Practical Atheists

After all, most of us professing Christians, from the liberals to the fundamentalists, remain practical atheists in most of our lives. This is so because even we think the church is sustained by the “services” it provides or the amount of “fellowship” and “good feeling” in the congregation. Of course there is nothing wrong with “services” and “good feeling”; what is wrong is that they have become ends in themselves. When that happens the church and the ministry cannot avoid sentimentality, which we believe is the most detrimental corruption of the church today. – Stanley Hauerwas, William H. Willimon (Resident Aliens)

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are some books that after you turn the last page, you know you will be different. You can’t always explain why, but in the course of reading it, you know something deep within you has been changed. This book has had that effect on me.

I only read it because Amazon suggested it, and it did go along with some of my dissertation research. A couple of times, in the beginning, I thought about reading something else instead, but I continued on and I’m glad I did.

Crouch discusses “cultures” and how Christians interact with the cultures around them. Instead of calling Christians have postures of being against culture, critiquing culture, consuming culture, or transformation culture, he calls them to create culture (which according to Crouch is what God calls us to do).

For me, the best part of the book was Part 3 where he eloquently invites all to be culture makers for the sake of the Gospel.

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Introduction To The Missional Church by Alan Roxburgh

Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One by Alan J. Roxburgh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is probably the best book I’ve read introducing the missional church. Roxburgh does an excellent job describing what missional ministry is, and what it isn’t.

The one critique I do have is the time he spent describing the process he takes churches through (I’m guessing in a consulting role). I wished he would have given some more direction for local pastors in cultivating “missional imagination” within their congregations. Perhaps he does this in his book “Missional Map-making” which I have not read yet.

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Experimental Ministry

Test TubesAlan Roxburgh discusses Missional Imagination in his book “Introduction to the Missional Church.” In discussing Saul (later Paul) and his transformation he writes,

“Information and definitions were not the issue; what Saul needed was a radical transformation of his imagination-of the way in which he saw the world.”

So Roxburgh basically defines imagination as “how one sees the world.” One might argue that “how one sees the world” is an adequate description of one’s culture or at least one’s worldview. In his book, he calls for individuals to be transformed so they might see the world and themselves through a missional lens. This shift to a missional worldview is ultimately what I desire for those whom I pastor.

The problem is, making shifts in culture and worldview is easier talked about than accomplished. Andy Crouch address this in his book  Culture Making. He says it is much easier analyzing the culture than actually changing it. In discussing why it is difficult to change a culture (or perhaps worldview), he has a very perceptive quote:

The language of worldview tends to imply, to paraphrase the Catholic writer Richard Rohr, that we can think ourselves into new ways of behaving. But that is not the way culture works. Culture helps us behave ourselves into new ways of thinking.

It seems that I’ve been taught that if people can think in new ways, it means there will be changes in their worldview. However, that might not be the case. What if, the culture has more affect on my thinking than my thinking has on the culture? What are the implications for a church that has been living in a certain culture for decades? I’m not sure we are going to “think” our way out of it.

What Roxburgh calls for (and Crouch may too…I’m only about 1/4 of the way through the book) is for experiments in ministry. If new ways of acting cause changes in the accepted culture, then the best thing we can do to change the culture, is to introduce new desired behaviors.

Perhaps this is why some translate Matthew 28:19 as “Therefore in your going make disciples…”

In Control

I read something from either St. John of The Cross or St. Teresa of Avila (sorry, I can’t find the reference) that asked the question: why would God speak to us when we are not neccesarily willing to obey? It is a great question that shows deep insight.

While I was reflecting on this I began wondering why we even want to hear from God when we aren’t willing (or ready) to obey? After all, it seems like we all want to hear from God. Even some of the songs we sing ask God to speak. So when God does speak, are we _always_ willing to listen? to obey? to follow? If not, then why not? We are the ones wanting to “hear from God.” Why in the world would we be hesitant to obey once God does speak…no matter what God asks or says?

I think the issue is control. We do want to hear from God, but we want to reserve the right to obey or not obey. We want to hear that God loves us and all, but if God calls us to give and/or go we want to decide if we will obey and follow. If God calls us to go where we don’t want to go, or give what we don’t want to give, we want to make the ultimate decision. Deep down we know that we can and may say “no.”

So, back to the original question; If we know that we are reserving the right to obey or not obey whenever God speaks, why should God speak at all? Does God really just want to be one option out of many in our lives? I doubt it. (I could say something about viewing God as some type of advice columnist, but I won’t).

Yet, God shows us how gracious he is because he continues to speak to us even when all parties involved know it all might fall on deaf ears. God continues to invite us deeper.

When I am willing to follow, no matter what, I  become more receptive and I sense God speaking into my life more. I find that God is able to lead and guide me. This is also what I see in the lives of faithful men and women of God throughout history. They heard from God, because they were willing to follow. The issue isn’t that God doesn’t want to speak to us, the issue is we really don’t want to hear. Those who are willing to hear, obey, and follow, they are the ones who find God continuing to speak into their lives. The result is they are able to truly become who God has created them to be, because they are allowing God to lead and guide them.

If you desire to hear from God, perhaps the first step is to trust God and be willing to follow once you do hear.