Monday, December 31, 2018

Resolutions

I took this photo in Istanbul. The reflection of the man makes it look like he is looking at the turkish delight.

"Resolution" - in music, "the passing of a voice part from a dissonant to a consonant tone or  from dissonance to consonance."  For example, if a musical piece is in the key of C, G is the 5th. A musical piece that ends on the 5th begs to be resolved to the 1st, or tonic chord, which is in this case C. The unresolved 5th causes one to inwardly strain and lean towards the anticipated 1st.

To "resolve" - fixity of purpose, resoluteness. For example: His comments were intended to weaken her resolve but they only served to strengthen it. (From here.)

If you are a Jesus-follower, don't make "New Year's Resolutions." Instead, resolve today. In four ways.

1. Resolve to inquire of the Lord.

2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. (2 Chronicles 20:2-4)

Bring life's dissonance before the Lord. Inquire of God, regarding the chaos and incompleteness. You've tried to figure it out yourself; instead, seek God about this. Not just once in a while, but today and every day. Place your trust in God, now. Get alone with God and receive direction. As God called Jehoshaphat to declare a fast in response to unresolved dissonance in Judah, so God has promised to shepherd you through all things. God is willing to direct your paths.

Resolve to inquire of God, today and every day.

2. Resolve that your mouth will not bring destruction.

2 May my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right. 

3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,
though you test me, you will find nothing; 
I have resolved that my mouth will not sin. 4 As for the deeds of men—
by the word of your lips
I have kept myself
from the ways of the violent. 
(Psalm 17:2-4)

I will keep my mouth shut, unless my words serve to build up others.

I will meet, often and alone, with God. I will abide in Christ. I will dwell in his presence. God will shape and form my heart into Christlikeness. (Gal. 4:19) This Jesus-heart will be what comes out of the space between my lips.

Resolve that your mouth will not destroy, today and every day.

3. Resolve not to defile my soul with the enemy's "turkish delight."

7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. 
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel... (Daniel 1:7-9)

Daniel refuses to allow King Nebuchadnezzar to redefine his identity. Daniel "resolved"; i.e., Daniel "set upon his heart" not to pollute himself. Daniel set his heart not to compromise himself by accepting redefinition as a Babylonian. This is the matter of allegiance.

In C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund meets the White Witch, who seduces him with a delicious piece of candy called "turkish delight." He eats it, betraying Aslan, and his defiled heart falls under the Witch's dark spell.

Today, resolve not to compromise your allegiance to Jesus as your Lord.

4. Resolve to know Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

Learn about Jesus. 


Learn Jesus. 

Fix on him. 

Sum all things up in Jesus.

Resolve to know Christ and him crucified. Today.

Tomorrow...


***
My two books are...

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Attend the Solitary God-Conference




 
Battle Creek

I have been privileged to speak at several conferences for pastors and Christian leaders. I am always grateful for the opportunity to do this. Some have said that the person who teachers gets more out of the event than the students. There’s much truth in this. God always gives me some personal takeaways when I'm the conference speaker. I get spoken-to by God. I receive new insights that stay with me. And, being with colleagues in ministry always serves to instruct and enrich my life.


I’ve also attended conferences for pastors and leaders. When I’m there I want to have open ears and an open heart to what God is saying to me through others.


As good as these events are, the beating heart of my God-encountering spiritual life remains my solitary praying times. Luke 5:16 says:


Jesus often attended the Solitary God Conference 
and prayed.[1]


Therefore, as a follower of Jesus, I do the same.


Greg Boyd says he has known “people who have spent a great deal of time and money traveling the world “chasing God” at various revivals, all the while missing what God was doing—and what God wanted to do—in and through their own lives. The fact is, if we can’t discern God’s presence in our day-to-day lives, it’s unlikely that we’ll find him at a revival. We may find a lot of excitement, great speakers, superb music, and maybe even some “signs and wonders.” But unless a person learns to find God as much in the ordinary as in the exciting, the exciting will do nothing more than serve as a momentary distraction."[2]


I don’t depend on the coming conference that is still weeks away. I need God, today. Now. Presently. The good news is that God's presence is available to me, 24/7. 


Assume that God is doing something in you, 
now.

       Assume God has something to tell you as you pray, today.


[1] “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
[2] Greg Boyd, Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now, 135

***
My book on prayer is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Entertainment Church Addicts People to Lesser Things

Shipshewana, Indiana

Linda and I are back home after two days in Amish country in Shipshewana, Indiana. One of the things we often do when we take long car rides together is choose a book to read together. I drive, Linda reads, I listen, we discuss. Our choice for this trip is Francis Chan's Letters to the Church.

We find ourselves in much agreement with Chan's thoughts. When Linda read chapter two, on the beauty of God's Church, we felt we were on the same page with him.

Chan's book is confessional and confrontational. We see both in the final two paragraphs of chapter two. He writes:

"I can't help but see our own lameness in failing to see the beauty of God's design for the Church. Heavenly beings are shocked by God's Church, while many on earth yawn. The early church didn't need the energetic music, great videos, attractive leaders, or elaborate lighting to be excited about being part of God's body. The pure gospel was enough to put them in a place of awe. 

Aren't you at least a little embarrassed that you have needed the extra stuff? It's not all your fault. For decades church leaders like myself have lost sight of the powerful mystery inherent in the Church and have instead run to other methods to keep people interested. In all honesty, we have trained you to become addicted to lesser things. We have cheapened something sacred, and we must repent." (Emphasis mine.) 

That's what the Entertainment Church, the Consumer Church, does. (Chan critiques the American Church and their entertainmentism and consumerism.)

***
My two books are

 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church


I am now writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Vertical Church

Shipshewana, Indiana

Linda and I return home Saturday from a two-day getaway. We're just spending time together, doing things together, talking, and reading Francis Chan's Letters to the Church. We are pleased to see Chan's emphasis on the presence of God, and how the experience of God's presence cannot be locked into pre-existing time schedules (the Consumer Church).

Chan wants Vertical Church, not Horizontal Church. So do we. And so we are, at Redeemer, and so you may also be.

Vertical Church is a people group of Jesus-followers who desire nothing more than God's earth-shattering presence, and who experience that presence whenever and wherever they gather. The presence of God is the glue that holds them together. This is the meaning of Jesus' words about "whenever two or more gather, there I am in their midst." 

That's all that's needed: Jesus in our midst. 

The Horizontal Church requires more than "Jesus in our midst," even to the exclusion of Jesus, leaving only us and "our midst." The people have been seduced by the god of relevancy. Many are good people who have been mis-discipled. They have been taught - by culture - to rely on their own natural charisma to attract consumer-seekers. Much energy and money is spent on catering to the prevailing cultural ethos and its chronos-mentality; hence, there are temporally choreographed services because people (it is assumed) will pull out their cell phones if the earth-shattering presence of God hovers among them for more than an hour. 

The Horizontal Church unwittingly adds to Scripture, and has Jesus saying, "whenever two or more gather, with a fair trade coffee bar and stage lighting and short services and apps and creative add-ons, there I am in their midst, if only for an hour."

Horizontal churches burn people out in striving to measure up to the ever-shifting bar of cultural coolness. Even name changes and stage lighting cannot rescue these sinking vessels.

James McDonald of Harvest Church in Chicago writes:

"Eventually everyone vacates church where God is not obviously present and working. Getting people back to church is pointless unless God comes back first— that’s what Vertical Church is all about!
Ritual church, tradition church, felt-need church, emotional-hype church, rules church, Bible-boredom church, relevant church, and many other iterations are all horizontal substitutes for God come down, we all get rocked and radically altered, Vertical Church.
The problem is you can’t fake glory. You can’t manufacture it, or manipulate it, or manifest it at will. Only God Himself can bring glory into a church, and when He does, communities get shaken and lives get changed, and the fame of Jesus Christ curls continuously upon the shore of human hearts like a Hawaii 5-0 wave. Church is supposed to be a tsunami of glory every Sunday, and that is what we gather for." (MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be, Kindle Locations 104-105)

McDonald says, "In Vertical Church God shows up, and that changes everything."

***
My two books are:


Transformation: From Persona to Personhood

Image result for john piippo identity
Monroe County

In the absence of God people are left alone to create their identities.

PERSONA 
"A persona, in the word everyday usage, is a social role or a character played by an actor. This is an Italian word that derives from the Latin for "mask" or "character", derived from the Etruscan word "phersu", with the same meaning. Popular etymology derives the word from Latin "per" meaning "through" and "sonare" meaning "to sound", meaning something in the vein of "that through which the actor speaks", i.e. a mask (early Greek actors wore masks)." (Wikipedia, "Persona")

AKA - the false self; "hypocrite" ("mask-wearer"); fake; phony

PERSON 
The real self; who you really are; the "true self," made in the image of God

About thirty-seven years ago I was sitting on the seat of a rusty tractor in the middle of a field, in a wildlife area just north of Lansing, Michigan. I went there to pray. For several hours. That was one of the first times I did this kind of extended praying. It turned out to be the beginning of something new God was doing in me.

I was reading Psalm 139. I got to verses 23-24, which read:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

The thought came that I should ask God to do this. To search me out. 

My heart was filled with restlessness. All the busy stuff I was doing only seemed to increase my inner agitation. So I said to God, "Do it." 

God told me, "John, I would love to. You need to spend much time with me, over a lifetime, so I can search you out, remove your anxious thoughts, and lead you in the way everlasting."

"John, you can take off the mask." 

Wearing masks is hard work. I did some acting in my college theater department, and it takes a lot out of a person. God told me, "John, I don't care for the mask; it is you that I love." So, before God, I allowed him to peel away the persona and get to me. This is a process, and continues to this day.

It was both hard and good to hear God say those words to me. It was hard, because my persona was something I was accustomed to. To remove the mask was to enter into new territory. It produced, initially, feelings of wanting to hide from God. 

It was also good. Looking into the face of my all-loving God, with hidden parts of me exposed, was fear-and-trembling good! It still feels unbelievable. God knows me, God searches me out, God sees to the root of my being, God knows my true heart. And God loves me? Unbelievable, yet true.

When we wear our persona-mask before people we lie to them. In our inner insecurity and unlovableness we posture before people. We brag. We create and display our persona on Facebook. We are pity-filled. We crave human approval, and fear disapproval. We want others to recognize our hotness. We want to be hotter than thou.

This gets subtle, as I know personally. At times my caring for others has been a mask that hides my need for them to approve of me. True personhood, on the other hand, cares and loves others, whether one benefits from this or not.

That... is freedom. To know God and be known by him. To love God and experience God's love towards us, personally. This is not some theoretical thing, but an experiential reality. In this regard experience, not theory, breeds conviction.

You are loved by God. Go to him.

Ask God to search out your heart, remove the persona, and transform you into the person he has created you to be. Which is: in his image.


***
My two books are

 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church


I am now writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Preaching the Unrecognizable Jesus

Downtown Monroe

Pastors - stop trying to be "relevant." 

Stop it, in the sense of being culturally cool, or socially awesome, or acceptable. If you become cool you will swiftly become passé, swept aside by the nothing-new-under-the-sun, question-begging waves of culture.

Just be clear.

Be clear about the gospel.

The gospel, not you, is eternally relevant to the core, ontological struggle of humanity. 

Speak, teach, and preach the gospel in words your culture understands. That will be enough. You won't need the blue jeans. (I wear blue jeans, but don't think they are the key to attracting people to Jesus.) Imagine John the Baptist, concerned about "fitting in."

Jesus was, and remains, shockingly a-cultural. Therefore, be free of obsessing about your hair. Remember Einstein, whose hair-care issues indicated neglect, but whose ideas started a scientific revolution.

The presentation of the gospel will sound strange and irrelevant to the indoctrinated cultural masses. That is good. It should sound this way. Think of the philosophical prophet Kierkegaard, and his historical precursor Tertullian, who both said, Credo quia absurdum, "I believe because it is absurd." Absurd, in light of the prevailing ethos.

A clear presentation of the gospel must be understandable. Part of its clarity is that it will be unrecognizable. It will sound like it is from another planet. (Remember that Jesus said, "My planet is not of this planet.") 

It must sound silly, from the viewpoint of secular culture. The more you try to make the gospel relevant to culture, the more the gospel loses its unrecognizability. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:10)

Of course. Had the this-worldly masses recognized him, it would not have been him. They didn't. Not even his disciples.

Jesus' planet ("kingdom") is not of this world. Not two thousand years ago, not today. The great danger is that people would begin to see the two conflicting kingdoms as the same kingdom (like the mindless conflating of "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas.") People will be comfortable and happy with church because it is like snuggling up with the world.

People today need to come face to face with the unrecognizable Jesus, the one New Testament scholar Michael McClymond named the "Familiar Stranger." So,  pastors - preach, with as much clarity as you can bring to the moment, the unrecognizable kingdom.

Then, let it go.

Trust God's Spirit, who will hover over the irrelevance and the cognitive dissonance, touching nerves in dead flesh, igniting  sparks on a cold night, sending drops of rain to a disenchanted desert, and speaking hope to nihilistic souls. Then, behold, as another insane mind, stuck in the meaningless eternal recurrence of the same, awakens, by the power of the Spirit, and hears the voice of redemption calling from another world.

***
Note: When the absurdity of the gospel reaches the low levels it had in first-century Rome, then I expect the gospel's intrinsic power to be unleashed in another global outpouring. In those days the world will have long-tired of the world-system and the futile way of life handed down from generation to generation, and the absurdity of the gospel will be clearly seen as the answer to systemic world-weariness.


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Pastors Among the Unthinking Herd

Image result for john piippo pastors
One of my favorite postcards.
I love pastors. I have taught many pastors. I am a pastor. I am not to be conformed to the leadership styles of this world.

The warning Paul issues in Romans 12:1-2 concerns the shape of our hearts; viz., that we not be world-conformed. This is relevant in every age, and especially so in today's America, where the invasion of secularity has captured and shaped the hearts of the masses. Many Christians, and many pastors, have joined the ranks of the unthinking Kierkegaardian herd.

In the midst of this nihilistic wasteland God raises up prophetic voices, even speaking from the grave. One of them is Henri Nouwen. In The Way of the Heart he writes:

"Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives."
(Nouwen, The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles, Kindle Locations 893-896)

Nouwen sees the manifestations of pastoral captivity and world-conformity. They include:

  • Pastors are too busy with meetings, visits, many services to lead. Pastors move through life in a distracted way, rarely stopping to ask if any of this busyness is worth thinking, saying, or doing.
  • Pastors have become advertisers who must motivate people to come to church, who must make sure the youth are entertained, who must raise money to keep the infrastructure going, and above all, pastors need to see that everyone is happy.
  • Pastors have become "busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people." (Ib., K899)
  • Pastors have lost their real identity in Christ, and have morphed into affirmation addicts: "Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated or despised." (Ib., K906)
  • What matters to many pastors today is not what God thinks of them, but how they are perceived by the world.
Nouwen saw anger in pastoral leaders, coming from culture-shaped hearts that have taken on the consumer values of the world. He writes:

"Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ. (Ib., K919-923)

Are things really that bad in ministry? I think so. I've taught my spiritual formation materials to four thousand pastors, and Nouwen's insights resonate with me. And, I have discovered the seeds of secularity in my own heart.

The warning the apostle Paul gives against world-conformity is real, and the entrapment is subtle. It doesn't happen overnight. One morning a pastor can wake up and sense that something has gone wrong in his or her heart. They realize, following Nouwen, that they are passengers on a ship that is sinking.

Nouwen's counsel, and mine as well, is: Jump ship! Swim for your life! Run to the place of your salvation, which is the place of solitude and presence of God. Reside there, and be transformed into Christlikeness by the renewing of your mind. (This is why the Desert Fathers went to the desert in the first place.)

***
My two books are

 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve - Jesus Comes to Save Us From Our Psychological Distress





In the first "Creed" movie there is a scene where the old boxer Rocky Balboa is training Apollo Creed's son Adonis in the gym. They are looking into a mirror (2:25 in the clip above). Rocky points to the young boxer and says, 

"See this guy here? That's the toughest opponent you're ever going to have to face. I believe that's true in the ring, and I believe that's true in life."


It's not a stretch to say that my toughest battles happen in my own mind. Francis Frangipane called the human mind one of the "three battlegrounds." 


The apostle Paul knew about this. He instructed us to "take every thought captive," because if we don't, our thoughts will capture us.

Neil Anderson writes of this inner battle in The Bondage Breaker. Steve Backlund shows us how to do battle against false thinking with his declarations.

A few years ago KoЯn's guitarist Brian Welch wrote an autobiography called Save Me From Myself. That was the best book I read that year, echoing a prayer I've brought before God for four decades. 

When I was in seminary I was introduced to psychologist Albert Ellis's Rational Emotive Behavior TherapyThe goal of REBT is to change irrational beliefs to more rational ones. Ellis's work was about the power of words and thoughts to affect feelings and behaviors. The transformative power of language was at the heart of my doctoral dissertation on metaphor theory.

Today, we have Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. "CBT aims to help people become aware of when they make negative interpretations, and of behavioral patterns which reinforce the distorted thinking.  Cognitive therapy helps people to develop alternative ways of thinking and behaving which aims to reduce their psychological distress."

Jesus comes to save me from my psychological distress. Thomas Merton writes:

God,  "save me from myself. Save me from my own, private, poisonous urge to change everything, to act without reason, to move for movement’s sake, to unsettle everything You have ordained. Let me rest in Your will and be silent. Then the light of Your joy will warm my life. Its fire will burn in my heart and shine for your glory. This is what I live for." (Merton, A Book of Hours)


This is core to "working out my salvation with fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12) I need to be rescued and redeemed and freed from my own self every day. 

It's Christmas Eve. The Son of God came in human form to save us from self-inflicted psychological distress. That's why the angel told Joseph to name the baby "Jesus."


***

My two books are

 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church


See "22 Leadership Lessons and Quotes From Creed (Rocky 7)"

Sunday, December 23, 2018

God Desires Participants, not Spectators

Detroit

Soren Kierkegaard writes:

"Is God's meaning, in Christianity, simply to humble man through the model (that is to say putting before us the ideal) and to console him with 'Grace,' but in such a way that through Christianity there is expressed the fact that between God and man there is no relationship, that man must express his thankfulness like a dog to man, so that adoration becomes more and more true, and more and more pleasing to God, as it becomes less and less possible for man to imagine that he could be like the model? ... Is that the meaning of Christianity? Or is it the very reverse, that God's will is to express that he desires to be in relation with man, and therefore desires the thanks and the adoration which is in spirit and in truth: imitation? The latter is certainly the meaning of Christianity. But the former is a cunning invention of us men (although it may have its better side) in order to escape from the real relation to God." (In David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor, 28)


Real Jesus-following is following-after Jesus. It's participation, not spectating. It's not pew-sitting. It's not being entertained. It's "following the footsteps of Christ in imitation" (St Francis of Assisi, in Ib., 27). 


It's keeping in step with the Holy Spirit. or, as Craig keener translates this, "walking in the footsteps of the Holy Spirit."

Real Church was never meant to be an entertainment center. David Augsburger says that authentic Jesus-spirituality "accepts no substitute for actual participation." (Ib.) 

Augsburger writes: "We are not observers, not spectators, not admirers, not onlookers, not conceptualizers, but participants. Participation is the central theological framework of all careful thought-about spirituality...

...The ideal of discipleship as participation through the imitation of Christ is a recurring theme, reemerging wherever the practice of following Jesus in life is given priority." (Ib.)


Anyone who claims to belong to Jesus must follow the path taken by Jesus. How will you do this? 


Begin by reading the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Slow-cook in them. Become familiar with the Real Jesus. 

Next, submit to the filling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God will empower you to live, do, and say as Jesus lived, did, and said. 

Finally, remember that this is a growth process. Even Jesus had to grow in wisdom and stature. (Luke 2:52)

***
My two books are


 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Preparing for the Invasion - #30 - Jesus Comes to Heal the Wounded Heart

Heidi Baker at Redeemer

(C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, referred to Christmas as "The Great Invasion.")

This message can be heard here - "Jesus Comes to Heal the Wounded Heart."

The Powerpoint is also available to pull up and follow along with the message.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Return of the Church as the Resurrection of Community

Image may contain: 7 people, people smiling, people standing
Linda's vocal students, caroling at Honeycomb Creative in Monroe. (Photo by Tristan Curry.)

American Christianity is, for the most part, a bunch of individuals who "go to church." This is the cause of its increasing irrelevance, and will be the cause of its eventual demise via its full absorption into our individuated culture. Unless...

Unless Jesus' vision is recaptured. 

This will require a major paradigm shift that will be countercultural. Call this the Return of the Church. The Resurrection of Community. It's been happening in non-Westernized cultures. It can happen here, but we will have to be de-Westernized to a significant degree.

Miroslav Volf argues that we must emphasize our distinctives, rather than try to be "relevant." Our great distinctive is that we are a body made of people, united and empowered by God's Spirit.

James K.A. Smith identifies the problem:

"Within the matrix of a modern Christianity, the base “ingredient” is the individual; the church, then, is simply a collection of individuals. Conceiving of Christian faith as a private affair between the individual and God— a matter of my asking Jesus to “come into my heart”— modern evangelicalism finds it hard to articulate just how or why the church has any role to play other than providing a place to fellowship with other individuals who have a private relationship with God." (James K.A. Smith, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? The Church and Postmodern Culture: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, p. 29)

The solution to this problem is to "go ancient." Smith writes:

"Unless our apologetic proclamation begins from revelation, we have conceded the game to modernity. On this score, I side with an even earlier Parisian philosopher and proto-postmodernist, Blaise Pascal, who adamantly protested that the God revealed in the incarnation and the Scriptures— the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus Christ— is to be distinguished from the (modern) god of philosophical theism. But even more importantly, this new apologetic— which is, in fact, ancient— is one that is proclaimed by a community’s way of life." (Ib., p. 28)

The Pauline "fruit of the Spirit" and "gifts of the Spirit" are essentially corporate (body; korpos) things. We have individuated them, and thereby emasculated and disempowered them. R. Scott Smith writes:

"The New Testament emphasis is on living morally in community (i.e., the church ). In his writings, Paul does not have in mind the rugged individual. Rather, he addresses the body of believers, as do the other apostles. Christians are to love one another, even as Jesus loved them (John 13: 34-35), which cannot be done in isolation." (Smith, R. Scott, In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy, Kindle Locations 334-336) 

Christianity spread because of community formation ("See how they love one another"). Westernization creates a "cocooning" culture where people are more and more isolated from one another. Over the years I've talked to many recovering alcoholics who testified that they found more real community in Alcoholics Anonymous than they did in any church.

Mary Eberstadt, in her brilliant How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, establishes the connection between the slow demise of the American Church and Western individuation with its decline of the family community. Eberstadt writes: "Family and faith are the invisible double helix of society—two spirals that when linked to one another can effectively reproduce, but whose strength and momentum depend on one another." (Eberstadt, p. 22) The loss of loving, committed family communities is a cause of independence from, and disbelief in, God.

Eberstadt's analysis can be extended to larger "family" communities, such as the Church. This is sad, because people (even atheists) are still looking for community. See, e.g., the Facebook phenomenon as essentially a search for community (in It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by Danah Boyd).

When the Church tries to be "relevant" to Western culture it will be yet another de-communitizing thing. Sadly, social media, while not intrinsically bad, has moved into the vacuum left by the Church's de-communitizing strategies.

What can we do?

I think...

1. Return to the ancient Scriptures, which speak to and establish empowered corporate realities.
2. Begin small. Like the early church. Form small communities, which are more influential than mega-communities.
3. We must emphasize our distinctives, two of which are: a) "See how they love (agape) one another) and b) the manifest presence of God empowering the community with "fruit" and "gifts."

The secular world will take us seriously when the Church takes community seriously.

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My two books are


 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church