Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

McLaren and The "Framing Story" of Evolution

I've been devouring Brian McLaren's latest book, Everything Must Change with much fervour over the last week or so. I've just finished reading the section on "framing stories" (part 3 of the book) and suggest this is perhaps key to the "emerging" understanding of Jesus and his mission. It's also probably key to understanding why the modern church must change the way it approaches the gospel and the world in which it exists.

But, I also think the framing story's concept has something to say about one of the most influential framing stories of the last 150 years, a framing story Brian often directly and sometimes indirectly deals with in many of his books. That is the framing story of evolutionary theory.

I am a creationist. Once upon a time I would have prefixed this title with "young earth" or "biblical". More recently my understanding of the source of my identity has changed and I don't feel the need to "identify" myself in this way any more. Yet, "creationist" still describes how I understand God and his work as the cause of the universe.

A framing story exists in this view of God. In the past my understanding of this framing story was hard, dogmatic and disconnected from the gospel. Now I feel I can freely admit some of my struggle with certain aspects of the Genesis creation account, aspects that cause a few problems if viewed as historical events. I have to confess I find it more difficult to accept the talking serpent of Eden than I do Balaams talking ass (i.e. donkey not backside). However, I still struggle greatly with the concept of theistic evolution which steps well outside the conceptual order present in the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2. It talks about a God who is in control, and who presents his creation in a finished form. It gives us a picture of the "re-created" earth, so popular (and rightly so) in emerging theology.

It stands over and against the framing story of evolution.

Yet evolution is as significant a framing story in our day and age as the divinity of the Caesars was in their day. While Brian is quick to point out the way Christ's message opposed the framing story of the Roman Empire he is just as quick to accept the framing story presented by evolution.

While I have moved away from trying to build a definitive counter-theory I can say with confidence that I understand the science on both sides of the fence. Thanks to a freedom of post modernism, a freedom to question, I feel I can say the holes on the scientific creationists side of the fence are no less significant than those on the evolutionists and, at the end of the day, the difference of opinion comes down to the very framing story's employed by the debaters and discoverers themselves. At either end of the scale are extremists (maybe Dawkins and Ham?)

Yet there appears to be very little middle ground in these arguments, at a least not any middle grown that doesn't require compromise, the kind of compromise represented in Everything Must Change by the example of the Herodians and the Saducees, willing to accept aspects of the Roman Empire in order to build security for themselves. According to Brian though, Christ's way opposed this.

The framing story of evolution proclaims "survival of the fittest" yet Christ proclaims "love your neighbour as you love yourself". The framing story of evolution proclaims "blind processes and chance" while John proclaims Christ as the "creator of the world".

I began distancing myself from the creationist movement a few years ago because I started to see shortcomings in the approach and practice of those involved in it and the contrast it created with the life of Christ in the gospels - the same as the shortcomings and the contrast created by much of the modern evangelical church. However, while the details may be hotly contested and debated (but this is healthy, right?) and the science tested, the theory of evolution stands out as an inferior framing story when compared to that given to us by God in Christ. And just as Christ stands over and against the framing stories of the Middle East of the Roman period he also stands over and against the modernistic, scientific framing stories of the late 20th and early 21st century.

I think the concept of framing stories is so incredibly important in understanding and contextualising Jesus' ministry in the first century but also in contextualising and understanding his ministry in the world of the 21st century. I think, as this seems to be one of the central points of Everything Must Change, Brian would agree. Yet I think it is also something Brian may have overlooked in his acceptance of the "facts" of evolution and its place in our understanding (framing story) of the modern world - influencing everything from archeology to psychology.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rwanda and Amahoro Africa 2009 - The "Emerging" church on the African Continent

If you've ever thought about visiting Africa and experiencing life and faith of the locals there's no better time than 2009.

Visit Africa
Make a Difference
Change your life

Day 4 (the aid and development organisation I manage) are teaming up with Amahoro Africa to offer a package that includes the 2009 Amahoro Africa Gathering in Johannesburg, South Africa and a couple of weeks on the ground in Rwanda. A package is also available through Day 4 that features the Gathering only.

We have around 10 places available for the combined package so please, if you're interested contact me ASAP. If you know others who may also be interested please share this information around.

Amahoro Africa Gatherings are an amazing time of connecting with emerging leaders from Africa and around the world, of learning and being inspired by the work of God among his people in Africa and beyond. Speakers include Claude Nikondeha (you can read more about Claude in McLaren's new book, Everything Must Change), Brian McLaren (author of The Secret Message of Jesus, Church on the Otherside and other best selling books), Richard Twiss (Native American activist, author and theologian) and many other inspiring African leaders - some like Edward Simiyu have featured on Moved Mountains in the recent past.

You can read all about the Gathering on the Amahoro website and about the Day 4 Community Aid & Development side of things at the Day 4 site.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Problems with professionalism

Last year I posted a couple of times on some of the upside to professionalism (you can read posts 1 and 2 here and here) in some aspects of ministry. While there is clearly a need for a professional approach and for professional caring, just as important is the need for care at a community level.

One thing I seem to keep coming up against from one particular segment of the professional caring community is a reluctance to see any benefit in grass roots or community attempts to address resilience issues. Social work theory seems to push the line that the only people properly equipped to improve this world are professional social workers. There is a level of professional arrogance and academic snobbery that exists among social workers in my area that is difficult to address (it's entrenched) and, as I believe it influences policy in many government departments, is preventing communities and community groups from more efficiently addressing many of the problems in the world around them.

This week, through Alternate[Or] Community, we are starting to get the wheels turning on a couple of grass roots community initiatives. The first is the development of a low-cost accommodation program, in conjunction with a local real estate agent with a social conscience, and the second is to begin talking with some of the local pollies about the youth drug and alcohol situation in the town and possible ways of helping the local community build resilience in simple, yet effective ways.

So far, in my discussions with others about these two issues, the professionalism issue has raised its head a couple of times. The general feel is that volunteers and/or grass roots organisations can't make things like this happen. I have been told that these concerns are the realm of the Government and professional organisations and should be left to these to sort out.

Most of these comments have come from Christians.

It's easy to see, with attitudes such as these, how the church has ended up in the position of thinking building a bigger church building is the same things as serving the community - this was actually the gist of a report in the local newspaper 2 weeks ago. The local mega church is expanding its building and its representative was reported as saying how much the community would benefit from the bigger building!.

After today, we should have a plan of attack in place for our housing project and by the end of the week the ball should be rolling on the other issue. I am hopeful the housing project will be something that can be replicated by others in our area (I'm going to "challenge the churches") and also elsewhere, and I'll post further on the drug and alcohol side of things as they progress.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Recycling my identity

I've been thinking and praying a lot about identity these last few weeks. Even blogged it a few times.

While I have been pondering identity in general terms - i.e. how do we, as followers of Jesus, draw our identity from him, & how badly has the church failed in leading it's people to do this well to this point in time - I've also found myself thinking about my own identity.

To be sure, in the past I have drawn my identity from many places - least of all from Jesus. As a small child I drew it from my family. As an older child, suffering regular physical and emotional abuse I began to draw my identity from my abusers rather than my family. I identified myself as worthless.

Later on I coupled my "worthless" identity with that of drug addict. The two went together well.

When I started studying media, and began working in commercial television I began to draw my identity from my industry. It was actually an industry that a lot of people seemed interested in (if only in a shallow way). While I was never famous myself I knew, and hung out and partied with people who were. I liked the way this kind of vicarious popularity worked. The worthlessness of my childhood had never really left me, I was still an addict, but this new identity - the broadcast media identity - was certainly the best so far.

Somewhere along the line though God started playing a more prominent part in my world. I didn't realise it at the time, but he was beginning to create for me an even newer identity. But it was going to take time.

After I met Alyssa and became a Christian I continued to struggle with identity. God didn't "zap" me in the way I was led to believe he would. The things that had been done to me as a child and my "worthless" identity still weighed on me and so I went about trying to make my life seem worthy through becoming "someone". Along the way I realised I wasn't bad at public speaking and began working on-air in TV and radio. This gave me some confidence and before long I was offered work by a large, high profile, international Christian ministry. I began speaking at conferences organised by them and, for a time, was regularly published in their internationally distributed magazine.

It felt like I was being given something I had never had before. But at the same time my understanding of my place in God's plan began to change. The life Jesus lived seemed to contrast completely with the kind of life I was seeking meaning from. In the end I turned down the position offered to me and began seeking a different way of living out my life before God.

My true identity in Christ was becoming clearer as I began to "emerge" from church traditions, past hurts and the sense that even among members of God's family I was never really welcome to be myself.

Today, I still struggle with feelings of worthlessness at times. There are times when I am depressed, and feel useless. But, as time goes on, I am feeling, less and less, that I need to draw my worth or purpose from the way other people see me or from the lack of interest shown by others in my life.

Not that long ago I thought worth came from publishing a book, or from having lots of visitors to my blog, or from being a requested public speaker. Now though, I don't have any of these things. Even though my life doesn't show any of the signs I previously associated with success - even with Christian success - I now know I am involved in something big and wonderful and incredibly low key, as I am involved everyday in the lives of people, forgotten by much of the church and society, but not by God. And just as they are not forgotten, I know, I am not forgotten either. That even in my unworthiness, God is still for me and I have Jesus Christ as the proof of this.

My identity now is that of a husband, a father, a friend, a pastor, and a missionary - all of which are influenced by the greater identity of Jesus Christ as I imperfectly seek to live out of all that I am learning of him and his Way, and to share the love he has shown me and my family, to others along the way.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Challanges on the road to Nirvana

The last couple of midweek meetings with Alternate[Or] have been challenging.

I'm learning being inclusive is difficult. Particularly given the vast demographical differences in our group's make-up. 2 of us are involved in a pastoral duties in a local church context, one of us is a refugee from megachurch pentecostalism and the remainder of the group are new to the whole God scene.

I am finding how inadequately prepared I am when away from the level playing field of the established church - a place where everyone is a Christian, knows what to expect and can sit quietly while it's served up to them!

I'm struggling with ways of making our time meaningful for everyone - those already following Jesus as well as those who are still in the early stages of learning and growing and working out whether Jesus is for them. 2 guys in particular come to mind.

I really like the idea of the 3 is enough groups - but they're just not practical at the moment. I'm trying to spend one-on-one time with the 2 guys in question and have even gone as far as trying to dissuade them from coming along to the spiritual meetings, but they insist on coming back every week. In fact they are more regularly at these meetings than at our social gatherings yet they continue to disrupt and show disrespect, leaving me frustrated and others wondering what the hell we are supposed to be doing.

While numbers are not a good measure of success, in terms of resources, more people with a higher level of maturity in the faith would be great at this point in time.

Blog Wrap

Still working through some older posts as I try and catch up with my Bloglines backlog.

  • Steve Knight @ Emergent Village has linked to a piece of Emerging Church history in the form of a slide show by Brad Cecil from way back in 1999 and entitled Ministry in the emerging post-modern world.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Gen Y role models for losing faith

Here's the first part of an insightful and somewhat scary post from Mark Sayers:

The fact that young adults are leaving the church in the West in droves is hardly new news to any of us. (You can download my PDF resource as to some of the reasons why here.) However what a lot of parents, pastors and leaders don’t know is that pop culture provides models and examples to Gen Y’s of how to turn your back on your faith.
Sayers goes on to detail the way (particularly American) pop culture has provided a series of role models for 20 something girls to ditch their faith; Britney, Jessica Simpson and the latest, Katy Perry.

I wonder if this is more of an American phenomenon though - scary as it is - caused to some degree by the veneer of evangelicalism which exists in many places in the US. Because Christianity is cultural, at least to some extent, it is more likely to be treated as a fad.

Do you think Aussie Gen Y'ers know or give 2 hoots about Britney's or Jessica's or Katy's ostensibly Christian past?

Either way, it's well worth reading Sayers' post. It gives a whole new meaning to the term "post Christian"!

You can keep reading HERE

Friday, July 04, 2008


I've started going through the Exilio program with our small group. Exilio has grown out of Mike Frost's book Exiles (incidentally, a great and in some ways challenging read) and uses an action and reflection approach to learning - so along with some hefty reading exercises, and Bible study, there's also some practical home work which Mike refers to as "missional experiements" (this has most of the group cringing).

One of the exercises given in the "Bible study" part of the course is to begin reading through the Book of Acts - in a public place. Some of the group first thought this was a missional exercise in itself. Thankfully it isn't - not that I have any problem with people reading their Bibles in public, rather says Mike, the public reading is about bringing the text of Acts to life:

When we read Acts in public spaces our imagination cannot help but ask the question, "What would it look like if the Book of Acts happened today in this cafe. park, train station, shopping mall?". We find reading the Bible surrounded by people who are yet to discover God's love deeply affects our understanding of the reading. (Ignition, p.7)
I put this to the test today. I was supporting a young member of our Bunbury community (Alternate[Or]) during a court appearance and had plenty of time up my sleeve while waiting for his case to be called. So I read the first 2 chapters of Acts in the courthouse. At first I thought the whole "public reading" thing sounded a bit wussy, but, in reflection, I think it did, to some degree at least, affect how I viewed the text. Particularly the section describing Peter's address to the Jews and Jewish converts at Pentecost. The bit that really jumped out and grabbed me was the following:
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."

And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. (ESV)
Particularly given my location at the time I was hit (again) by the important place repentance holds in the ordo salutis (order of salvation). It made me think about the young bloke I was with and his genuine interest in Christ and his life and what it would mean for him to become a disciple. It also made me think about the sheer lack of anything even resembling repentance I have seen in my many visits to the courthouse over the last 10 years or so (not to mention my own appearances before the Magistrate when I was a younger man!).

Thankfully today's result was a good one for my young friend. A reprieve that will hopefully help the process of repentance and forgiveness along.

As for the practical side of Exilio I think I have plenty of things to choose from without having to dream up a whole new missional experiment.