Thursday, March 11, 2010

Preaching: A Sacred Task?


I recently read the article “Theology After Google” by Phillip Clayton. In many aspects I completely agree with his assessment of the need for the church to make major changes in light of the current cultural shifts in communication such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter and the like. Reading the article reminded me of a paper I previously wrote. Two years ago I was invited to write and submit an academic paper for “The Christian Scholars Conference”. I was invited to write in the Homiletics section, with the prompt: “Does Preaching Matter?”. While the topic was about preaching specifically, my paper addressed many broader themes affecting the church today and the reason for the decline in the effectiveness of the typical western, Protestant church to younger generations. The following is a shorter, article version of that academic paper. (If you want to read the full text of the paper then see my "pages" on the sidebar to the right)


For many, the statistics reported in Gabe Lyon and David Kinnaman’s book, UnChristian, were not surprising. They simply supported what many had already felt as they were discouraged and disillusioned by the common “churchianity” experienced on Sunday mornings at local churches. For many, including me, the typical church has become somewhat unauthentic, spurious, and more like a “Christian club” rather than a meaningful gathering of believers. I resonate a lot with recent articles like “Theology After Google” which call for a new way of doing church for a new generation in a new era of communication.


One of the key things that I believe needs to change in our current churches is the emphasis on preaching. Currently a typical church revolves mostly around the preacher and the Sunday morning sermon. The whole gathering of believers is centered on a preached sermon. Typically, even small groups are based around the content of the Sunday morning sermon. However, the very idea of one person controlling the topic of conversation and limiting the conversation to a one way dialogue is completely contrary to our current communication era. We are in the midst of the information age; the era of Facebook, Twitter and blogging. The younger Mosaic and Buster generations value interaction, discussion and dialogue, not necessarily a “talking head”.


One reason that preaching is such a foundational element in our churches is because it continues to be assumed that preaching is a Biblical mandate. However, I contend that proclamation of the gospel is a Biblical mandate, not necessarily preaching. Historically preaching was necessary, beginning in Jesus time and before, because of the oral tradition. Literacy rates were very low and manuscripts were very hard to come by – usually only obtained by the very wealthy or priests and rabbis. The oral tradition was a key component of society and often how history continued to be passed down. For this reason, when we read about preaching in scripture we should see this as necessary and pragmatic at that time because it was the key mode of communication. Consequently, I do not believe that it is preaching that is sacred and biblically mandated – but proclamation. Preaching was simply the most common and pragmatic mode of communication at the time Jesus lived and our scriptures were recorded.

Literacy rates did not rise significantly until the introduction of the print era with Guttenberg’s printing press starting in 1450. This changed the face of communication significantly. The invention of the printing press began to eliminate the necessity of oral transmission and took biblical and religious knowledge out of the hands of just the clergy and into the hands of the common man. Our current western society has now entered into yet another huge cultural shift in communication. Over the centuries our culture has moved from an oral tradition, to a print tradition and now to a technological tradition or information age. The influences of just the print tradition were overwhelming. Today in America there are bookstores and libraries full of books, academic journals and magazines in every town and city. Magazines and news papers can be delivered to your doorstep. Available translations of the Bible are countless along with biblical commentaries, church history texts, spiritual self help books, translations of the philosophies and theologies of our church fathers, and very academic and scholarly religious surveys. Religious and biblical resources in whatever depth or opinion a person may desire are readily available and used by the masses. In addition to this, the rise of the information age has exponentially increased the availability of these resources and knowledge of any sort for that matter.

Today an estimated 75% of all adult Americans and 92% of all 18 – 29 year olds have regular access to the internet.[1] The internet can now provide instant access to just about whatever information a person may desire, religious or non-religious. The Bible can be read online as well as devotionals, commentaries and scholarly biblical articles. Encyclopedias can be accessed online along with books and newspapers. In addition to that, through blogs, Face Book, Twitter and online chat rooms, people can communicate and discourse with people from all over the world, gaining differing opinions and insights. The information that was once only available to the wealthy or religious elite, and then made more readily available in print, is now available to any person with internet accessibility. The question that remains for the church is will it be passed up by this major cultural communication shift or will it change the emphasis of the preacher accordingly? In an era of unlimited access to information and education, and in a society that has had exposure (or at least the readily availability of exposure) to the basic ideas and traditions of Christianity, I must question the significance of the role of preaching as the main mode of proclamation, and function of the church, that was initially introduced to an oral culture out of necessity and pragmatism. It is time to evaluate the effectiveness of this mode of proclamation in a culture that has gone through two major shifts in modes of communication. It is time to de-sanctify the role of preaching and see it for what it is: a mode of proclamation that has been institutionalized through centuries of tradition and has become increasingly outdated in the current technological, information age.

“dOing CHuRCH”

Preaching is particularly unappealing to the postmodern and emerging generations for a number of reasons. Preaching prohibits individuals’ involvement in the conversation and dialogue, thus rendering my experience and my knowledge useless, or at the least unimportant. It is a passive, not active experience and promotes a “club” mentality, focused on club members, rather than the real world, and issues of the real world such as poverty and social justice. A book by Doug Pagitt, Preaching Re-Imagined, emphasizes a lot of these issues. To paraphrase some of Pagitt’s main points: the Sunday morning service not only inhibits community, the exercising of the spiritual gifts of the body, eliminates personal involvement in scripture and the “story of God”, but it also insults the intelligence of individuals who may have much knowledge and insights, as well as questions and disputes with the information being presented. I would highly recommend this particular book by Doug Pagitt as it offers what I believe to be, a very relevant alternative to doing church, which he calls, “progressional dialogue”. While I believe this to be a great alternative for those looking to continue “doing church” in a more relevant way, I would still like to suggest a more radical alternative; a way of doing church that does not look like “church” in a conventional sense at all.


I believe that proclamation of the gospel to a postmodern generation cannot stop with a verbal proclamation. It is my contention that preaching is simply one mode of proclamation and it is not preaching that is sacred and mandated, but proclamation. There are some more relevant alternatives to preaching within the church, but proclamation should not stop here. Proclamation is the expression of the good news of the gospel which should be evident not only in our words and discussions, but in our actions and lives. In a time of ever increasing doubt and uncertainty, the postmodern culture needs more than anything to see the reality of Christ in the lives of Christians. The majority of young Americans today have heard the generic message of the Church, what they need is to see this message lived out in the dynamic and transformed lives of Christ followers. This may be the single greatest mode of proclamation in our current culture. Remaining a loyal friend, serving our community, fighting against injustice, correcting negative attitudes Christians have propagated towards those who do not follow the same lifestyle, admitting wrong and asking for forgiveness, loving our enemies and neighbors despite their actions – all of these are forms of proclamation of the gospel message that will demonstrate the reality of our words to our current culture. The Holy Spirit is living and active in the lives of believers, and believers are called to be the living body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). As his body, it is our responsibility to act as the body of Christ and demonstrate through our actions the reality of the living Christ.

What if instead of meeting on Sunday mornings listening to a pastor “preach to the choir” at the local “Christian club” (aka: church building), the “church” met in small localized groups to actually go out into their community and live out the mission of the church – to love people in the name of Jesus Christ and to bring the peace, forgiveness, justice and restoration of the Kingdom of God? What if Christians spent their time acting out what they believe in their community, rather than just hanging out together in a somewhat exclusive club? What if Christians spent their time doing the things they say they believe during the time they gather together, rather than just talking about it? What would happen in our communities if we put the energy and focus that we spend on a Sunday morning production, on serving our community and working directly at helping the pain, brokenness, injustices and poverty we encounter? I believe we would see massive changes in our community – not only in terms of restoration, peace, forgiveness, improvement of poverty standards and social justice issues, but also in terms of our community’s experience and faith in a loving God who actually does exist and care about our needs. I think we would see Christians of all ages engaged in the Church community, invigorated to serve the Lord, united in a very real and tangible way. I think you would see postmodern and emerging Christians not shying away from Church, but rallying around a church that was relevant and genuine in living out the mission of Christ and acting as the hands and feet of Jesus. I think we would not only hear but see the proclamation of the gospel message resonating and active in our cities and towns. This is proclamation for our day and age, and it is a message that this world needs desperately to see and hear.

[1] Pew Internet and American Life Project. Demographics of Internet Users., October 2007 – December 2007.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Evil, pain and suffering...

The recent tragedy in Haiti and Pat Robertson’s subsequent response has caused a lot of dialogue regarding the issue of evil and suffering in this world. Pain, evil and suffering seem to be the some of the biggest deterrents people express to belief in a good and loving God. Here are some of my own thoughts and ponderings regarding this difficult and complex issue. I would love to hear your thoughts!

When I was completing a graduate degree at Biola University I was amidst a time of
confusion about unanswered prayers and this seeming pain and disappointment that had entered my life. It was during this time that I had lunch with one of my classmates who told me his story and gave me his insights on the problem of evil in this world. For the following ideas I must give credit to my friend, Steve, who as you will see, had good reason to speak into my life about the issue of evil, pain and suffering. Steve had been a follower of Christ for years and was a healthy, athletic, attractive man. However, a few years before I met Steve he was in a serious accident in which He was paralyzed from the waste down and restricted to a wheel chair. From what I understood, he had some serious spinal problems which continued to cause him considerable pain throughout his daily life. He explained to me that there was a period of time after the accident where he rejected God because of the severe pain in his life. He wrestled with the issue of how a good God could allow this kind of tragedy in his life. Many of his friends gave him the explanation that his accident was karma coming back to repay him for bad things he had done in his life. He pondered this issue of karma and made, what I think is, a profound conclusion. He related the idea of karma to God – if God were like the idea of karma then he would punish and strike down all those who had been sinful and done evil in their lives, and likewise he would pour out blessings on all those who were righteous, good, believed and followed Him. Many times we expect, even want God to act in accordance with the idea of karma and this is why we believe that the evil things should not happen to us, or seemingly innocent people, but instead blessings should rain down. The problem my friend identified with this “Karma God” analogy is that if God were to smite everyone who did evil and did not follow God then it would be as if God were “twisting our arm” into following him. We would be controlled, in a way forced to believe and follow God; if we didn’t, we would be punished and encounter evil in our lives. Steve explained that he would not want to follow a God who controlled us in this way or “twisted our arms into believing in him” in order to avoid suffering and enjoy a blessed life.

For this reason God allows the rain to fall on the good and the evil (See Psalm 72 and Mathew 5:45). He allowed freedom of choice in this world so that we could be free to believe or not believe, free to follow him, free to love him – not for fear of being punished or in order to receive blessings, but for genuine belief and commitment. I believe the evil we see in this world is because God endowed us with autonomy for the sake of our freedom. This freedom and our subsequent choices brings detrimental, painful circumstances into the world and daily life. I believe that this world is not the perfection that God intended it to be when he created the earth with Adam and Eve. He desired a world where we could enjoy the earth without strife, pain and suffering. He loved us and he desired for us to be free therefore he gave us the option to allow evil to enter the world. Now we live in a world with freedom, but consequently, a world with evil, pain and suffering. I believe God’s heart breaks with every instance of suffering in our lives, every instance of evil committed against us, or every natural disaster like the earthquake in Haiti. He did not intend the world to include this evil and suffering, but he allowed it for the sake of our freedom.
CoULD the ANSWER be fOUND in the KiNGDOM of GOD?
With that in mind, and to conclude these ponderings, I believe that frequently our wrestling and agony with the problem of evil and suffering is because of our myopic nature, our shortsightedness and lack of vision for the coming Kingdom of God. We are finite creatures and often view this world as all that there is. However, scripture tells us differently. Scripture says that this life is but a fraction of the eternal Kingdom of God. We understand from scripture that the Kingdom of God is here now in part but not in full; it is now, but not yet. The aspect of the Kingdom of God that is here and now resides in the followers of Christ who are God’s active voice and body, representing Christ on earth. It is the calling of followers of Christ to actively bring the peace, justice and restoration of the Kingdom of God. It is the job of Christ followers to actively alleviate suffering, evil and pain in everyway possible as the active and living body of Christ. However, in our failure to act, we circuitously add to the evil and suffering in the world which God would desire to be lessened. Furthermore, there is still an aspect of the Kingdom of God that is not yet. This is the peace, justice and restoration God promises to bring with a new heaven and new earth. We must remember that this life is not the end; not even close to the majority of time we may experience compared with eternity. We must keep eternity and the kingdom of God in view when we encounter suffering, especially on a large scale such as Haiti. God promises that in his kingdom he will wipe every tear and there will be no more pain, suffering or mourning. In Psalm 72 Solomon looks to eternity and the kingdom of God to answer his grappling and wrestling with the suffering in his life. We must do the same. We must widen our vision to see this world as a glimpse in comparison to eternity, in the kingdom of God, where the wrongs of this earth will be made right and we will no longer experience death and mourning. We may not understand how God will bring this peace, justice and restoration, but we trust and hope that in his infinite grace and mercy he will bring justice and restoration to the evil and suffering that we experience here on earth. This life is but a glimpse and we have eternity to hope for.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God is himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:1, 3-4

Saturday, March 6, 2010

"Theologically Blonde"

WHO AM i ? I am a 20 something female, nearing the 30 something category far too quickly. I am a person of faith who was raised in a strong heritage of faith. I am somewhat of a skeptic; a questioner, who has wrestled much, continues to wrestle and enjoys the fight. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer currently living in the middle of no where on a different continent, on a real life adventure to experience life and actively live out the faith with which I wrestle and hope in. I am an adoring wife of an incredibly hunky husband who loves me unconditionally and challenges me to be a better person every day. I am a proud aunt to 2 rambunctious nephews and 2 spunky, adorable nieces who I miss incredibly! I am a nascent, somewhat reticent, aspiring academic and theologian; a bit confused about my future academic pursuits. I am a non-stereotypical seminary graduate who felt a bit out of place and often, reluctantly identified with Reese Witherspoon’s “Legally Blonde” character – I was the out of place, feminine, resident “Theologically Blonde” of my graduate program. I am a demure academic debater but like to think of myself as a theological “shark” of sorts…appearing meek and unthreatening but found to have a surprisingly incisive bite!

WHY the bLOG? 1. It’s FUN! 2. So I don’t miss out on this exciting cultural phenomena called blogging. 3. An attempt to exercise my “theological lobe” so I do not grow rusty. 4. To put my thousands of dollars and hours of time invested in research, reading, writing and education to use. 5. To faithfully engage in the current spiritual, biblical, theological and cultural conversations that are so important to this time and generation. 6. To provide a place where people of faith and skeptics alike can discuss the real and difficult questions of life and faith.

Faith in WHAT? I said earlier that I am a person of faith, but some of you may ask, faith in what? Let me delineate a bit. I have faith in a loving and merciful God. I have faith and belief in a man, Jesus Christ, who I believe, truthfully claimed to be sent by God to be the messiah and savior of the world. I have faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have faith in a mysterious salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and trust God to work out the details of that salvation. I have faith in the Kingdom of God of peace and restoration, which began with Jesus and continues through his followers, who actively seek to bring about the love, mercy, justice, peace and restoration that Jesus sought to bring. I believe that issues of faith and belief are some of the most important issues of life, but likewise, some of the most DIFFICULT issues of life. I do not take faith, doubts or questions about faith lightly. I RESPECT all who wrestle with questions and doubts regarding faith and don’t believe there are any easy answers. I respect all who disagree with me, who do not share my faith, or do not find faith an easy endeavor – I believe there are MANY significant and valid reasons why people do not have faith and I encourage all who are on their own personal journey of life and figuring out what they can have faith and hope in. FAITH is also difficult for me so I will be the last one to judge those who do not have faith or have doubts and questions, or simply have different beliefs than mine altogether. Faith is a JOURNEY and a battle, one that I am glad to be on, and one that I will continue fighting because I have HOPE. Hope for a better life; hope for a better world; hope for love, mercy and forgiveness; hope for peace; hope for restoration; hope for new beginnings and hope in a redeemer.

If these things interest you, then please stay tuned; engage and humor one aspiring, unassuming and battling theologian. I look forward to disclosing some of my theological pondering and I solicit your dialogue. Let us discuss, debate and contemplate some of the most important and difficult issues of life together. All opinions are welcome and I anticipate the insights many of you have to offer these important conversations.

HeResy dISCLAIMER: Take this as forewarning that I may spout what some may consider heresy or unorthodox beliefs, but only in attempts to figure out and HOLD ON to faith. This blog is not an attempt to declare ABSOLUTE Truth or orthodoxy, but simply work through difficult issues of faith. I do not claim to have all the answers, the right answers, or the necessarily orthodox answers. If you read this blog you will be a witness to my journey of wrestling through tough issues of faith. When you are on a journey and in life in general, you will inevitably go down the wrong path from time to time, and some times you have to go down that path to find the right, or a better path. So as I consider some of these difficult issues of faith I will explore ALL possible answers, even if some may seem at first UNORTHODOX. Call it an experiment of sorts; an experiment in which I am truthfully searching for answers and will not limit my answers simply because they may initially seem heretical. Who are those that decided what is heretical or unorthodox anyway? People who were genuinely trying to figure out faith and make sense of this life, while holding onto their belief at the same time.