I was having coffee with an old school friend yesterday. He was in the local Charismatic church back then, I was in the local Dutch Reformed church back then. He is still in the same congregation, but even back then they were slowly moving away from the charismatic label and rather adopting the label evangelical, and I have been moving closer to… I’m not always sure what, but I like much of the emerging conversation.

He bemoans the fact that Americans have annexed the evangelical terminology, and complains about the way people misunderstands evangelicalism. So I asked him what exactly evangelical means. Without any hesitation he went on to tell me that there is no central creed. Not Lausanne. Not the Westminster confession (although, according to him, that one is the most common in the world where he moves around).

He continues to tell me that being evangelical is mainly about shared relationships. It’s people who journey together.

Sound familiar? Same thing those who associate with emerging thoughts would say.

Maybe there is more of a realization that we don’t have a common theology than we might think. Maybe many continue in the tradition they are not because they agree, but because they find community, friendship, in this tradition. So they’d rather disagree and remain in community.

Evangelicals would probably consider my friend to be in line with evangelical theology, but he wouldn’t make that a prerequisite to be part of the evangelical community, if I understand him correctly.

I’ve been listening to the 2007 Emergent Theological Conversation with Jack Caputo and Richard Kearney over the past few days, and the story of Derrida and Riccoeur, and how their personal relationship impacted they way they talked philosophy really touched me. This provides for true ecumenical conversations, where the relationship gets priority over the idea.

Not so easy, I agree. Peter Rollins points to this in second paragraph of this post, but maybe what we should be looking for is the idea which would give relationships priority over ideology or theology. Caputo’s love of God in chapter 1 of On Religion maybe?

stop marketing the church!

November 30, 2008

It’s one of those things some of us just instinctively know. We should stop marketing the church! We can’t say why, but we juts have this deep conviction that the church should not be marketed. Maybe we are wrong, and I can tell you that I have no idea how I would ever communicate to a church council that we can just as well stop all our marketing, whether on out website, the billboards we put up, whatever. So, if you are convinced that the church should we shrewd like the unjust stewert (Luke 16), and that we should therefore use every business trick in the book (this is a very very bad interpretation on that piece of scripture), then I don’t know what to tell you. But if you for some reason also has this deep conviction that, although all this marketing looks very nice, something is really wrong, then you gotta read this quote.

It’s from An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, which I’m currently reading. It was written by Heather Kirk-Davidoff, whom I have no idea who she is, but I would like to tell her, she put into words what I’m also thinking:

Whether we come from a mainline Christian of an evangelical Christian background, evangelism has most often focused on recruitment. As I’ve spoken about evangelism with other emerging church leaders, I’ve marveled that our different paths have led us to the same conclusion: recruitment kills relationship. Even if your theology is great, even if your church is wonderfu, even if your community os the best group of people on earth, as soon as you approach soneone with the intention of recruiting them into your theology or church or community, you become a marketer and the other perso is the target of your marketing. While GenXers have had a wide range of experience with religion or church or community, we share the experience of being targets of marketing from our earliest days of watching cartoons with product tie-ins. We can spot a sales pitch from a mile away, and we never confuse that with an offer of genuine relationship.

small town church

March 25, 2008

Most of my city friends will see my hometown, Piet Retief, as a small town. They think it small that I grew up in a town with basically one primary school, and one highschool (of course, this is a lot more complex because of the Apartheid destinction between the town and the township). Usually I see this as small myself, after 6 years in Pretoria.

But for the first 10 years of my live I grew up in an area which was really rural, in the town Nhlangano in the southers part of Swaziland. And the percentage of Afrikaner people in around the area is especially small. On Sunday I had the opportunity to preach in the small church in which I grew up. 14 people attended (excluding my family). No, not because they heard who was preaching, this is hoe attendance generally look. We stand outside and talk up to about 9:00, and then someone would say that they think everyone who is coming is here, and we will go in.

The debate is not between organ and band, since they use no instruments, I had to start singing, and then the rest will follow, but I must say this: these people really sing! The service was short, since we only sang two songs, I didn’t so a full liturgy, and I generally preach short. Afterwards they have coffee and tea, with LOTS of cake and stuff.

I must add this. The 14 people attending have all been members of the congregation when we moved away 14 years ago, except for the new kids that was born and the those that got marries into the community, one or two woman, but I just met the one. No one gets allowed into the community, you have to be born or married into the community to be a part.

Parts of what I’ve seen looks very romantic: the informal setting, everyone knowing everyone else, everyone staying behind for tea even though there is no Sunday school keeping them there. Parts of this would probably be part of how some people would see the ideal church, sometimes I would include myself with these “some people”. The little church is also a warning. Because they are so part of each other, that they don’t make room for those on the outside, that they don’t welcome the stranger. This is also a warning for the emerging conversation (see this comment on a previous post on someone’s experience of Solomon’s Porch).