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Thin Places Releases TODAY! Check out: Full Video Session, 1st Chapter & Table of Contents

It’s finally here! Order your copy of “Thin Places”.

Also, in anticipation of today’s release of Thin Places, the good folks at The House Studio have released all sorts of fun stuff! As a way to allow all of you to be a bit more familiar with what Thin Places (and the Small Group edition) is all about, you can now check out the Table of Contents, the full first chapter and the second of six videos in the small group edition.  

Hope it is helpful and I would much appreciate you passing the word!  

Check this out for a full description, video trailer, endorsements.

Check out the table of contents

Read the First Chapter: Listening

Thin Places -- Chapter 2: Submerging from The House Studio on Vimeo.

“There Are No Thin Places.” My Response to Tony Jones

I really appreciate Tony Jones.  He is one of the best conversation starters in the “Christian” blogosphere with his passion for the Church to step more fully into its vocation by setting aside complacency and static dogma.  Tony asks hard questions and seeks to create space for constructive discourse that leads to new insights and answers.  On a personal level, his endorsement of my first book – Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling – to the higher ups at Zondervan is a significant reason I got published at that stage of my life/career. 

In my mind: Tony = Good Dude. 

Last week there was some buzz around my new book (with Rob Yackley), Thin Places, Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, that led to Tony posting a blog (Read it here for the rest of this post to make sense) in response to Steve Knight’s post on it the day before.  The conversation revolved primarily around varying interpretations of the Celtic term “Thin Place” and the secular/sacred dualism it could potentially create.  Tony argues that there are is no such thing as a thin place, “I say this because God is ever-present, everywhere. God isn’t more some places and less in other places. God is, in the classic sense, omnipresent.”  Rob and I give our interpretation of a “thin place” in the comments of this post.

In the end, Tony agrees with us on this and we agree with him.  God is everywhere, but a thin place is that moment/place where we are awakened to the reality of God’s Kingdom in a new way.  It’s not that it wasn’t here, it’s that we hadn’t yet had the eyes to see it.  He says, “In other words, pay attention. God is already where you are.”

Couple More Thoughts:

1. There is an irony to this whole conversation.  The point of this book is to offer the lived, rooted, praxis-based expression of a missional community so as to help spark the imaginations and practices of other faith communities.   We are saying,  Life on mission in the context of intentional community is not a far out ideal: it is a reality waiting for others to step into.”  “Missional” has become quite the buzzword and handy adjective for those seeking to jump on the latest ecclesial bandwagon.  I’m not saying those are inherently bad, but the last thing we need is more TALK about missional…we need embodied, lived expressions of the missional way of life.  

The Irony?  This book is seeking to encourage the Church to LIVE INTO their theology rather than debate it.  So while I love the discussions that are circling around the theological connotations of the title of this book, I’d love even more to see us wrestling with how to PRACTICE this in the real-life stories of our neighborhood.

I’m not saying there isn’t a need for academic critique, discourse or even debate on this.  In fact, I find great value in that and personally come to life in it.  What I am saying is that it would go a long way if we more often stepped out from behind our computers, and began to better live out our theology in the mundane than argue theology in the theoretical (I recently said much more about that over at Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians blog).  If there’s a hope from Thin Places, It’s not only for people to be encouraged to live this out, but to build on it, improve and add to it, and then share that insight with others. 

2.  Missional Hipster?

Well, you may have me there, Tony…or maybe not.  Depends on who you talk to.  I think hipsters wouldn’t consider me a hipster and non-hipsters would call me a hipster.  And as Rob said, he’s way to old to be a hipster.  Are there hipsters in our community?  Let’s just say some of the guys have to put Vaseline on their thighs to pull their pants up, so yes, we have some hipster up in here.  But please know that after I send you a box of THIN mints and Wheat THINS you’ll be receiving a prayed over spatula from our white missional hipster BBQ. 

 

 

A Response to My Article “End Times and Global Immersion”

During the past eight years, I have made four trips to Israel. I have participated in two six-month undergraduate and graduate study experiences and have co-led two short-term pilgrimage experiences for high school and college students. I’ve taken classes and shared meals with Jews, Muslims and Christians and have seen and heard uncounted stories of suffering and injustice. During my short amount of time living in Israel, I experienced many of the complexities of life in the Middle East.

Through all of the difficulties of adjusting to living in a new culture, the greatest was the confusion I faced as a white American evangelical. As Huckins states in his article, “Rather than immersing myself in the living narratives, I had been content with a theology and narrative that had been formed for me.”

As my life intersected the numerous narratives being told by the diversity of people living in Israel, I understood that I needed to seriously reconsider both the eschatology and the ecclesiology I’d been handed.

In North America we have the luxury of being highly selective and particular about whom we participate with in the life of a local faith community. Our freedom has provided us the ability of being able to divide ourselves by all kinds of denominational, theological, liturgical, political, racial and economic differences. We clearly delineate between who is in and who is out, who is one of us and who is one of them. Sunday mornings in North America more closely resemble tribal gatherings—each group closely gathered and facing inward—than diverse and interconnected expressions of the body of Christ.

As an American Christian living in Israel, all the ways I had been trained by our culture and my theological education to differentiate myself from other Christians no longer mattered. Participating in a community with other followers of Jesus meant more to me than it ever had before. The small church I experienced was diverse, strange and filled with beautiful tension. American evangelicals, Pentecostals, Messianic Jews, Christian Zionists, Palestinian Christians and followers of Jesus from various other countries and political persuasions all called this community home. Though there was plenty of bickering and arguing, I never witnessed it leading to actual division, neglect or hate. The truth is, we all needed each other to survive the daily struggle of life in Israel. As a legitimate follower of Jesus in the Middle East, you either accept the body of Christ for what it is—a diverse community that transcends race, theology and politics—or you choose to live in isolation.

The problem with the Western understanding of what it means to be a part of the church is that it really only helps our students understand what it means to be a part of church. Living in Israel transformed my understanding of what it means to be part of the church because I realized that in the United States we have constructed our religious institutions in such a way that we don’t really need each other.

As much as we all needed each other in the community I was part of in Jerusalem, this community also needed connection, support and encouragement from followers of Jesus around the world and in the United States. And, though I never realized it, followers of Jesus in the United States needed connection, support and encouragement from this small and unique community in Jerusalem and from other Christians around the world. We have failed to remember the words of Jesus—that our brothers and sisters are anyone who does the will of God,[1] not just people who look and think like us. This includes Huckins’ friend Mildad, the Palestinian Christian who lives in Bethany.

The kind of ecclesiological isolationism that many Western Christians practice leaves room for our other theological understandings to get distorted. We have allowed ourselves to get in trouble by practicing a weak ecclesiology, especially given the popularity and sensationalism of end-times prophecy and eschatological beliefs that include violence and despair. Our communities haven’t modeled what it means to hold ecclesiology and eschatology (regardless of our specific set of beliefs) in tension and have therefore indirectly taught our students that eschatology trumps ecclesiology.

As Huckins reminds us, according to a dispensational understanding of the eschaton, the existence of the nation of Israel is a necessary part of the sequence of events leading to the return of Christ. Therefore, many evangelical Christians support the nation of Israel in their cause against the Palestinians. As Huckins points out, what many of us don’t know (or don’t care about) is that American Christians are financially and politically supporting the oppression of not only the Palestinian people but other followers of Jesus—Palestinian Christians.

What dispensational theology states in practice is that it is more important to prop up the nation of Israel as a pawn in our end-times game than to stand with, suffer with and support other followers of Jesus who are being oppressed. This is not only one of the reasons dispensational theology is practically untenable but also why our students may not have a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.

God confronts Cain after a dispute involving religion, jealousy and the murder of his brother.[2] In a rapidly changing world filled with confusion, tension, violence and possibility, all of us in the Western church are confronted by the asking and answering of Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If we’re to be the kind of Christians who can hold our theological convictions in tension while modeling and practicing an appropriate ecclesiology, we have to answer this question with, “Yes.” And if we say yes to this question, even if it is only in a whisper, we have no choice but to embrace followers of Jesus from around the world as our brothers and sisters and to actively pursue ways mutual connection, support and encouragement can be experienced.

This brave response will undoubtedly lead to the rethinking and reorganizing of our theological, political, racial and economic opinions, which might be exactly what God wants us in the Western church to do. For the sake of our own souls, for the well-being of followers of Jesus around the world, for the sake of our students—both now and in the future—we have to find the courage to take this step.

1) Invite leaders from other Christian traditions to speak at your youth group, or invite your students and leaders to join you at a gathering of followers of Jesus that looks different from your own.

2) Challenge students to scour internet blogs and news sites looking for stories (both positive and negative) about other Christian communities from around the world. Set aside a few minutes in your weekly gatherings for students to share what they’ve found and to collectively pray for your newly discovered brothers and sisters.

3) Don’t avoid difficult theological, political, racial or economic conversations during your gatherings. Inviting students to hold differences with others in tension will go a long way in the future toward them knowing how to exist in connection with followers of Jesus who are different from them.

 



[1] Matthew 12:46-50.

[2] Genesis 4:9.

Missional-Monastic Community: Part 2

Yesterday I presented a brief history of the soil which gave birth monasticism (Click to read Part 1).  In short, the monastics chose a life self denial, isolation and rigorous spiritual disciples out of faithful devotion to Jesus.  While the movement often withdrew from society (whether individually or communally) they offered a prophetic call to the low-committment Church of the Roman Empire.  For the monastics, being a Christian wasn’t a transaction or a label, it was a way of life.  

We have much to learn from the monastics, but how can we take what we have learned and shape communities that aren’t only focused on formation, but also mission?

The Missional Stream of Missional-Monastic Community

Although the monastery was—and to some degree still is—a place that is primarily focused on personal and communal formation through a withdrawal from culture, it largely served as the birthplace of the missional movement

The Celtic Cross in Knock, Ireland

within Church history. St. Patrick and his successors began to plant seeds of the missional DNA within the soil of monasticism and the Church in the fifth century. Having been kidnapped and enslaved by the Irish as a youth, Patrick returned home to Britain with a divine conviction to return to Ireland and invite his persecutors into the way of Jesus.

Not content to withdraw from society for the sake of personal formation, Patrick birthed a new form of monastery— what George G. Hunter III terms “monastic communities”.  Unlike previous monasteries, Patrick’s weren’t “organized to protest and escape from the materialism of the Roman world and the corruption of the Church; the Celtic monasteries were organized to penetrate the pagan world and to extend the Church.” These communities were committed to spiritual formation—both individually and communally—and they were fueled by the missio dei to be good news in their new and extremely different context. They were what I see as missional-monastic communities.

Throughout our Christian history, the church often struggled to consistently produce missional-monastic communities, communities that were committed to internal formation that directly influenced their external extension and engagement. The institutions often calcified, the monasteries often withdrew at the expense of missional engagement, and missions turned to violent colonialism.

Obviously the news isn’t all bad as the Spirit faithfully led and guided the changing Church through its dysfunctions as it continues to do today. With that said, I think these paradigms remain a helpful critique and corrective for the Church. It is not enough to be purely focused on formation or purely focused on mission. There must be a dynamic interdependence that allows the Spirit to shape and fuel both individuals and communities as they seek to faithfully participate in the missio dei.

How often do our faith communities amount to little more than Bible studies? Can the Bible be faithfully “studied” if it isn’t put into practice in the “classroom” of our neighborhood, city, or world?

In contrast, how often do we go on mission trips where we don’t really have any relationship with the people we are seeking to serve or any understanding of the context in which they live? We have plenty of “outreach” programs, but our relationships with God and with neighborhoods are nothing more than a passing wave.

We can neither remain withdrawn from society in our monasteries nor advance on mission without being fueled by the Spirit. So what does it look like to be a missional-monastic community today in the unique soil of our context?

Tomorrow — Part 3: Embodied Missional-Monastic Community

 

The majority of this post is an excerpt from my book (with Rob Yackley) Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, published by The House Studio 

Missional-Monastic Community: Part 1

Mission is the work of God that the church simply participates in, not the work of the church that we ask God to bless. Jesus commissioned his disciples to join this mission, and the early church sought to faithfully form faith communities that would embody and advance the missio dei. Two major movements in church history have sought to faithfully embody and participate in the missio dei. These monastic and missional movements make up the foundation for the community we have been called to form and are the roots of our particular faith community (NieuCommunities). 

I want to take the next few days to explore the history (it will only be brief!) and modern practice of missional-monastic community (some may call this New Monasticism).  In the Church today there is a building movement for missional community and a resurgence of interest in the monastics. 

What would our faith community’s look like if we were to glean the insights of formation from the monastics, while embracing our vocation of shared mission

I will begin by taking a brief look at the development of monasticism and its implications on the way we form and live out community today. 

The Monastic Stream of Missional-Monastic Community

As a grassroots, Spirit-driven movement, the early Church thrived under the heavy hand of the Roman Empire during the first three hundred years following Jesus’s life and ministry on earth. It was a movement that didn’t offer allegiance to Rome and the “divinely” appointed Caesar, but instead offered allegiance to Jesus. However, as Christianity became more widely accepted (the majority of Roman citizens became “Christians” during the fourth-century-reign of Constantine), Christian nominalism began to pervade the Church. The unique soil that had given birth to a cruciform faith was reduced to a label that required less and less abandon to the self-sacrificing way of Jesus. Christianity became “the thing to do” rather than the high calling of one submitted to the way of the cross.

It was this context and ecclesial reality that gave birth to monasticism. Of Egyptian ancestry, Anthony was raised in a wealthy Christian family; after a unique conversion experience, he gave all he had to the poor while choosing to pursue a life of asceticism. Withdrawing from society, Anthony spent the next twenty years of his life in an old fort in the mountains, eating and drinking sparingly as he gave his life to devotion of the contemplative life. For him and for many of his contemporaries, the radical call of Jesus to selfless sacrifice had been lost by the majority the Church, and they saw their intentional way of life as a needed corrective.

Anthony is now known as the Father of Monasticism because his way of life attracted disciples and sparked a new movement that served as a critique to a calcifying Church structure and commitment-less Christianity. Anthony’s fame spread throughout the Empire, and Emperor Constantine and his two sons even took the time and effort to seek out his counsel and prayer.

As the movement developed, it sparked a renewed submission to the radical call of Jesus and took a variety of forms—some much more extreme than others. For example, Simon the Stylite lived on top of a pillar east of Antioch for thirty-six years as he and others like him became known as “athletes of God” through their selfless sacrifice and devotion. In contrast, Pachomus, a fourth-century monastic, thought it best to pursue the monastic life in the context of community and pioneered the development of the monastery. His monastery became so popular that many others were started, and by the end of the fourth century, a developed Pachomian system had been established for the operation of the community.

Along the way, buildings were erected as a way to keep the world away from the cloistered community or monastery. For these monks, the ideal Christian life was not one of direct engagement with the world for the extension of the kingdom, but one of withdrawal out of a desire to be better formed into devoted, self-sacrificing followers of Jesus. Their witness was not through missions or evangelism, but by offering to the rest of the world a countercultural example of devotion.

It was in this context that the monastery became—and largely still remains—primarily an image of spiritual and communal formation rather than missional advancement and engagement. Although there is much more to the early monastic movement, it is this image of the monastery that I want to come back to and build upon for the sake of our conversation.

The monastics intentionally embarked on this way of life with a specific purpose of calling the Church back to its radical vocation to be a community rooted in the way of self sacrifice and obedience to Jesus.  Have our churches become monasteries removed from missional engagement as a prophetic presence like the monastics or out of pious isolation?  How might we create communities of formation and prophetic presence as a way of advancing our participation in the missio dei?

Tomorrow -- Part Two: Missional Stream of Missional-Monastic Community

The majority of this post is an excerpt from my book (with Rob Yackley) Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, published by The House Studio 

 

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