Sometime last year a couple of us started with this experiment of camping without a program. I told some of the story of last years camp here. Maybe the camp was best summarized by one of the people there when she talked about the two circles of rocks that created this camp.

vuur sirkelOn arriving a number of the guys collected some wood and a few rocks to create a fireplace. The fireplace was nothing more than 8 rocks in a circle, and chairs that got carried to this circle of rocks. At night this was a place of warmth, since we had a fire going. But at day it remained a place of comfort, a place of connection, even though there was no fire. The circle of rocks created a safe space for conversations.

labyrinth kleinThe second was the labyrinth at the camp site. While at a similar camp last year a number of us built this labyrinth. The story of how a dumping site was made a holy place is told here. Although labyrinths has no meaning for some of us, for others this is a place of finding God and self. And the experiences shared made for lasting memories.

So, we camped without a program, but with two circles of rocks and a few other open spaces. It’s amazing what a circle of rocks can create…

The Latin phrase Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus means: “Outside the Church there is no salvation“. This expression comes from the writings of Saint Cyprian of Carthage, a bishop of the third century. The axiom is often used as short-hand for the doctrine, upheld by both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, that the Church is absolutely necessary for salvation (cf. “one true faith“). The theological basis for this doctrine is founded on the beliefs that (1) Jesus Christ personally established the one Church; and (2) the Church serves as the means by which the graces won by Christ are communicated to believers.

sourch: wikipedia – Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one for whom this sounds somewhat strange.

  • Firstly, any New Testament scholar, and many critical readers of the New Testament, will tell you that Jesus did not personally establish the church. He did not start a new faith either.
  • Secondly, the idea that the church serve as the means by which grace is won obviously won’t hold ground if the first foundation doesn’t hold ground.
  • However, to be honest, most of us probably had to change our minds because we had friends who simply don’t attend church. These doctrines won’t hold in a post-Christondom environment, because the concept of “church” and it’s place in society has changed completely.

The environment within which these doctrines developed worked with this structure:

God

|

Church

|

King and Nobles

|

People

|

Animals, Plants, and Objects

But this has changed. Or so we would think.

Andrew Root has done a brilliant study on how we made the relationships of relational youth minitry an end to a means, the end being getting kids into heaven. But getting kids into heaven doesn’t even seem enough of an end anymore. We gotta get them into church. So even though we talk about missional churches all the time, we structure entire youth ministries around getting kids into church. Yeah, they do short-term outreaches and community projects, but in the end we add these to a growing list of “church-stuff” that our kids have done.

If our entire youth ministry goes about to get the next generation into church, aren’t we then still holding to “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus”? If we measure our success against how many kids we got to church how frequently, what is the theological presupposition underlying that?

language for God

May 11, 2009

I teach a confirmation class. With all the problems involved with that (being part of a Christian culture where confirmation class is a way of reaching adulthood). The 12-15 17 year olds that entered my class this year are just like any class. They have very little knowledge of church history, the Bible, spirituality. They know many Christian words though, as part of this culture. But they struggle with language for God which resonate with the worldview that they are developing.

What I like about my confirmation class is the honesty that we have. They will regurarly remind me that they have little knowledge on issues of faith. This is the space where we search for language for God. A question like “where was God before creation?” can be interpreted in a number of ways. We could quote a Bible verse for them, using the religious terminology they are familiar with, but which is exactly the terminology that cause the problems, the reason for their needing to ask the question. This answer would be: “God is the beginning and the end, he that was and that is and that is to come”. This is theology that I agree with, but language that I struggle with. The 17 year olds in my class seem to be in the same situation.

So let me put some assumptions on the table. I believe that language for God and faith and trancendence is not set in stone. The Old Testament “El”-terminology and Jahwe terminology was Hebrew language, language that doesn’t translate exactly into the Greek “kurios” and “theos” language (if you don’t know the Hebrew and Greek, don’t worry). And the meaning attached to these words change over time. I simply admit that language refer to something else. The word “God” refer to something, the word in itself is nothing, and with English being my second language I don’t use this word when I talk about what English speaking people call “God”, I use an Afrikaans term. Admittedly, these two terms are spelled the same. The Belgic Confession article 1, one of the creeds of the Reformed tradition that I’m part of, point this out when writing:

We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God — eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty; completely wise, just, and good, and the overflowing source of all good.

God is a word, it refers to something which this confession tries to put into words, while knowing that it’s impossible, that this single and simple spiritual being is inconprehensible. But still we look for words to talk about this single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God. One way of doing this is to talk about that which is “more”. The language of “more” points to the fact that the physical reality is not all there is, and the measurable time is not all there is, there is more. This more we call God. 

We read Psalm 8 in the class. The glory of God being higher than the heavens. Creation ended at the heavens, God was found beyond the edges of creation. God was the more for Psalm 8 as well, I think. And so we continue, we look for language to talk about this reality that many call God, that I also call God at times. And sometimes I see a 17 year old, one that seldom if ever read the Bible, get a glitter in his/her eye, recognize language for God which resonate with their hearts, and just maybe they will make the more more and more part of their lives.

What determine who will come together in our conversations about church and God? I spent most of last week at the assembly of the Northern Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church (a much more positive experience than I expected, I must add), and we made quite a lot about different generations. They invited about 60 theological students which sat all over the place, and the facilitator stressed that we should listen to everyone. I tookpart in a dialog between me and my one collegue, where we talked about the changes which are happening in society, and stressed that the changes is much more complicated than people generally would like to know, and I linked this to generational differences as well.

But upon reading Attie’s critique on this generational thing, I realised that this is not what I really meant. I myself live in the illusion that a younger generation will neccesarily portray this single vision on the future of church. Reality is that I find more and more that what bind people together is not generational identity. So, here is a few things that I believe run deeper than generations, which will bind people over different generations, or drive people apart, even when from the same generation:

Top-down or Bottom-up theology: From what vantage point do you do theology? Is it theology from the perspective of the powerful, or the powerless? Most trained theologians come from the world of the powerful, from the societies with money, power, with a loud voice, and obviously most do theology from the perspective of this group (the most extreme example being prosperity theology). Some come from a society of powerless, those without money or a voice, and attempt theology from the perspective of this group, and some, although from the first group, attempt to do theology as far as possible from the perspective of this group. Those who attempt to do theology from the bottom-up, and those who do theology top-down, believing that this is the only possible way, might have a struggle to find each other, even if from the same generation.

Those who get it: In The New Christians Tony Jones tell the story of the emergence of emergent in America. Brad Cecil did a presentation on worldviews (find it here), and this basically divided the group into those who “got it”, and those who didn’t. What’s it? Do you get it that our worldview is changing? Some believe it is, others don’t. Some believe this change run very deep, other see it simply as a new way of communicating, or what have you. I don’t mean this arrogantly, as if some ain’t able to understand it, simply want to point out that not everybody like the idea of a change in our worldview. But OK, since most people are by now convinced that something is changing, maybe Doug Pagitt’s three categories of emerging ministry will help us here. First, those who do ministry to postmoderns, I believe will be isolating themselves more and more, since they will be attempting to evangelize or minister to the the third group, maybe even the second. Second, those who do ministry with postmoderns, will be like my Ethics professor who would admit that he ain’t a postmodern, but who listen to those who have made a more natural transition into a differing worldview (may I add that I have a lot more respect for those who admit that they ain’t postmodern, but are open to listen, than towards those who clearly don’t get it, but attempt to make as if they do). And then lastly, those who do ministry as postmoderns… I’m sure you can figure this part out for yourself. So, although this might sound similar to generational differences, it’s not, you’ll find all three these groups in both Gen X and Y, only time will tell how future generations will look.

Denominational differences I believe will become less and less of a determining factor. Many of the very influential conversational partners in my life I don’t even have any idea what denomination they are from, or what theological education they had. What I know it that we agree that we should attempt to do theology bottum-up, and that we have a gutt feel that we might be doing ministry as postmoderns. Many of the books I read I find myself differing on many dogmatic assumptions, and even find myself to be from differing generations, but when we agree on some of the above-mentioned, we tend to find each other.

What other factors would be more important than generation?

“The process by which we let go of our hopes to make a difference for God and settle for making a living is subtle and gradual. In our late teens and early twenties, we promise ourselves we’ll defy the rat race, but like lint to a hairball, we get snagged. First we get sidetracked from mission as we pay off school debt. Next we postpone our ideals to squeeze in a little fin time before we get serious/ Then we opt for good money (no one ever works for bad money) to prepare for marriage partner and family. Before we realize it, two decades have passed, and our best intentions to serve the Lord in mission have funneled down the drain of midlife, leaving a bathtub ring of unmet expectations. Or worse, we don’t even notice the change that has slowly eclipsed our original dreams as we grow accustomed to a life of second thoughts. What is left is a house, or houses, full of good things, and a vague suspicion that, in the words of poet William Stafford, “we have followed the wrong god home.”

This is from page 38-39 of sub-merge by John B. Hayes. I just bought it at a book sale, and been reading it the past few minutes. Actually I just started, but I know he talks about people moving into the poorest communities, living there to make a difference. What he describe is me and my friends. This is the things we said to each other back at university. And now we are at the moment in our lives where we must determine whether which road we are going to take. I look around, and see how some of us have already started down the consumerist line, and wonder whether I’ll be able to live a life that don’t give in…

I guess for me personally this is one of my current life struggles. Figuring out how I’m going to do this. Not thinking about it will end up in just doing what everyone is doing. I believe you need to intentionally seek the deeper life…

I’m at home for about a week. My dad is at the Willow Creek Leadership summit, receiving a prize for there work in home based care. My mom accompanied him. I’m at home, helping with my little brother and sister, working on my dissertation, and teaching. No, not university students this time, I grew up in a small town called Piet Retief. I’m teaching in my mom’s place. The only way she could accompany my dad was if she got a replacement teacher, and since I wanted to do some teaching for about two years now, this seemed like a good opportunity.

It’s a weird experience in some ways. Many of the teachers were on staff when I was at school there. Some I didn’t like, they are still there. Some I liked, they are still there, and I still see them as teachers.

I’m also reading some heavy work on Public Theology for my dissertation, this while sitting at school. You cannot help but wonder what the two have to say for each other. Shouldn’t theology have more to say in the public of the school setting? What would we then say? Maybe the idea of teaching isn’t that stupid at all? My own teaching ideas started out about two years ago when I listened to an ex-youth pastor who started teaching maths, because he realized that teachers have a much bigger influence on kids than youth pastors. This is where the future of the world is formed. This is where the values of a community, a community broader than the church, is formed. Shouldn’t we sometimes feel called towards this public?

The fact that the headmaster, whom I still know very well, and have a lot of respect for, had a conversation with me on how people with theological training could function as teachers also stirred some thoughts. Well, this has been on my list of possible futures for some time now, and it’s not going to happen in the near future, but looks like it will remain on my list.

Oh, and I enjoy the teaching. It’s much less preparation than for university classes, since the work is easier. And you work with people and explain things the whole day, which I love. Had some great conversations with my grade 11 IT class as well. Just talking about possibilities for their futures, what they could go study etc. After 5 years in university res you tend yo have quite a broad knowledge on what’s going on in different courses, plus I’ve always been intrigued by the IT courses. And then one of the girls started asking about theology and theological questions. I loved this! And it’s actually amazing. Here we are, talking theology in front of the whole class, everyone listening in

I’m planning on doing some intro to Web 2.0 stuff with the IT kids, since we are moving through the work quite fast. Will see how that goes down. Oh, and hopefully I’ll be able to start writing some of my dissertation ideas somewhere during the week, would love some feedback.

I started out my theological training 6 years ago with the sole intention of being the worlds greatest youth pastor. OK, so theological training has a way of taking ideas like becoming the “greatest”anything out of you, which is a good thing. Theological training also opened up the world for me, and over the years my eyes was opened to know that there is more to ministry than youth, and more to following Jesus than ministry.

I still remained involved with youth camps all through my studies, but since June 2007 I’m back into youth ministry. The challenges has changed since I was at school, or maybe all the years of theology just opened my eyes to a world more complex than I thought, opened my eyes to all the kids who don’t care for what we youth ministers are doing. But OK, I’ve been back for a year, and I’m slowly starting to find my feet again, I think.

I found this quote a few days ago in a book I use frequently when planning camps, well, actually I use it much less nowadays, because I practically know it by heart by now. But I printed this quote in 2005 and pasted it into the front of the book:

I look back over my years in ministry and ask what has actually helped people change and deepen spiritually: (1) youth retreats, (2) short-term mission trips, (3) some small groups (I say some – others were a waste of time), (4) many one-to-one relationships, (5) getting people involved leading something or serving somewhere.

It’s from A New Kind of Christian, p122. Maybe I need to do some checks more ofter, to see how much of my time I spend on these activities, and how much on keeping kids busy.

Must add though, I just got back from an AMAZING conversation with one of the young leaders in our congregation. She is roundabout 15, and we talked theology, I explained the worldview of Biblical writers, the process in which the Bible came into being, how it was canonized, and most importantly how I see Jesus. Great conversation, she is currently reading The Secret Message of Jesus. Remember the post of a few days ago? Well, I think today might have been part of the reaction to it.

A question: What books would you recommend for high school kids? I’ve been realizing lately that most books I read I’m either not comfortable with, or I fear they are too complicated. Blue Like Jazz is a good idea, but what else?