come on in?

recently, tina and i had an opportunity to visit a very interesting church. it is one of those "mega-churches." now, i am not going to share the name of the church because the name does not matter. my desire is not to embarrass the church, nor is it to make this about them - it is about us, it is about something very interesting. take a look at the picture on the right and tell me what is missing? take a good look and think about what is not shown. go on, take a good look.

give up?

the answer is, there are no handles on the doors.

that's right, the church has no handles on the doors leading into any part of the church. the only way into the church is to have a key, or be let in by someone who is in the building. no one is able to just "walk in," and you can never just "visit" without being allowed in. [in fact, to "visit" the church requires that you stop by the security office, sign in and get a visitors pass] when we pointed this out to some of the people who attend the church they had some very interesting responses -

one women said, "well we do have a great deal of homeless people in the area and they are always coming by for help. so we had the doors replaced so they could not just walk in." well, God forbid a homeless person should ever approach a church for help; i mean what are they thinking? do they actually think we care? do they actually think we are to welcome "those" people into our clean, well kept, over priced church? after all, they did not have anything to do with the building of the church.

one women said, "oh, how funny, i never noticed that before." then just walked away laughing with here friends at how funny it was that the church had no door handles. yea, it is so funny that a place that calls itself "God's House" should put locks on the doors so people could not get in. i wonder, what would happen if she got to the gates of heaven and found that the handles had been removed? do you think she would be laughing at that point?
as we started to ask more about the reasoning, what we found was very interesting. there were two sides,and both seemed very close. many of those inside the church, members, never gave the doors a second thought. to them, it was the norm; that is the way the church was and they liked it. they saw it as a way of protecting themselves, and keeping the church as they liked it.
the most surprising thing came from people outside the church. you see, they felt the exact same way. they saw the doors as a norm for what that church was all about. they felt the church was more of an exclusive club more then it was a church. they did not feel offended by the church not having handles. as one person put it, "why would we want to go into a place that wants nothing to do with us."
to me, a church without door handles is a church that reflects the church of our day. there was a time when the church was a place people could go and walk in anytime - today, one needs an appointment to speak with a pastor and a invite to get in the door. the part that concerns me the most is that the american church just does not see how closed it can be - even when you see a church door with no handles.


critics of the emerging/evolving

i am always amazed at the critics of the emerging/evolving conversation. not because they seem to miss the boat on so many points, but because they desire to talk more to themselves and less to us. they would rather "talk about us, then talk to us." while they claim to have a "deep care" for us, i am not sure i am "feeling the love" they claim to be sending our way. it seems that they desire to do is make fun of us and twist our words to find fault in what they think we say. over years i have known many, myself, spencer burke, doug pagitt, tony jones and many more who have posted [or tried to post] on blogs with a deep "anti-emerging/evolving bias." most of the times our posts are ignored, and in the case of some they are filtered out and never posted at all. they claim they would love open dialog with us, but whenever anyone in the emerging/evolving extends a hand in friendship we get it slapped, as if we were trying to take a cookie without permission. their desire to speak about us, but never with us, is getting very old. they believe they are right, but they are unwilling to hear our side of reality, and in that they ignore what we hold dear, and open conversation. our critics are quick to join our forums, our gatherings, our boards and our communities to "help fix us." but we are not interested in such actions, we desire conversation and they desire confrontation, which makes us wonder where their hearts are in all this.

here are some of the misguided things i believe many who desire to be our critics say about us. keep in mind, many who want to be critical to us do so not knowing about us. they may have read something about us by another and think they know all there is to know about the emerging/evolving conversation.

you claim we have a highly questionable and ambiguous handling of truth: yes and no [a completely ambiguous answer, for sure] but i am not 100% certain i agree with their point because i think definitions are in order. you see, i need to know what they mean by "questionable," "truth," and "ambiguous" to truly get a grip on what they mean. but when we ask for the definitions they say, "see, you just do not want to discuss the facts" - well, we need to know "the facts." define what you mean by "truth" - a baptist truth? a methodist truth? a catholic truth? whose truth? what truth? define truth? when jesus says "i am the truth, the way and the light" the word "truth" that jesus uses is "aletheia" is that the "truth" you speak of? cool, because that idea of "truth"contains a large amount of subjective reality to what it means as "truth" - if the word was "asphaleia" i would have to say that there would be more of an "objective" truth to what jesus was saying - because "aletheia" means "exact truth." which still implies a small subjective part, not a large subjective part. so, we are not very ambiguous about truth, we just want to know what you mean when you say "truth" - because what we have found in the past is that what most mean by "truth" is actually that we must believe what you believe. truth us determined by what you believe, and hold as "truth."

for many, we think in terms of what is real and not in terms of what is "truth." all our lives we are told that there is a "truth" and yet those same people who share that there is a "truth" lie and twist that "truth" to meet their own agenda. all our heroes have fallen, and all of them have "lied" and claimed it to be "truth." so, when we are told "this is true" we think in terms of "this is true for you." we seek to know what is real, and for many of us jesus is very real. for me, jesus is as real as it gets. i seek to walk in that reality, and express my faith in terms of what i find real about jesus. to simply claim jesus as "truth" takes away from me my feelings and expression of christ in my reality.

you claim we have a quasi-universalistic view of salvation: i love the way spencer burke puts in his book "heretic's guide" [a must read] about "opting out." the idea is, that everyone is born into a relationship with God and at some point we "opt out" instead of "opting in." the idea, as i see it, comes into reality when people select to walk away from who God is and seek another path. but the reality [us seeking what is real] is most people of faith feel this exact way. for example, if you ask any person in the church if a baby dies does it go to hell? the answer is "NO." for some reason babies are give a "get out of hell free card" in the game. to "fix" the theological hole they created in their "opt in" game many add that the idea of salvation for a child is based on the "age of consent" - and the funny thing is that "the age of consent" is not a biblical reality. there is no "age of consent" in scripture. it is a made up doctrine based on a human desire to create a "opt in" faith. it is a biblical reality.

you claim we think that "salvation by osmosis" is the way to go, and that we have little or no conversation about "evangelism" or "saving lost souls:" funny, one of the things we in the emerging find interesting about the evangelical movement is that they have raised and spent billions of dollars [that's "billion" with a "b"] for evangelism over the past fifteen years and the evangelical church has declined in members of over 50% during that same time frame. given that, i am wondering why they are thinking we are the ones not sharing the message of christ? they mistake our desire to make honest and real friendships with new people as something "evil" and "wrong." you see, we desire to get to know a person and to honestly seek to be their friend before we go in to share our faith. the reality is, if you want to know me to "get me in your church" then you are not interested in me, you are interested in your church, or your "numbers." there is a big difference between getting to know someone for who God made them to be, and demanding that they become something others want them to be. know me, be real with me, show me your life, touch my hurts, kiss my wounds, bandage my cuts, hold my hand when i hurt, rest my head on your should when i cry, let me get sick in your car. when you do all that, you can share with me who christ is in your life, what makes him real to you - until then, you do not know me and all you desire is a notch on your bible.

when you speak in terms of how it is your call to "save the lost" keep in mind, you have nothing to do with the salvation story, jesus did it all. your claim that "you must save the lost" is not based on scripture; at best all we can do is tell people why jesus is real to us, the holy spirit does the rest. we believe we are called to share our faith. but, i do not believe i or anyone can "save a lost soul" - that is up to God and to even think we have any part in that seems a bit over the top for my tastes.

you claim we place personal experience [revelations] over an appreciation for biblical authority: whose "authority?" who gets to claim what is and is not "authority" in the scriptures? my personal experience [reality] with people claiming to want me to "walk in biblical authority" has always pointed to them wanting to be that "authority." when people claim "authority" i always ask who gave them that authority - and 99% of the time they tell me "scripture" or "God." if and when i submit to a denomination, i will submit to their authority, not because the will demand it of me but because i will willingly see them as my authority.

the problem with the idea of "authority" is also found in the fact that when i read scripture i am not allowed to question the interpretations of those who determined what the meaning of that scripture is - according to most [if not all] in the evangelical movement, all scripture is defined and has existing meaning. but when i read something, i must read it in light of my life, in the light of how the spirit is guiding me, and if i question it i am called back and told to "accept the authority" or others. but that is not authority, that is control. many in the emerging/evolving conversation seek to have "authority" in relationships with each other. i remember talking with a baptist pastor who told me that "you do not get to pick who has authority over you." and i wondered, does that mean the baptist church is not willing to accept the authority of the pope in rome? does that mean a baptist pastor needs to recognize the "authority" of the presiding bishop of the episcopal church?

you claim we openly question "key" historical doctrines of the church, such as the trinity, sin, salvation and more: ok, you got us on that one; this i agree with that, we do. sometimes we come to the same conclusions and sometimes we do not. we question; we question everything. i have never denied that we question everything. but, if the doctrine is "real" then our questioning it, and wondering how it came to be should never bring fear to the eyes of others. if it is real, it will uphold and stand anything we can say or do. it is when we are told we can not question something, we get the desire to question it even deeper.

you claim we read scripture with a "prejudicial" eye on a social gospel: ok, you got us again, and what is the problem with such a view? could it be that it seems "unamerican" more then it seems "unchristian?" here is something to think about, so did jesus. when you say we have a "social gospel" do you think you are insulting us? do you think we will run in the other direction and cry, "oh, no" - not even close. if you ask, "do you care about the way people treat other?" we will answer with a "collective" [as "collective as the emerging/evolving conversation will allow] "YES." if you ask, "do we care about how people treat the planet we live on?" there again we will add a "collective" "YES" to the question. is it a "socialist" and "bad" thing to love others? to forgive others? to welcome others? to share food with others? to want justice? to place people over profit? why are those wrong? our understanding of our walk with christ means we care for those in need and we speak out against injustice. i would rather view scripture with an eye to the social gospel, then look to scripture with an eye to a capitalist gospel. you see, in my view jesus was neither a democrat nor a republican, jesus was a radical social mover who desire to transform the world, one person at a time.

you claim we have an unbridled cynicism towards conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism: yea, we do - but then again we are rather cynical about everything. you see, i would think that the way i see scripture is very fundamental - not, i will admit that my view is not a "fundamentalist" view. you see, i am certain many in the emerging/evolving conversation would see their views as very basic, very fundamental to the core of christianity. many in the conversation call themselves "post-evangelicals" but i do not call myself that, because i have never been "evangelical" so i can never be "post" what i never was. i would say that those who have had a "unbridled" view of conservative evangelicalism come from that background and see the silliness such a view can bring about in a church, the control, the hurt and the pain.

maybe it is the way i view the world. maybe it is the way i read scripture. maybe it is the way i see people. maybe it is the way i undersatand my faith journey. maybe it is the way i was raised. what ever it was, what ever it is, i am certian that many in the mainline evangelical church would disagree with a great much of what i have to say. i am ok with that. but i think that many in the church would listen to me, and then say they understood what i had to share. you see, traditional christianity, evangelical christianity, fundamental christianity, "old line" christianity just do not address the issues facing us in the 21C. for that, for us to address the issues facing us today we need to look at scripture with new eyes, a new view a fresh idea towards what God is telling us in the greatest book ever put together by a collection of people.