Tuesday, February 26, 2008

'Doing God' today - Not religous and not a label

I recently read an article from a special feature on God in the New Statesman. It was written by a man called Ziaduddin Sardar, talking about 'The right way to do God'.

He writes:

"The fabric of modern society is comprised of questions of moral conscience and none of us can escape the obligation to make choices for which we must bear responsibility. The sooner we can be open and honest about how and why we struggle with the questions, the better it would be for...our political and public debate"

He concludes "I know we all need a more challenging idea of what 'doing God' actually means."

He's so right.

Now, for me the term 'doing God' in the context describes a cultural shift. The way people perceive God and people who believe in Him has to change. The old way of 'doing God' culturally is going.

Faith as something of you merely believe is not the future. Its never been the way.

Faith, religion, God is now becoming a way of life. A lifestyle choice, not just a decision about what you believe.

That's how it used to be. Whether you were a Christian or not depended on what you believed not on how you lived. They were almost separate, unless you were a priest or a monk. In society, God had - and still is - compartmentalised. Even now, in many Christian churches, there isn't so much about Christianity as a way of life, a lifestyle choice, a cultural decision made by individuals - but something you believe in.

Many churches today are obsessed with getting people to believe the right thing. Not only that, but to 'get in' you have to agree with everything this doctrine says.

But Christianity is more than doctrine. Doctrine is important, but its only one part of being a Christian, and what interpretation you believe and whatever wing of theology you end up on, then it has something to do with your own upbringing, background and life experience. The way you first experienced God, the way you experienced life. It all impacts your theological perspective.

But its only the beginning.

Christianity - which is how I prefer to 'do God' as Mr Sardar puts it - is a way of life. Its a lifestyle choice. It a cultural choice for individuals.

Everything we do every day is part of being a Christian. Every choice we make, everything we do, all our priorities and needs, our whole way of life should revolve around God. Around Jesus. Around following His example in every area of our life. Work, rest, play, good times, bad times, joy, suffering, church, home, day, night.

The term 'Christian' is not a label we can put on something which is written by a Christian or about Jesus or Christianity in some shape or form.

Christian should not a label we put on ourselves. Its not a 'type' of anything. Christianity is the culture of how we live. Its our identity. Its our lifestyle. Books by Christians about some aspect of Christianity shouldn't be called 'Christian' books - they are books about Christianity by Christians. Worship music or and type of music made by Christians shouldn't be called 'Christian music'. Its worship music, its rock music - its music of a certain type with lyrics about Jesus or God. Or a band made up of Christians.

Christianity is how you live your life. Your daily choices, how you treat people, how you engage with society and the people in it. How you engage with God.

When you see it for that, then it opens up whole new possibilities. So many new interpretations which are still in line with the heart of the gospel and the nature of God. It means that you will always be looking for new ways of living like Jesus in the time and place you are. You will be open to new things. The things you create will be label free, but could still be about Jesus. How you do church is more flexible.

Church is a community of Christians meeting together, worshipping together, going through life together, discipling and training each other and supporting each other, serving together and together getting involved in the community its part of.

When you see Christianity as a lifestyle and a group of Christians see it like that too then church naturally opens up and becomes more in touch with its community. It becomes bigger than the meetings and home groups, its becomes alive. It becomes organic. It grows.

The way to 'do God' now is to make it your lifestyle choice. The thing that all your choices and decisions in every area of your life revolve around. More than just what you believe and definitely not a label or a religion.

Then we see more and more of who Jesus really is and what He's like and that He is just as relevant now and will be tomorrow as he was yesterday.

Then maybe eventually the world we live in will start to see that Christianity and 'doing God' Jesus' way is not religion. Is not a label. Its a way to live. What's more, maybe that its the best way to live.

What a prospect.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Be Progressive

People often defend the idea of absolute, fundamental truth.

I agree that at a very basic level, there are basic truths - about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and also scientific truths.

They are all linked as well. Science is part of God's creation. He made it, He defined it, and so any proven 100% (as opposed to 99%) scientific fact can be called true. True about God's creation.

Science is limited however. There is only so much you can measure with science.

However, if you look at science as a dimension of God's creation, or even part of God, then you have a slightly different view. God the creator expressing Himself through creation, and science as a means of making it all happen.

Almost like God created science in order to help us understand His creation and measure it. They are two sides of the same coin. They compliment each other. Science can't 100% prove God's existence, but God can sure explain the existence of science.

There are things about God, and about science, that we don't know yet.

Believe it or not.

In terms of science, well we are learning more every day; there are plenty of people looking for those new ideas.

As for God, well that's a different story. Progressives are always called heretics by their generation.

The problem, which can be found in science as well as in Christianity, is that every generation seems to think they are the enlightened ones, that they have the definitive answers to everything, both spiritually and scientifically.

Each time this happens progressive thinkers come along and come up with new interpretations, new ideas. In science, until they prove it, they are called crazy.

If you're a Christian, you're called a heretic.

The Christian faith as we know it now is very different from that 400 years ago. Most Christians living now would be burnt at the stake as heretics if they went back there and spoke the same things.

Yet now, many of these self-same people call any preacher or church that comes up with progressive ideas which challenge us to look at things or at God in a different way, in a new way, in a way which is radically different from anything before, a heretic.

Here's an interesting fact for you. Jesus Himself was effectively called a heretic. He was accused of blasphemy. He was executed for it in fact.

Is that not a lesson for us?

Every so often a time comes in history where we need to push forward, where we need to look at things in a new way, where God is showing us new dimensions of Himself and giving us new challenges.

The church needs to move forward and adapt and change so that it can communicate a relevant message in a relevant way. The basic truths never change, but how we live them out has to change.

I think often we're more the problem with making Jesus relevant.

We limit the message, we put boxes around it, and we say there is only one right interpretation or meaning to a passage.

Well some people do anyway.

There are so many new things God wants to say through old scriptures. Teachings which don't go against old truths, but elaborate on them, but open them out and open our eyes to new ways of seeing them and new ways of applying them.

Christianity more than ever before is something not just that we believe in, but a way of life. A culture in itself. A way of living, a lifestyle choice.

It always was meant to be so, but now, in the lifestyle culture we live in, that teaching, that interpretation is more relevant now than ever. Being a Christian isn't just about believing and going to church.

It’s a lifestyle choice.

It’s an attitude.

It’s a state of mind.

Based on basic truths found in the Bible.

We need to be humble. We need to be open to anything God says, even if it hurts our pride or ego. Fear too is a boundary to hearing new ideas and teachings from the Bible.

As long as they don't contradict the nature and character of God, as long as they don't contradict the very basic truths in the Bible - at a very basic level - then they are worth considering.

Basic truths for me are summed up beautifully in the Nicene Creed....

"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."

In my opinion if any teaching comes along which doesn't in any way deny this, and doesn't go against the perfectly just, loving, merciful, gracious and forgiving nature of God then it is worth considering and thinking about.

There is so much more to learn about God, and about how to be a Christian. There's so much more He has to say to us.

Let’s not get so caught up in religion and tradition that aren't aware of how God wants us to live. Now. Today.

Because the way He wants us to live today will be different from what has gone before, purely because the culture, society and world that we live in today is different from even 50 years ago, yet alone 400 years ago.

Let’s not get stuck in tradition. Let’s be progressive. Let’s grow.

Personally I'm excited to see what new things God wants to say and do and I want to be open to see and hear them.

Aren't you?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New Statesman-The God Issue: An Initial Response

The 4 February edition of the New Statesman had a series of articled, subtitled 'The God Issue'. There's too much to cover in one blog post, but I hope to cover most of it over the coming weeks.

To begin with, I thought that I'd respond to the shortest section of the article, little interviews with various public figures with a few questions on God.

One interview in particular struck me, with Peter Tatchell, human rights activist.

This is what he says.... "The idea [of God] is synonymous with irrationality, superstition, ignorance and usually dogmatism, insecurity, authoritarianism, ignorance, self-loathing and injustice."

He goes on to compare God with Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, before finishing with answering the question "Where would be without God?"

His response..."Much better off, with a more enlightened, just and humane world....religion has been mostly an instrument of war, bigotry and oppression"

How ironic.

The thing Tatchell forgets to do is distinguish between God and His followers. Christians and other religious people can all be hypocrites, and over time the Bible and other religious texts have been used to justify pain, war and oppression. People have perpetrated injustices in the name of Jesus and even now Christian fundamentalists still have what appears to be a very narrow-minded, judgemental point of view on some issues.

Christians and followers and other Gods aren't perfect. Everyone knows that.

God Himself is different. The Bible is different. Jesus is different.

The Bible talks about a God who is all-powerful, who is perfectly just, who loves everyone completely unconditionally, so much He gave His Son to save us. A God of grace, mercy and forgiveness who stands against the wronged, the persecuted and hates injustice. A God of peace and love. A God who gives us the ultimate security.

Peter Tatchell has based his judgement of God on Christians and religious people.

Is that not a challenge to us?

This sort of thing is going to happen. Its no surprise that some people think this way. A lot of people are always going to look at the church and look to the behaviour and lifestyle of Christians and that will be who they think Jesus is and what He's about.

They do need do understand the concepts of grace, mercy and forgiveness. They need to understand that Christians aren't perfect. We need to tell them. We need to explain to them.

But to get to that point we need to show them at least a glimpse of who Jesus is. Jesus needs to be the focal point around which our life is built, not something we bolt on the side.

We need to show the same grace, mercy and forgiveness He had. We need to stand and take the lead against injustice as He did. If we are doing that, if we are making tough choices putting God first, then people will notice. Eventually.

Unfortunately, the most well-known areas of the church outside the church don't often give a Christ-like image of the rest of us. The fundamentalist, right-wing evangelical church in America, The Catholic church, the Church of England.

These are all very prominent in the public eye for the wrong reasons right now. They certainly aren't giving off an impression of the Jesus I know and read about in the Bible.

I don't profess to be perfect, and no church is perfect at all - after all, we're all sinners - but these are really in the public eye, and to my mind they are harming the name of Jesus and of God with some their words, tradtions and actions.

To change the mind of people like Peter Tatchell, then we need to change the church, and the public perception of the church as well. People need to see a church of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and social action.

What an amazing thing it would be for the church to be in the news for the right reasons, instead of the wrong ones.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Reflections on Brian McClaren & the emerging church

Brian McClaren, an American pastor and theologian, has come to prominence over the last few years, with books like 'A New Kind of Christian' and 'A Generous Orthodoxy' and has been behind the rise of the emerging church in recent years.

I'm reading 'A New Kind of Christian' at the moment, and undoubtedly over the coming weeks there will be more blogs on Brian McClaren. But reading online some of the things he's said and written, I wanted to offer an initial response.

McClaren wants to see a church that is constantly changing and adapting to the post-modern culture and one which exists without needing a objective truth in which to believe.

But how does that work?

We as Christians believe in the God of the Bible. We recognise he is real, true and that He sent Jesus to die for our sin. We acknowledge the power and authority of the Holy Spirit at work in the world.

If we don't have that truth in us at even a basic level, then we don't have a faith.

There needs to be some sort of basic truths about God at some level for us to even find out about Him. If we feel His presence without having ever read the Bible, then that truth exists in our experience. We cannot deny that experience, it is true.

If we experience God through the Bible, then we acknowledge that is true.

Rob Bell talks in his book 'Velvet Elvis' about springs, and that there are some fundamental things which act as springs, but that everything else is open to interpretation. He compares it to bricks, which are solid and immovable, and where taking one out ruins the whole wall. He's talking about fundamentalists who say there is only one way to interpret the Bible. He calls it 'brickianity'.

To him, the Bible is a spring. There is no one single meaning or interpretation, but lots and they change and adapt over time as the culture we live in changes and the circumstances and lifestyle we are born into changes. So then we face different circumstances and different challenges as a Christian. The interpretation is different.

This is a better explanation I think. They are saying very similar things, but very different as well. McClaren denies the need for fundamental truth, Bell says that it is merely a spring to much more which we don't know about and that we can explore.

Brian McClaren also is quoted as saying the following "It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts …"

Now I don't want to take this out of context.

There are two things McClaren could mean when he says this.

If McClaren is saying that we want people to believe in Jesus and yet remain Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish, then he's contradicting what Jesus said about "No one comes to the Father except through me" and also what Jesus said about people not being able to serve two masters.

If you are of one religion, then you can't take bits of another as an add-on. If you follow Jesus, you don't follow any other religious leader or teaching.

Jesus certainly didn't want that.

That's not being dogmatic or inflexible, but there is no interpreation of scripture which says to me that following Jesus yet still following another god is okay. That makes no sense to me, and if that is what McClaren is really saying then I just can't agree with it.

If however, as I suspect, he is saying that Christianity needs to be different for each culture then he may have a point. The way we live out our faith will be different wherever we are born, whatever culture we come from, whatever tradition we are in, whatever social or economic class we're in and whatever our circumstances, our experience of Jesus and the way we live out our faith practically is going to be different wherever we are.

Someone living on the streets of India will live out their faith very differently from a middle-upper class westerner. Their entire lives are different, therefore while they may believe the same basic truths then the way they interpret them and put them into practice will be very different.

Now that idea I can get on board with.

Judging by these two points, I think that Brian McClaren has some good ideas at a very basic level, but some of the detail and way he interprets that is a little different, maybe a bit too liberal, for my own liking.

I await with interest to see what other things he has to say, and of course as I read more of his work and understand it, then I will be able to form real opinions about his work.

Whatever my opinions on Brian McClaren though, the emerging church has many branches to it and is merely a conversation, a discussion about how to do Christianity and church today. How to take the best of the old and make it into the new. How to take the best of the church today and bring it together and build a church and a faith for today and the future.

Rob Bell is certainly the man who has captured my perspective on it the most clearly of anyone, and my own pastor Jason Clark as well.

I may not totally agree with Brian McClaren but I like what he's trying to do.

We need to be exploring what church and Christianity looks like today, what's right with church, what's wrong with church and what we can do about it.

Some people say the emerging church is a heresy.

The interesting thing is that if they went back 400 years and said what they believed now, some of what they hold as fundamental now would be called heresy.

The simple truth is that as culture and society changes, the way we do life changes and the way we practically live out our faith changes. It also is different depending on the culture and society we live in.

It doesn't mean the basic truths change. It merely means the way we live them out does.

Monday, February 04, 2008


We do have a hope.

Did you know that?


Not just some ideal, naive idea, not some forlorn concept which isn't really real.

Not a work of fiction.

It’s real.

It’s true.

Its fact.

As Christians, we are part of that hope and have it in our hearts.

Not only that, by the promise of that hope being true and real.

It really strikes me at work how people today are so resigned to the negativity, cynicism and pain of life that they just get on and accept that's all there is. People seem to be resigned to the fact that there is no real hope. People have raised hopes in the past and disappointed, and now people generally have lost all faith that there is any real genuine reason for hope, that there is any chance of true joy, true peace, and true hope for the future. They are so cynical that is not even noticed, its almost part of everyone's DNA.

There is no trust anymore, and such a need for hope, for grace and love.

Even worse is that Christians, the people who have this real hope are themselves affected by it, and are so caught up often with other things we forget the most important ones. We argue who's right and wrong and which denomination is the best, which church is the best and divided over other things that we forget to love, serve, bless, forgive and show people the truth in a way that isn't hypocritical and distorted.

We Christians get sucked in by this cynicism. We downplay the truth of the hope we have, or at least, we water it down. Or maybe we just forget.

Do we realise how amazing this hope is?

We should do.

Are we excited by it? Are we enthusiastic about it?

We really should be.

We have every reason to be.

The thing is you see that there are real problems, real issues which Jesus wants to deal with today and we are the people He's trusted to deal with them. Being a Christian means choosing His values and standing up for them.

A lot of people think Christians are hypocrites, that the church is outdated. Can we not do anything to disprove this?

That’s why living and acting in the truth of this hope is vital.

Not all churches and Christians are like the image that comes across a lot of the time. We can make change where we are. We can make change by taking action.

It starts with each of us individually living out our faith, having integrity, admitting our weaknesses and going to the cross.

Doing it individually and together as individual churches.

It’s not easy, and we won't ever be perfect or get it totally right - but the message itself, and Jesus himself, is perfect and is authentic and real.

Give people a real hope, a real possibility for real change, show them something worth living and dying for that’s real and alive and true and this can happen.

Barack Obama is doing so well in the US Presidential campaign and gathering support because he is offering people what appears to be real hope for real change and a break from what's gone before.

Something different, something fresh and new.

Jesus did that 2000 years ago, and we need to make that message as fresh today as it was then. Communicating it in a relevant way, with modern metaphors and testimonies. And above all, by our daily lifestyle, our attitudes, perspectives and choices.

A faith and hope that stands and takes the lead against injustice, oppression, and the things that are wrong in this world. That stands against the values of this world. That presents a real and true alternative to the consumer culture we live in, yet helps us to deal with living in the culture that we find ourselves in each day.

First though we need to believe the truth and the promises of God for what they are.

The truth.

God is not some ambitious politician out to make a name for himself, but the Lord and creator of the universe with limitless power, grace and love, for us. His promises are true. His hope is real. Let’s live like it is.

Not that life will be easy or we'll be perfect, but even in suffering we know we have someone we can turn to. We have something to hold on to which gives us the strength to persevere. We have the hope and the promise of something better.

Not that we are perfect, but that we are in a relationship where we can be shaped, moulded and transformed. That the mistakes we make can be rectified. Where we can deal with the issues of life and our mistakes in a place where there is forgiveness, grace and support to move forward - in community with both God and fellow Christians. That we know a God who loves us despite our failings, despite our mistakes, despite our problems, despite our failings.

Finally, that we have a promise that Jesus will always be with us, that He has given us the gifts to deal with any situation, that He loves us so much He gave His life for us and has been through worse than we can ever imagine.

The real hope and promise of perfect love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.

The hope and promise of eternity with Him.

This is no idealistic fantasy. This is real. This is true. This is fact.