Archive for December, 2008

Colbert the evangelist?

Stephen Colbert, a practicing Catholic, makes a genuine Christmastime appeal to the goodness of God on his Comedy Central program.  Wish I could embed the video, but you’ll have to check it out here.


Also worth noting is this episode of Penn Gillette’s (of Penn & Teller fame) video blog about a special gift he received after a show one night. Penn, an avowed atheist, was clearly moved by an encounter with a Christian and has some interesting commentary on our willingness to speak of the hope within us. This might fall into the conversation we’ve had here relating to “gospel speech.” Perhaps a slightly different perspective, this time from an atheist. Enjoy.



Bourne is the king of Israel

Just thought of this one.

Shift Happens, 2008 ed.

On Tuesday, President-elect Obama, in his speech nominating Chicago superintendent Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education, alluded to the reality that our education system faces a world that is changing more substantially and at a greater speed than at any other time in human history.

The video below is worth watching again (I posted a way less cool version way back in 2007), if only to remind us that the world in which our parents came of age does not exist anymore … and the one in which we are coming of age will not be the same even a few months from now.  This has untold implications for the way we communicate, educate, exercise our faith, do politics, create families, work, and generally engage the world around us.  Just the rapid spread of this video from a few years ago up until now is a case in point.

Here’s a brief history of this video from the Shift Happens wiki:

Did You Know? originally started out as a PowerPoint presentation for a faculty meeting in August 2006 at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, United States. The presentation “went viral” on the Web in February 2007 and, as of June 2007, had been seen by at least 5 million online viewers. Today the old and new versions of the online presentation have been seen by at least 15 million people, not including the countless others who have seen it at conferences, workshops, training institutes, and other venues.

“This is the farewell kiss”

I would never advocate the use of violent protest, but could there have been a more appropriate punctuation mark on the Bush presidency?

We don’t even know what we’re singing sometimes

We were in the car last night driving back from Newport, R.I., with Chrissy’s mom, and we were listening to Christmas music.  Josh Groban’s amazing rendition of “O Holy Night” came on, and we were glued.  But when he launched into the oft forgot third verse of the classic hymn, I was reminded of the power and importance of its lyrics.  And I was reminded how often we sing this without living into its meaning.

“O Holy Night” is many people’s favorite Christmas carol, but what would happen if those people (including myself) lived as if these lyrics were true in 2009?

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Behold your King.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Rollins and Celtic Monastic Orders

So, the Pete Rollins event yesterday was excellent.  Quite mind-expanding, and the subsequent conversation with a friend about what we heard was just what I needed. The group was rather intimate — 20 at the most — so we could really dig in and interact.  I was able to ask him if he saw any parallel between what he and his arts collective are doing in Belfast and what Patrick and others did in re-evangelizing 5th century pagan Ireland in forming monastic orders that provided an empty space for God to minister to people’s hearts.  Rollins admitted he doesn’t know that much about Patrick (somewhat surprising for an Irishman), but that the concept of building in space where God can minister through community is definitely something they are doing.

While the similarities are obviously limited, I still can’t help but think about Celtic monastic evangelism when I see Rollins.

I originally posted the following in March of 2006, two months before arriving in Boston.  I’ve definitely learned lots and grown in significant ways since then, but these words still ring true for our context.  Celtic “orders” (clusters of Jesus people and n0t-yet-Jesus people) living in close proximity create precisely the space Pete Rollins talks about in order for the unspeakable God to transform his creation.  I’m re-posting this as-is, sans editing, so please forgive the seminary-induced missional vigor.  Enjoy.

Boston Celtics?
Originally Posted March 26, 2006

I haven’t read the book all the way through, but I have been impacted deeply by missiological principles gleaned from George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism.  Hunter suggests that an ancient practice of celtic monastic communities might have some relevance to how we in the West make disciples in a post-everything culture.  He compares the Roman model of “reaching” people with the Celtic model:

The Roman model for reaching people (who are “civilized” enough) is this:

  1. Present the Christian message
  2. Invite them to decide to believe in Christ and become Christians
  3. If they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship.

In other words, we explain the gospel, they accept Christ, and we welcome them into the church- presentation, decision, assimilation (P. 53).

The contrasting Celtic model for reaching people is this:

  1. You first establish community with people, or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith.
  2. Within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship
  3. In time, as they discover that they now believe, you invite them to commit (P. 53).

Christians have defaulted to the Roman way of evangelism for a long time.  We have assumed that a “good gospel message” should stand on its own to convict “the heathen,” and sometimes it does.  But reducing the gospel to a list of propositions to which a person can either agree or disagree is a gross oversimplification.  I have come to realize that in addition to eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, salvation means a different way of living — an attractive way of living — than what the world knows and experiences.  The practices of hospitality, Sabbath, non-violence, service, social justice, praiseworthy speech, as well as the traditional tenets of prayer and worship, point to the goodness of Christ and are indeed “good news” to a broken world.

This is why the Celtic model is so important.  It allows Christians and not-yet-Christians to authentically enter into each other’s lives, as most normal people in the world do, without the question of “have you committed your life to Christ” (writer’s note: what does that even mean, anyway?) being the first question. It allows the secular person to experience what virtuous Christian life looks like, assuming the life of the Christian friend is virtuous. It allows dialogue to frame the process of discipleship, not simply “teaching,” “telling,” or Bible study. It focuses on the process of discipleship in terms of belonging before behaving or believing, with the latter two always eventual goals for the future.If we began taking a more Celtic model of evangelism/discipleship (where discipleship is what leads up to someone’s turning to God, not what follows it), how would that change the way we conceptualize Christian community? How would it transform our relationships and friendships with the not-yet-Christian? Would it make them less awkward if we weren’t always bent out of shape that they aren’t a Christian and allow us to focus on simply being a Christ-like friend to them? I think the Celtic way of evangelism has great implications for the relationship of the Christian community to the world, a world that is growing more and more skeptical of us with each hour that passes and that sees in the church less and less relevance for their lives.

Peter Rollins on Gospel Speech

I’m headed over to Harvard Divinity School today to check out a lecture by a writer/thinker I’ve only recently discovered — Peter Rollins.  His first book, How (Not) To Speak of God (2007), deals with some of the philosophical and religious undergirdings of the emerging church conversation that has been taking place over the last decade or so.  In this book, which I am working through currently, Rollins (who is from Belfast, Ireland, where he started an innovative faith community) challenges the post-Enlightenment assumptions that we can wrap our minds around the unknowable God of the universe (he calls this idolatry), instead suggesting that our posture be more subdued and humble.  (without throwing religious faith out altogether and adopting a more humanistic view)  The emerging conversation about the Christian faith is as good a place as any, Rollins asserts, for Christians to ask the kinds of questions that need to be asked in a post-everything (Christendom, modernity, yada yada).

I like this passage, where Rollins deals with something we’ve talked about on this blog before: gospel “speech.” (previous post)  He takes it a tad deeper, you might say, to the theological reasons why I am not crazy about the traditional Evangelical models for “giving an answer.”  Check it out:

In contrast to the view that evangelism is that which gives an answer for those who are asking, we must have faith to believe that those who seek will find for themselves.  If this is true, then the job of the Church is not to provide an answer — for the answer is not a phrase or doctrine — but rather to help encourage the religious question to arise.  In contrast to the kind of sermon that attempts to answer thought by providing a clear explanation of a passage or area of Christian life, the emerging community is in a unique place to embrace a type of communication that opens up a thought by asking questions and celebrating complexity.

Christianity thus engages in a pragmatic discourse which intends towards the one who lies beyond all language.  As such, the language of faith is at its best when it both remembers its profound limitations and simultaneously places us in a clearing within which we can be addressed by God.  This offers a type of Copernican revolution in which the individual no longer imposes a logos upon the divine but rather is placed under the shadow of the divine logos.


Central to this approach is the idea that God stands outside our language regimes and cannot be colonized via any power discourse.  This means that the Christian faith is extrapolated via a powerless discourse which, at its most evangelical, attempts to create  space in which others can seek for themselves.

The next post will show how Rollins is merely enacting an ancient and good practice of his own people, the Celts. Oh, and if any locals are interested in today’s lecture, here are the details:

Harvard Divinity School (45 Francis Ave, Cambridge, MA) in Andover Hall, Room 103. 12:15-2:15 pm.