the cracks that people are aware of anyway.

What did I think of the evening?

Overall, I liked what Brian McLaren was saying here and I think that a hospitable approach to evangelism with other faiths is a good one. It is much better than one that comes over as hostile or keeps people at arms length unless they convert.

But I would need to read the book to get the full picture of Brian McLaren position. Next week I plan to blog some quotes from the book and follow that up with a review of the book.

In the meantime I recommend reading David Matthew’s review of the book here. He has some interesting reservations that I plan to discuss soon.

January 5, 2013 at 8:22 pm Comments (0)