Monday, August 23, 2010

The body of Christ

Amongst some decrepit tables in a theological college near you, two young and bristling thinkers sip hot drinks and attempt to ward off the cold by roasting one side of themselves in front of a friendly brown gas heater, while their other side slowly freezes. The coffee tastes both instant and stale, the carpet stained, the walls threatening to sigh and give up and the room is illuminated by a rather stoic if lonely vending machine and some naked and harsh fluorescent bulbs. Within this room a peculiar and rare phenomenon is taking place, something which defies physics, logic, causality and chance.

Christians from different traditions are disagreeing with each other in love.

Let us leave temporarily the questionable carpet stains of our postmodern semi-monastic surroundings and think about why we understand the above point to be somewhat ironic.

All of humanity displays observable trends. The study of sociology and anthropology, culture, psychology, behavioural science etc is made possible because of reoccurring patterns. Human beings are in many ways predictable. We have biases, we have personalities, tastes, proclivities, favourites, comfort zones, routines, customisable play-lists for our music etc. It is therefore somewhat obvious that the core personality of the person (their ontology), whether conservative or avant-garde, filters into and affects everything about the person. My particularly conservative streak affects the way I vote, the music I listen to, the clothes I wear, the media I choose to interact with etc. Alternately my avant-garde nature also influences the way I structure my life, my budgeting, the contents of my house, the way I engage with the world etc. Who I am in terms of ‘content of character’ (to accidentally borrow from Martin Luther King) exhibits its flow-on effect in every facet of my daily life. In short, who I am influences ‘how I do’.

Including Church life. My preferred size for a congregation. The style of liturgy or worship. The dress code. Gender roles. Decor. Candles or no candles. Pews or beanbags. Raise hands or no raising hands. Wine or grape juice. One chalice or many tiny cups. Kneeling or no kneeling. Calling out amen or nodding thoughtfully in silence whilst rubbing the chin... and the list goes on.

Again I suggest that this is the first and obvious step. The second is more difficult.

The second step is trying to get along with the people who aren’t like me... perhaps it would be more accurate to say – the people who are radically different to me.

This is where congregational marketing sort of dies.

No one wants to use the slogan “Our Church is full of people who will frustrate you”, or perhaps the more subtle “discomfort in Jesus every Sunday”. People want to feel accepted, a sense of belonging, as though they fit in etc. This is certainly easier to arrange if a congregation is geared towards a specific demographic. Maybe it’s a particularly conservative demographic, maybe it’s a particularly avant-garde one, but church becomes easier in a way because the corporate personality of the congregation operates with less tension. There are fewer fights over ecclesiological structure, there are fewer disputes about what things should take priority and there are common values. The ‘doing’ of Church is easier because unity is only natural when you have a certain degree of voluntary conformity.

This type of congregation is easy to advertise and easy to please. You know who and what you are dealing with and it is easy to speak on behalf of the general opinion. If they’re swimming at the conservative end of the pool or if they are particularly avant-garde it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know many of the things which will score high on the values and priorities list and what will score low. This sort of simple analysis is at work every time you see an ad on a webpage suggesting things which might also appeal to you – it’s a numbers game, it is statistically simple. Most people who clicked on this link also clicked on this one, or read this book, or liked this article, or voted in this way, or found this funny. This is what market research is based on – how can things be geared to appeal in a more global sense to our target demographic.

Church marketing dies here because the target demographic of the Kingdom of God is the whole spectrum of humanity, not just my comfort zone. God does not call all people to become like me. God does not call all people to become like you. God does not call all people to become conservative. God does not call all people to become avant-garde. God calls all people to become who He made them to be.

The mission of making disciples is, therefore, to be conducted in such a way as it both trains and equips people to be wholly themselves in light of who God made and is making them to be - as well as calling people to repent of their self-centredness and to forsake themselves to and for the glory and grace of Christ, through the Spirit. The process of discipleship is not aimed at moving people through a sausage machine in order to encourage conformity to anything other than the likeness and mind of Christ.

The Kingdom of God is filled with personalities from every strange and obscure corner. The earthing of the divine triune life in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – made possible by the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ – further emphasises the nature of God’s love of diversity. To every person who receives Christ, the Spirit is given as the parakletos. The Spirit is the comforter, the one who comes alongside, the one who guides into all truth, the one who makes known the Father and draws all further unto Christ. And this Spirit, this interpersonal seal of our salvation, is not just given to the avant-garde. This Spirit is not just given to the conservative. This Spirit is given freely, regardless of personality.

I am convinced that so often our defining of that maturity to which we are being encouraged by the Spirit is a definition which stresses conformity not diversity. Our definition of what it is to be a mature follower of Christ is so often limited and inhibited by the bias of the general congregational personality where we fellowship. To be mature is to conform to the likeness of the group, and sometimes at the expense of who we are released to be by the Spirit.

Imagine a spectrum. At one end let us place the archetypal conservative personality and at the other the avant-garde. We know that people feel comfortable congregating with others who are similarly positioned on the spectrum to themselves. It is not an extraordinarily odd thing to associate with like minded people. Sociologists are surely not surprised to find churches which are largely conservative or avant-garde in composition. The conservative finds comfort with the conservatives, the avant-garde with the avant-garde.

But we cannot move from an 'is' to an 'ought'.

Here is the point. For any congregation to gear its sociologically normal tendancy and use it to deliberately limit either actively or passively the fellowship of the saints on the basis of discomfort with a particular facet of the Holy Spirit’s expression and activity is to place the Spirit of God’s presence, activity and expression below and subject to their own comfort. Therefore the Spirit of God stands before the judgement seat of man and humbly asks permission to invite people to fellowship who have personalities, gifts, graces or expressions other than the social norm. The maintenance of the status quo overbears the fellowship of the saints, the very courtship of humanity by the Spirit and the Father and the Son.

For example, I grew up in a congregation which was particularly avant-garde. There were many interesting terms which were used to describe that church and most were used in a derogatory way. Hype. Emotional. Fundamentalist. Anti-intellectual. Disorganised. Childish. Ecstatic. Frenzied etc. That congregation would on occasion use equally loaded words to refer to those residing at the other end of the spectrum. Dead. Anti-Holy Spirit. Stagnant. Intellectualist. Hollow. Trapped etc.

The difficulty which I was faced with the most was that I was increasingly aware of the Spirit of God being present in ‘dead’ things. Like a prayer which was written down and read out rather than spontaneous. Like the words of a preacher or theologian long gone which would move from the page through my mind to pierce my heart with the glory and majesty of God. I was increasingly aware that my personality - if I was to be true to who God made me to be and was calling me to mature into – was very much geared for the conservative end of the spectrum and I was in a congregation which was at the other, though I could hardly articulate it at the time.

By the same token I have stood in more recent years and sung praises to God alongside others who have openly detracted such activities as that little church’s as ‘hype’. I have had more than one conversation with people suggesting that ecumenism will take a significant step forward when avant-garde congregations grow up or mature or settle down or ‘get over themselves’. Just as the tendency from one end of the spectrum questions the supposed validity of any activity of the Holy Spirit so removed from their own – so does the other.

At its extreme, each supposes on the basis of the corporate ‘norm’ of expression that the other is operating in an absence of the Spirit.

The conservative points the finger and says ‘hype’, the avant-garde points the finger and says ‘dead’. The Spirit of God points and says ‘diversity’, ‘creativity’, ‘genuine-ness’.

"1Co 12:18-27 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honourable we bestow the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honour to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."

The body of Christ needs people to be way out there at the avant-garde end of the spectrum because not only Has God created them that way and released them to be there, but there are people in this world that God desires as His own who can only be ministered to by the avant-garde of the Kingdom of God. The body of Christ also needs people who are equally conservative – people whose personalities are equally formed and released by the Spirit into being operating in the most conservative of social spheres.

Christian maturity cannot therefore be measured by either the effervescence or the quiescence of a personality. Treading out the narrow path is not so parochial.

So...

Think with me for a minute about the Christian you know who frustrates you the most.
(you know who they are)

If you were to sit and drink stale instant coffee with them, having stained carpet and a friendly gas heater for company – and to disagree about what expression of congregational gathering would be ‘nicest’ or ‘best’ or ‘most effective’, would you love them?

Would you love them in Christ’s name?

Would you love the ecstatic, gushing, emotional, seemingly spiritually bipolar servant of Christ?

Would you love the one who never seems to sing, or move, or pray in public? The one who only carries a KJV, dislikes loud music and wears a cardigan? Would you love them because Christ loves them?

Would you welcome them with open arms the way He does?

Would you thank God that these people have received the same grace and forgiveness that you have?

Would you thank God that they are not like you?

Will I thank God that they are not like me? Will I rejoice with them when they rejoice – no matter how ecstatic or boring their expression is?

Will we begin to act like the body of Christ.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

From the Ground up. Part III. Coffee is a symbol.

Apart from viewing coffee as an object, and as an experience metered by intention, coffee also exists albeit perhaps more poetically, as a social icon, a construct of meaning, a contextual symbol. That is to say that when I ask someone to catch up for a coffee (given my historical-social-economic context), the concept of what it means to have or get or share coffee doesn’t really hinge on coffee as a product or as a theophanic exercise. Its meaning is altogether more ethereal.

Coffee as a concept is foremost about communing with one another. Coffee is often more about the experience of being with the other person than it is about experiencing the coffee. Therefore the cultural contextual conceptual properties of coffee, infers a meaning which overflows that of the actual physical properties.

To intend to have coffee with a person is to intend to engage with them on an interpersonal level which is somehow outside of or different than the norm – it is an event. To intend to have coffee is to anticipate the interpersonal being-with-ness of the activity. To ask you to join with me in the activity of drinking coffee, either at church or home or lunch or a date is to invite human communing - to invite fellowship together. The anticipation or the event-ness is not culturally centred on seeking God or on sucking the marrow out of life with each glorious sip, but is simply on this moment which happens, this very earthy and tactile experience of being more with than normal.

It is interesting, then, that somehow this watery brown substance has gone from being the ‘end goal’ to being the means to the end – that I don’t really want the coffee, I want to be with you. (isn't that nice)

Maybe coffee is an easier way of ‘being’ with people and not be caught up in the fineries of the activity itself, not really having to do anything. A facet, then, of the beauty of coffee lies not in its grandiose nature, but in its apparent lack of significance and complexity – that coffee become an empty vessel which I fill with intentional fellowship. I can take a room which is otherwise empty and add coffee, but I’m not really adding coffee, I’m adding communion. Coffee carves out a space and a time for me to be with someone. If I want to have a coffee with you, then I’m making time for you, I’m making a space for you, I’m demonstrating a desire to give of my self into the vacuum of noise and sight and sound in order to enjoy you and who you are. Perhaps this is the basis for the social acceptance, reliance, occurrence, occasion, incidence of taking a space and putting the activity of ‘coffee’ into that space - it makes the space more interpersonal, warm, engaging, inviting, and accepting than it would be otherwise.

Coffee is, therefore, a considerably significant bearer of cultural meaning and impetus. But are there other objects or substances which could be put into a space, or around which a space is created which would have the communal-fellowship imbuing properties of coffee? Additionally, when someone comes into what is culturally a ‘coffee space’ is there a social implication of not desiring a coffee? Or of turning down an invite to coffee? Or of feeling either a negative external pressure or the inner positive desire to replace coffee with another substance which still allows for this rather specific form of social engagement? Perhaps it is significant in that as far reaching and broad a base of people as coffee engages with, it remains limited - coffee doesn’t actually fit everyone.

Coffee as a cultural icon still only carries the meaning which is socially attributed to it. Coffee is therefore, not the universal be-all and end-all of communal beverages. In terms of cultural implication and significance, then perhaps this too can serve communion and fellowship but as more of a safeguard. That is to say that if coffee becomes more than simply a culturally contextually specific means by which to aid communion and fellowship – if coffee becomes the primary and/or necessary basis on which communion and fellowship rest, let alone the measure by which a person’s fellowship and being are measured, then a safeguard for defending against such a legalistic enforcement of coffee oriented interaction is surely the constant recognition that it is a preference not crucial to all. I preserve fellowship by not forcing coffee upon you. I recognise the limits of coffee as an icon, by offering you a tea or hot chocolate instead.

As much social meaning as coffee may have, if I go beyond using its socially iconographic status as a means by which to enter into healthy communing with you, and move in the direction of demanding its presence or involvement, then at some point I have surely departed from a Christlike, person oriented, utilisation of coffee as a culturally and contextually relevant means to have relationship. I have turned the tool into an unhealthy and legalistic tradition which no longer serves the ministering of the Grace of Christ, but now overrides it. If I fail to remember that coffee is limited, that it is a context specific means, then I run the risk of plucking coffee (and all that it means) out of its context and enforcing it on others for whom it may well be meaningless and actually work against the goal of real communing and fellowship. To commune appropriately is impingent upon my cultural interpretation of it. Coffee, like any well loved activity of cultural significance should surely, then, be as subject to the sharp analysis and critique as the most apparently nonsensical and far-removed activities which we come into contact with from every culture and subculture. Culture is subject to Christ and His intention, rather than forcing Christ’s intention to be subject to culture.

Coffee is by Him and for Him.

All because coffee means something to me, and is useful and purposeful and wonderful and works in this context, does not mean that someone else can be expected to operate within this cultural paradigm. In a more Christianity specific sense, if there is recognition of the cultural impetus and limitations of a practice or tradition, then surely the practice, like coffee should be viewed as a culturally contextually relevant tool, and be utilised accordingly. Therefore, as a tool for encouraging unity in the body, for encouraging fellowship and communing, let the principle which the activity serves be held to and not simply a singular contextually embedded appropriation of it.

So...

God made coffee. God is redeeming coffee. I think that's worth remembering.

Drink coffee if your intention is good. Ask and trust God to increasingly sanctify the way you resource and implement coffee in this world. Seek to find the natural revelation of God in the very existence of coffee. Ask God to meet with you in the experience of coffee – for His glory and your edification. Use coffee wisely and appropriately. And above all, pray for the soon coming complete and eschatological redemption of coffee… and everything else. :j

A Prayer:
Lord, I want to buy you a coffee
Maybe sometime Friday after work
I understand that my week has probably not been as full-on as yours.
But I'de love to catch up. For us to just have a few minutes to chat in the back of some cafe somewhere. I'll even go you halves in a caramel slice.
It seems like so long since we just hung out.
I'll make sure I try not to talk the whole time.
Let me know when's good for you. You know I'm not great with planning ahead.
And i can't recall if you've ever told me what you drink...
Amen.

From the Ground up. Part II: Coffee is an experience.

It is nothing new to suggest that a Christian understanding of self hinges on the person being a synthesis of things physical (cognitive, chemical, corporeal) and spiritual (ethereal, conceptual). Jean Luc Marion, (with thanks to translator Shane Mackinlay) puts forward a form of examining this union in light of a person being comprised of two distinctly different forms of information: signification and intuition.

Every thing which has phyical presence may be said to contain information in the form of signification - i.e. it has significance as an event in space and time. We can weight it, measure its dimensions, send it to a lab and have it cut up and tested etc. Every person, therefore, bears information which outlines their measurable significance as an event in space and time (signification).

Apart from information existing in the form of signification, there is information which exists in the form of intuition. This is likely what the theologian Bruce Lee meant when he referred to 'emotional content' (Enter the Dragon). Into this category we might place such things as memory, intuition, imagination, want and will. Marion uses these categories to differentiate between an inanimate object as a limited phenomenon ( - it has limited intuitive information), and a person / person-event as a saturated phenomenon (- it has a saturated amount of intuitive information). It is therefore primarily on the basis of what one person chooses (and is able) to give of themselves in intuitive way that an interpersonal interaction can take place, because only through the person’s givenness can the saturated intuitive information be navigated at a healthy rate.

Simply put, if i want to know you, i cannot simply send you to a lab where they record as much of your signification as possible. To actually know another person in the real sense of the word is to have an interaction with that person on the basis of intuitive information.

More importantly, is the understanding that no person has complete or perfect access to their intuitive information, and of the access that each person does have, interaction takes place through what they themselves choose to 'give' of that information - interaction takes place through 'givenness'.

This is also a basis on which art carries meaning. I come to the art (static or interactive) bringing my signification and intuition, and when I interact with the art it speaks on the basis of what I avail of myself to be spoken to. It connects with what I give of myself as connect-able. It requests and reflects upon my givenness, both in what I have access to at the time (i.e. what I know and remember of my self) and what I choose / am able to admit and release about myself.

Therefore, to some extent, the meaning of the art is found through my givenness upon the basis of my intention – an intention residing within a cultural / historical / social / economic context. That is to say that I intend, from within my context, to perceive things in the art and to allow the art to inform my intuitive information in particular areas but not others. Some areas of my intuitive content are off limits to be commented on. The meaning of the art is, therefore, limited to my understanding by my intention. Also, as I give of my self (my intuition) to interact with the art on certain levels, it reveals something about myself in what I choose to give. That is to say, the playing out of my intention is self revelatory.

If i view a sculpture, or painting or installation and it means 'nothing' to me, that says something about the relationship between myself and the art - and a little depper than that, about the relationship between my intuitive information and the intent of the artist.

It is here that coffee become peculiarly interesting as an experience, because it is a form of self-revelation of the artisan - a corporealisation of the intuitive content of the artist themselves. Like any artwork it serves as a means by which to know the way in which the artist desires to communicate – perhaps hinting at the values of the artist. Its meaning is, therefore, inherent in both the intention of the artist in their self-revelation, and in the participant’s intuitive interaction. It’s inherent meaning is therefore not static, but subjective depending on what a person brings to it and in what context.

So...

Here the Christian understanding of the nature of God as self revealing and of being a person (a ‘thou’ and not an ‘it’) is of central importance. when I remove the flimsy plastic lid, inhale the aroma and begin to sip - I am interacting with an artwork that has a purpose. This expression from the mind of God is something which has been designed, ordered, structured, assembled, orchestrated – specifically crafted to be 'that which it is' and nothing else.

It is an impartation of the givenness of God.

It is a container for latent information which points to the whom at its genesis. It is for this reason that the created realm is referred to as 'natural revelation'. Those things which have significance in time, matter or energy began as the artwork of the one from whom time, matter and energy have come forth.

(Pause)

It is of some importance at this point to ascertain whether or not the art is being interacted with as the artist intended, or whether some moronic spoiled brat kids are running amok in the gallery, screwing things up.

Scripture is very clear that the world in which we live is not the world which was created perfect. This universe decays and is in need of redemption. The curses of God upon humanity and the rest of creation are not yet to be dismissed. Toiling the ground is not yet turned to tending the garden, and childbearing pain, thorns, thistles and the human proclivity to rule over each other are still the norm. In Christ, redemption is initiated but not yet consummated. Therefore, to suggest that coffee somehow remains intrinsically perfect and untainted is - though optimistic, encouraging and very positive - false.

(sorry) - and yet this is cause for much rejoicing.

Coffee, like all created things, has God’s fingerprints on it. Coffee, like all created things, is broken and in need of redemption (as is my motorcycle). However, it is because of Christ that there has been the initiation of redemption for all humanity and all creation – so too the possibility remains for humanity to partake in Christ’s redemption of coffee. Coffee is not presently perfect because both the form and the content are in need of redemption, but – as the Spirit of God conforms my will to His own, as I am increasingly transformed into the likeness of Christ, as God is working through for my salvation and His glory – precisely because God has made a way through Christ to indwell humanity with His Spirit, my intention towards coffee can be an increasingly sanctified and transformed intention.

By the Spirit through Christ I am freed from approaching coffee in a purely hedonistic way and therefore, coffee touches redemtion when I touch it because the Spirit is redeeming me and my intention. I am not bound to use a substance simply for my own pleasure but to seek to use it in the way that God intended. Coffee is not, therefore, inherently good or evil in a moralistic sense (though subject to decay and therefore not 'perfect') but is subject to my intention.

How, then, I interact with coffee on the basis of my intention in light of my relationship with God becomes the measure of my experience with coffee.

By the Spirit, then, I can interact with the givenness of God that He has put there to be enjoyed. The Spirit who will 'guide us into all truth' is able to increasingly reveal the facets of God’s goodness and beauty which remain in coffee – given that the form of coffee itself is awaiting the day when all things are made new.

Redemption for creation was initiated in my redemption, and continues as the redemption of humanity continues. My experience of the substance in my hand is subject to my intention – which is hopefully an increasingly sanctified one. One day the redemption of creation will be complete, coffee will be redeemed fully in both content and form.

And on that day, (Lord, please) i will order the finest latte the universe has ever known.

From the Ground up: Part 1. Coffee is a consumable.

Coffee is a product, a consumable.
Behind every cup of glorious, aromatic, (perhaps even angelic) coffee are processes: Horticulture, transport, trade, electricity, water purification, ceramics, plastics, dairy production, employment, genetic engineering, hair styling (for the particularly hip people who work in Greensborough plaza) etc. Not every coffee sits upon each of these processes, but no coffee is without at least three or four of them. It is therefore inescapable that coffee is the end to which many other processes are the means. The humble cup of coffee apart from being a simple component in our day is yet a 'telos' of its own.

The consumption of coffee keeps people in business, others employed. It keeps human beings fed, keeps communities financially viable and necessitates geographic exploration and environmental stewardship. In pursuit of diversity it demands scientific investigation. Somewhere in a lab there are people which flex their hulking intellects temporarily away from their predilection for board-games and steam engines to the fineries of elaborately delicate chemical articulation in order to enhance even just another smidgen, a whiff, a infinitesimally small (some say sub-atomic) bit of 'zing' in my coffee. And I believe that it is a beautiful and truly blessed thing that they do.

But, unlike Yoda, coffee has a dark side. It cannot be denied that coffee may attribute to a myriad of negative effects: high blood pressure, restricted weight loss, caffeine addiction, staining of teeth, withdrawals, headaches, sleeplessness, restlessness etc. If it is unethically resourced is can lead to environmentally devastating effects, it can cripple local economies and attribute to the cycle of poverty. Just as it is a thing of beauty, it may also oppress.

In short, coffee is an inanimate object which can be positive or negative depending on application and resourcing. Furthermore, the intention upon which its stewardship operates seems to be the most significant factor in determining the ethical / moral effect of coffee at each stage in each process.

A danger exists, then, in the ignoring of the processes behind the resourcing of coffee. This is highlighted by blogger John Dyer on donteatthefuit.com. He draws upon Albert Borgmann’s book Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life (University of Chicago Press). Dyer argues on Borgmann’s behalf that as consumers participate less and less in the processes which actually give them the end product, there is a growing sense of ‘compression’ of perception with regard to the stewardship surrounding the processes, and a decreasing emotional and social concern. Simply put - a lack of involvement results in a lack of interest and, eventually, a lack of concern for the flow-on effects of the resourcing processes.

The intention behind the isolation of the consumer from the resourcing processes is of most ethical concern here (whether on the part of the producer or the consumer). Perhaps to highlight this we could ask the following: isn’t it in the best interests of my health and the health of my family and community to know how the elements of our diet were produced? Why would I not want to know? Would it remove ignorance as an excuse for poor health? Would I have to admit I am knowingly digesting things which are unhealthy?
Would I have to admit that I am placing the pleasure of the experience over the long term benefits?

Whether I like it or not, somehow knowing the process causes me to weigh up how much my intention was reliant on nothing more than just pleasure. The more I know about something I partake of and its effects, the more I must weigh the teleological (final / ultimate) ends of those effects against what I believe to be good and true and beautiful. If I partake of something which I enjoy, but it is ultimately neither good or true or beautiful, then I am – in at least a technical sense – a hedonist, concerned foremost with my pleasure.

Is this perhaps why some people who rely on these processes for their income seek to distort my understanding , either by romanticising the process or by making illegal the documenting and publication of the process? If I – the producer – must rely on your – the consumer’s – emotional and ethical detachment in order to make sales, then irrespective of how theatrically conspiratorial it sounds, the truth is hidden to make money (incidentally, there is no shortage of blogs about this). You see, if I really knew what I was digesting, or the effect my dietary decisions had on the world around me – the processes and their implications – I would likely decide differently.

If I discover that something I enjoy is available or cheap only at the discomfort, detriment, pain or poverty of another person will I stop? Will I refuse to accept the subjugation of another person for my pleasure? I would like to say yes. At the moment, the decision to purchase is made easy in a way by the romanticising of the processes, and the cultural consumer detachment which is so prevalent in the west, and which if I am honest – appeals to my laziness.

So...

Will hedonism ultimately prevail when I sit down to sip my coffee or will the increasing awareness of the processes behind it cause me to seek to find comfort in the experience of a more genuine stewardship than off-the-shelf instant gratification.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A favourite pilgrim - Bob Garbett - View from a room

It is a rare pleasure to sit and to speak at length with so thoughtful a person as Bob Garbett. Though i cannot claim to have authored the line, i will use nonetheless: "when i have finished speaking with him, i feel like a plant that has been watered".

Monday, May 31, 2010

Why I cannot agree with Baxter Kruger

Let me begin by saying that I have met Mr. Kruger and heard him speak - though I do not know him well. He seems in person and in print to be quite intelligent, articulate and has a firm hand shake. I do not purport to know every intricacy of his theology of salvation, but I hope here to outline that some of the emphasis which he places on the soteriology of Christ - I feel - could be more balanced than what it is. I will here stress that I find his writing mostly useful, poetic and beautiful. But with this general thrust of his observations and conclusions I cannot agree.

Atonement is the over-arching term used to describe the events through which people were and are made at one with God. Suffice to say, atonement does not refer to any singular historical feat, but multiple actions and engagements initiated by God which both culminate in – and are continuing in the process of - causing people to be at one with Him. A human being cannot cause themselves to be at one with God, rather it is something which must be enacted on their behalf and ministered to/upon them, though this does not negate a personal necessity to engage with this transforming act of God in some way. The question is therefore what emphasis should be placed on the facets within these proceedings that have been enacted and continue in their effects. A view of the process of atonement which emphasizes the incarnation at the expense of the Cross, will inevitably place less importance on ongoing sanctification in the life of the believer and may additionally undermine the necessity of living according to The Spirit whatsoever. This view of the atonement confuses the purpose and activity (historical and current) of The Holy Spirit with the purpose and activity of Christ - in that the present person of the Spirit ceases to be the seal of salvation over and against the historical act of Christ(Field, 2009). If healthy emphasis is not placed on the Cross as a means to the goal of Holy Spirit-indwelling, then this particular outworking of the atonement loses much of its effectiveness in transforming the life of the believer. Alternately, if healthy emphasis is not placed on the Incarnation, then the impetus of love which it most clearly represents may become functionally absent from the life and practice of the believing community. That is to say that the love of God which predicates the incarnation may be lost in the personal benefit of the Cross.

Atonement primarily based on the Incarnation

The incarnation of the pre-existent Son of God into humanity wrought among many things, a unique union between humanity and the divine triune life. In the incarnation of The Son there is expressed the utmost solidarity of God with humanity in its fallenness. One particular facet of Trinitarian theology stemming from this is an understanding that when Christ became incarnate He caused that which was eternal to become attached to the historical. Therefore, the incarnation of Christ sets in place a defining moment of change which anchors the eternal Godhead in human History.

“…the life of Jesus Christ is to be understood as the living out, the enfleshment, not merely of a divine life, but of the Trinitarian life itself inside human existence. What happens in Jesus Christ is that the great dance of the Trinity is earthed and lived out as a divine-human reality.” (Kruger, 2000:32)

It therefore makes sense to state that in the incarnation, the Godhead suffered an ontological change. Far from being a diminishing of essence, it was the establishing of humanity’s pattern of fulfilment and glorification, and an adoption of that glorified humanity into the midst of the divine ontological essence. The incarnation does genuinely (in chronological-existential terms,) bring in Christ an ontological connection humanity and the Godhead. This healthy facet of the incarnation becomes unhealthy when – in the absence of an emphasis on the necessity of the Cross – it becomes viewed as the primary event through which Spiritual oneness / ontological indwelling with God comes to all of sinful humanity. Furthermore, expectation seems to stem from this view to assume that all of humanity is equally intimately united to the Godhead through of the existence of the hypostatic union alone - rather than the hypostatic union being seen as the establishment of the possibility of oneness, the initiation of redemption, the changing of the trajectory of humanity (See "Courtesy of Captain Koma"). This arises primarily when the intimacy between humanity and God in the Incarnation is not seen in light of the distinction that the Cross asserts between those that have oneness through Christ’s shed blood (and thereby the indwelling of The Holy Spirit,) and those that do not (Field, 2009). For example:

“…The difference between speaking of the vicarious death of Christ and the vicarious humanity of Christ is that one says that Jesus died in our place and the other says that Jesus is in our place. The one sees His righteousness exchanged for our guilt. The other sees our fallen human existence exchanged with Jesus’ human existence with His Father. What is substituted is not merely His righteousness for our sin, but His entire existence. His is a vicarious humanity in which we are given a new human existence with His Father.” (Kruger, 1995: 41)

And also

“…The Son becoming Man means that you have nothing to do with trying to get into a relationship with God! To see God as a Man in Jesus is to literally see God and man already reconciled!... The truth is, IN JESUS, your entire life has been adopted and objectively saved. You had a connection with Triune God, in Jesus, as soon as you were born! You do NOT need to make a decision to get into Christ. Your decision to believe cannot save you, because you are already reconciled in Jesus, BUT your decision to believe this truth allows you to experience your reconciliation and salvation...” (Brassell. 2007: 3,4)

Thus, adoption or unity with God is seen as being solely historical and universal, rather than uniquely and severally individual and supernaturally instigated, occurring as an event in the present. The supernatural activity of individual regeneration is seen from this view as false - as nothing but cognitive realisation of an historical event is actually occurring. This view seemingly makes redundant any necessity of repentance and faith as distinct from intellectual engagement, that is to say, to be saved one need engage intellectually with a preset universal human condition, but one does not actually, genuinely move from real death to real life. Transformation does not arise inwardly from the Spirit’s indwelling and conforming of the human will, but from the individual’s behest to engage intellectually and conform cognitively and morally. This is, in effect salvation by information not indwelling. This cognitive salvation - void of actual Spirit regeneration - leaves the person ontologically unchanged in their capacity to please God, and in effect saves them only to let them continue unaided in their wretchedness (Breshears & Driscoll, 2007: 86). The Incarnation becomes not a means of conditioning the elect to make indwelling and oneness available, but is itself, the instigation of oneness. Salvation becomes somewhat binitarian in that the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit is replaced with functional gnosticism - get eh right knowledge and you are saved. Alternately, when inadequately attached to the necessity, authority and function of the Holy Spirit's indwelling and subsequent transformation of the individual, the enormity of the incarnation event may be seen to indicate such an overwhelming love for humanity as to negate the necessity for sin to be dealt with before indwelling can occur, that is, the love of God for sinful humanity is seen as so overwhelming that any necessarily juridical delineation is lost in Pro Nobis (Balthasar, 1994: 248).

The enfleshment of the divine Triune life in the incarnation of Christ is in and of itself (though expressing divine solidarity and love for humanity) not salvic or atoning - even though if un-tethered to the function of the Cross it may seem so. Rather, the incarnation is part of the means to Spirit-indwelling which is the avenue of oneness appointed for humanity, that is, holistic Trinitarian-effected salvation (Fee. 1996:15-21). The larger narrative and theme of atonement throughout scripture still emphasises the grand culmination of atonement as the dwelling of God among His people, but to emphasise the mutual/eternal indwelling of God and all of humanity as being through Christ’s hypostatic union and unique incarnation over and against being through The Holy Spirit’s indwelling and actual multiple acts of regeneration would be more than contrary to scripture: it would make practically redundant The Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation. Without the juridical exchange in and through the Cross, The Spirit of God and of Christ cannot indwell: there can be no abiding or mutual indwelling and no genuine nearness of Christ through His Spirit (Murray, n.d. 6). Without the Cross’ (juridical) removal of the condition of sinfulness and the indwelling of The Spirit there can be no real oneness for humanity irrespective of the existence of - or predicating passion behind - the hypostatic union. Jesus facilitated the spiritual/juridical conditions necessary to make possible The Spirit’s indwelling. Furthermore, in effecting this conditioning Jesus is proffering glory to The Holy Spirit in that the effecting (and restoration) of God’s intimate presence to His people remains in the hands of the one in whose hands it has been from the start: The Holy Spirit. Jesus makes possible the return of The Holy Spirit as the seal of God upon those that are His - he does not usurp The Spirit’s authority or function in the economy of salvation. Apart from the indwelling of The Spirit, Christ’s conditioning of the elect for the possibility of oneness remains unapplied, inert and unable to have real salvic worth to fallen humanity regardless of the hypostatic union.

It is true that the incarnation did knit humanity and the Godhead in the physical human body of Jesus Christ, however the overflow of this intimacy is received only by those that –through The Spirit (and therefore through the conditioning of the Cross) - are in Christ. The metaphysical enormity of The Son’s incarnation is not the sole truth from which atonement stems, neither is it to be exalted as the utmost of truths, the truth of all truths, or the truth of which one must become aware in order to have oneness with God. Were the atonement made only through the incarnation, the chief end of it would be in the cognitive realisation of it and not in the actual regeneration and faith caused by The Holy Spirit’s indwelling, that is, the truth of salvation would be in a cognitive realisation and an externally applied moral adherence rather than in supernatural regeneration and sanctification. Jesus would no longer be:
“… accessible – not to the probings of the historian nor to the speculations of the theologian but to the petitionings of the humble and penitent, who simply believe even as they try to understand.” (Bloesch, 1997: 57)

Salvation and abundant life would be limited to those with intellectual faculties adequate enough to grapple with the dichotomy of engaging with their existing condition of having been saved. Salvation would be intellectual not supernatural in its initiation and implementation and therefore moral not Spiritual in its ensuing transformation. It would also mean the Son’s universally applicable oneness to all of sinful humanity is void of change or interference on the part of humanity or The Spirit (as The Spirit’s regenerating indwelling presence is a void notion) and consequently insinuates that those sentenced to eternal damnation maintain this oneness with God as their oneness and also sentencing to damnation is unrelated to a presence or lack of the seal of The Holy Spirit: a person cannot not have oneness eternally. In short, there can be no spiritual delineation between the saved and lost - just a difference of 'understanding' or 'awareness'.

The incarnation alone is surely not the singular event of atonement and does not bring oneness with God to all of sinful humanity. To suggest that all humanity is at one with God through the means of the incarnation alone is to present a false hope and a false path to salvation and to remove the necessity and urgency of true regeneration and sanctification: a narrow gate that’s entered by knowledge and void of any ensuing path.

Election through the Incarnation

A view of the atonement based primarily on the incarnation necessitates predestination/election to be either non-selective with regards to the subjects (universalistic or semi-Pelagian) or for election to refer to something other than the subjects (Christ-centric). If atonement is primarily made through the incarnation, it cannot be that salvation was purchased for a select number if that number does not somehow include all Adamic people, as surely in the incarnation the solidarity of God is shown with all fallen humanity. Therefore, election may (must?) be universal in that all people were predestined to be saved and have been atoned for. Alternatively, if the atonement is based primarily on the incarnation then election may (must?) function outside of time in a semi-Pelagian sense, that is, people who become aware of the solidarity of God as shown in the incarnation become elected paradoxically: they have been atoned for but their election happens (supra-historically) as a consequence of their present cognitive engagement. Lastly, the emphasis on election may be shifted away from referring to people as ‘the elect’, instead referring to Christ as ‘the elect’. This projects the notion that election is only of Christ and is not and does not function as an election to be in Christ. Put simply, election is an attribute of Christ, and those that are in Him (though not elected) are elect because of His election as their conduit/thoroughfare and do not therefore have an existing election to become in Him as an attribute of their own. The person’s salvation is predestined to be through Christ rather than the person being predestined to become in Christ for salvation. This differs from the position of Christ’s incarnation being necessitated by the eternal Trinitarian decree that election would take place (The Son as Logos incarnandus elects subjects, the Son as Logos asarkos/incarnatus remains the object of election but not the subject of election)(Cassidy, 2009:54). The truth of election is here then, not hinged upon God electing some to be saved in Christ, instead, the truth of election is that it is Christ who is the elected one, for all to be saved through. This would mean then, the inexplicable intricacy of personal election and the sovereignty of God is replaced with a universally effecting election of Christ.

Atonement primarily based on the Cross (the soap-box of Kruger's which I like)

If atonement based primarily on the incarnation tends towards an un-biblical expectation of oneness for all of sinful humanity, a view of the atonement based primarily on the Cross – if unattached to the impetus of the incarnation – runs the risk of forming a distant, legal, heavily juridical and malevolent concept of God. If this concept of God becomes the undergirding reference for an understanding of salvation, then the hope of salvation cannot rest upon the passionate love of God for here God is just but not necessarily loving: juridical without loving impetus. Hope for salvation is, instead, resting on the individual’s adherence and perceived functional obligation to the juridical code. Though this juridical code may seek to extract no reciprocal effort to make its function effective, into the vacuum of negated works which grace causes, there will begin to echo from the individual an anxiety at the loss of control their own fate. This anxiety, coupled with a religious ‘fidgeting’ (Kruger 2000: 70-76) is the natural response of the individual whose hope rests not on the love of God - which caused the juridical justification- but on the juridical justification alone. The surrender of self-determination from the individual to God on the basis of a legal transaction alone (without knowing the impetus of the incarnation) leaves the person little understanding of the Holy ‘whom’ into whose hands they have commended themselves. It is here that anxiety echoes: into the interpersonal void which an understanding of the incarnation and its relational background shortcuts and prohibits (or inhibits), that is to say: if a person understands at least the passionate love, solidarity and wilful condescension of God as shown through the incarnation, then the void into which the person is seemingly placing their identity and value system and hope for life is now filled intimately and personally by God’s predicating love.

The intimacy and loving relationality of God as shown through the incarnation does not allow for a distant, unattached, coldly juridical and malevolent concept of God. What is seen, instead, is an immeasurable outpouring of predicate love - demonstrated in mutual glorification, overflowing with a constant desire to submit to one another for the greatest good of sinful humanity. It is this love which a view of the atonement based unhealthily on the Cross may neglect.

Though the active love of God in the wilful condescension of Christ is present at the Cross, and is also present through Isaiah prophesying that it was the Father’s will to crush Him out of love for humanity (Is 53:10), it is only in the incarnation we see the depth of God’s love in Christ’s mystical partaking of (and union with) sinful humanity - which brings the individual past the lesser-loving errors of Modalism and Nestorianism. Incarnational love means that The Son is lovingly and wilfully present in a way that a Modalistic saviour is not. The incarnational Son’s love is (in extending to a greater depth of sinful human depravity) more salvic than a Nestorian saviour’s love. It is this truly Incarnate love which breathes the narrative of which the Cross is the crux. It is this incarnate love which if absent from an understanding of the atonement leaves God as being actively - and indeed physically – present, and yet personally and emotionally absent or unattached. The absence of the full Incarnation from the concept of atonement gives the individual the knowledge that God saves, but not the security of hope in understanding that God loves to save (Balthasar 1994:259).

Election through the Cross

The incarnation-centric view of Christ as humanity’s conduit of salvation differs from the view of election unto salvation of specific persons as necessitated by the Cross. Election based primarily on the Cross necessitates a supra-historical limiting of the atonement to those for whom the Cross is made effective but necessitates a progression of sanctification - by The Holy Spirit - in those same persons. In the Cross, Jesus, having taken to Himself sinful human nature, and having taken to Himself (supra-historically) the specific sins of the elect (Confession. 1975:20), dies. Christ, in death, carries the sins out of the realm of judgement by law – juridically voiding them, He exchanges the sins of the elect persons with His blood and presents the elect persons (the church catholic) spotless before the Father. It is these specific persons that are presented spotless before the Father that the Cross of Christ dictates as elect, as those whose sins have not been exchanged with the blood of Christ cannot receive the seal of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Therefore the atoning work of Christ for the sins of the elect are limited to those whose sins are exchanged in and by Him at the Cross, that is to say, the Cross limits the atonement – and thereby election - to those persons who are in Christ. In the Cross, The Son is creating for the elect the condition whereby they may receive in due time the indwelling of The Holy Spirit for salvation and sanctification.

The Cross, therefore, dictates a path from election which the incarnation alone does not: the path of sanctification.

The Cross therefore presents a view of election that emphasises a God-centric end purpose for the elected persons where the Incarnation (improperly emphasised) indicates the human-oriented end purpose. This God-centric end purpose can, however, be convoluted and lead to an unhealthy over-emphasis and practice of trying to diagnose election in others if the final purpose of glorifying God is not maintained as paramount.

This difference in the views is that the Incarnation emphasises God’s predicating desire in election as being to unite humanity to Himself, to mutually indwell, to cause the ascent of Humanity into the divine, true Apotheosis, to cause the glorification of humanity. Alternately, the Cross emphasises God’s desire in election as being to transform humanity, to cleanse humanity, to sanctify humanity and to make a people who –through submission to The Holy Spirit - are a light to the world for the glory of God and not themselves. Incarnational election emphasises the glory of humanity, the election of the Cross - the Glory of God. The loss of either emphasis diminishes abundant living.

Differing Expectations of the Activity of The Holy Spirit on Living and Truth

The chief difference between the view of atonement based primarily on the Incarnation and the view based primarily on the Cross is the function of The Holy Spirit. An overemphasis of the work of The Spirit within the body of Christ could be said to lend itself to a negating of the activity or presence of The Spirit in the world generally. The Spirit, it's suggested, would have no ability to prepare the heart of the unbeliever. For example: If the role of The Holy Spirit as the one who regenerates and seals people is unhealthily emphasised at the expense of His activity of convicting of the world of sin and righteousness, then the very presence of The Spirit in the world may be completely missed. This would be an oversight of The Holy Spirit’s capacity to minister outside of the formal Church and a denial of any form of prevenient grace. Alternatively, and this is where I would probably disagree with Kruger again, if sinful humanity is united to God primarily through the Incarnation, then the traditionally attributed activities of The Holy Spirit understood to be ministered by His specific indwelling, would have to be extended to include all of The Spirit’s general activity in the world (seal, down-payment, first-fruits). What is generally taken to be the specific, sanctifying, sealing, regenerating work of The Spirit enacted upon a person in order to cause them to be reborn (Jn 3:6-7) ,to become something new in Christ, could therefore only be taken to mean what The Holy Spirit has enacted for all humanity. This would mean therefore; no functional difference between the life that was thought to have The Spirit’s specific indwelling and the life that doesn’t. If atonement is based primarily on the Incarnation then the only salvation oriented change in a person’s life regarding the Holy Spirit is cognitive awareness and not an actual supernatural change in the person’s Spiritual condition. There would, therefore, be no actual Spiritual distinction between regenerate and unregenerate persons. There would also be no real difference in The Holy Spirit’s intimate communing with person’s as He is poured out equally among all sinful humanity and metered only by intellectual Awareness. There is therefore no special authority given to Christian prayers, no real Spiritual rebirth from spiritual death into Spiritual life, no setting apart of an eschatological people - sealed by The Holy Spirit. The only remaining differentiation is cognitive awareness. To commune with God, one need not actually be born of The Spirit, one simply need become aware. This new intellectual perspective may allow the person to engage with the Holy Spirit that has always been there, but the person is not a new creation, just a more informed one. All are, therefore, called but none are chosen, there is no longer a difference between Spiritually dead and Spiritually alive, and real life is now found in cognitive revelation. The truth is not that you need life, but that you already have it. I disagree.

Conclusion:

A view of the atonement based primarily on the Incarnation must be tethered to the juridical elements of the Cross so as to avoid presenting an un-true avenue of salvation to sinful humanity. Likewise, a view of the atonement based primarily on the Cross must remain tethered to the predicate love of God which - from such depths - necessitated the Incarnation so as to avoid a diminishing of the life which God has redeemed people into. An unhealthy focussing on either element at the expense of the other negates either the activity of The Spirit in the world or the vitality of the Spirit in the life of the believer.



Bibliography


Balthasar, Hans Urs Von. (1994). Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory. Vol4: The Action. San Fancisco: Ignatius Press. In the Tabor College Christology Reader.

Bloesch, Donald G. (1997). Jesus Christ: Saviour & Lord. Downers Grove, Illinois. IVP Academic.

Brassell, Timothy J. (2007). God’s Staggering Good News About Your Life. The Adopted Life. Available Internet: http://godlikesyou.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/gods-staggering-good-news-about-your-life-50.pdf

Breshears, G. & Driscoll, M. (2007). Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers to Timely Questions. Wheaton, Illinois. Crossway Books.

Cassidy, James, J. (2009). Election and Trinity. in Westminster Theological Journal. Vol 71. Spring. (53-81) (http://www.wts.edu/uploads/images/files/71.1.Cassidy.Election%20and%20Trinity.pdf) (29th May 2009)

Fee, Gordon D. (1996). Paul, the Spirit and the People of God. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Field, Bob. (2009). Notes taken from my personal reflections dating from 2005 to the present. Though surely not the first to reach these conclusions I have reached them as a consequence of my own reflection.

Kruger, C. Baxter. (1995). God is For Us. Blackwood, South Australia: Perichoresis Press.

Kruger, C. Baxter. (2000). The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited. Blackwood, South Australia: Perichoresis Press.

Murray, Rev. Andrew. (n.d. pre 1928). Abide in Christ. London, Nisbet & Co. Ltd.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Courtesy of Captain Koma

"I have been reading a lot about Balthasar's theories (make that progressive theories) about Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday being the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Balthasar talks of the dead Jesus in Hell (that is the lowest Hell where all sinful and bad people go) there with all the other dead. In Hell lies the Son of God mute, silent, passively in torment. Detached from the Father though the Spirit stretched to all but a sliver still even in the lowest Hell connects the God Head.

This is Christ's witness to the dead in Balthasar's progression/embellishment. The God-man is suffering in Hell dead as all the others in Hell. Now Balthasar's scene and imagery are potent and his use of the dead Christ's solidarity with the dead has potentiality to be used two ways. First it can be used to either illuminate the torment and witness of Christ in Hell on Holy Saturday. Or, secondly it can extend itself further into an additional soteriology, extending salvation to those already dead. It is the extension of the salvific possibilities with Balthasar's progression that are most dangerous.

Such hope that it is possible for those long dead who did not show any belief or commitment is a false hope. It is this desire like the Rich man begging Abraham and Lazarus that we find ourselves begging Christ now. Begging so that He in His solidarity with the dead in Hell to witness that our loved ones may believe in this last chance for salvation from the silent tormented Christ in Hell with them.

That it is glorious that the God-man still connected though stretched beyond all understanding (yet is also abandoned) in Hell there is no doubt. But, there is little hope for those already dead now. Christ's solidarity is not with those dead in Hell with Him, but in those who are “dead in Christ”. It is our solidarity demonstrated in Baptism with the dead Christ that is the glorious event.

The images of Balthasar and the other musings of the Dead Christ that have been taken and used are misleading without the proper foundation. For this one should turn to Barth in Church Dogmatics V II. It is here that Barth points us away from any universalist hope (Moltmann) that those who have passed and not believed. Our hope in the salvation of loved ones who have died without Christ needs to be grounded in Christ alone and His right and true judgment. It should not be founded upon a maybe of tradition with little biblical reference and a shady background clothed in victorious action filled emotion.

The original reason for the descent, if you take Rufinius and others into account is as a guard against heresy. Mainly an heretical line that Christ unlike the current and historical belief that all who die got to the place of the dead did not. The whole descent is an issue of the two natures. That in being the God-man Christ's human trajectory was in no way different than any other person. So therefore if I go to any limbo, Gehenna, Hades or Hell Christ as his human trajectory states went as well. As a part of the reality of the incarnation and the substitutionary acts of Christ to bring about redemption, to redeem humanity Christ had to live out the full trajectory of humanity. Fulfiling tis trajectory those who believe align themselves in solidarity with Christ in His Birth, Life, Death, Descent, and glorious resurrection.

Balthasar's progressive theory is a vivid description of Christ in the final phase of redemption of the human trajectory. It is this redemption that changes (for those who believe) the final outcome of the human trajectory back to God and to resurrected life with Him."

- Captain Koma

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Door Opens

To get insurance on a pet dog remains one of the most bewildering facets of western civilization. That aside, an interesting phenomenon is explained quite well during the process of application.

Question #486
- Is the dog a pure-bred, cross-breed or mongrel breed.

I believe that within this question lies a peculiarly useful critique of Western Christian theology and practice.

Pure-bred dogs have a smaller gene pool. By consequence there is more inbreeding and genetic anomalies. In some breeds there are fewer examples of prime specimens then there are of giant pandas - and pandas are, after all, an endangered species.

Insurance companies know that pandas are an endangered species... hence you pay through the nose to insure a pure-bred dog (makes sense?). The issue is that to some extent denominationalism has been the catalyst for inbreeding of theology and praxis in Christianity for centuries. The Smiths wont talk to the Jones', the Brown's kids threw rocks at the Wilsons and somewhere at some point schisms ceased to be of necessity and we didn't notice. The rude question is why.

So we wont ask that question.

I was raised in what I am increasingly understanding was something of a 'fire-breathing' Pentecostal church. It didn't seem weird to me at the time, just to everyone else. I understand now why others did not take me seriously. I can see now how the anti-establishment flavour may have offended people. I can see how some of the things in our practice would have seemed Spiritually dangerous - even reckless to others. The problem is that having swum in the deep water of Western Evangelicalism this past decade (and then some) it is blatantly obvious that the messy, strange, fluidic and unpredictable Spiritual nearness and assurance which was so normal and plain and on occasion even dull, is salivated for by people who cannot claim a culturally conditioned hunger as an excuse.

The Anglican schooling was a strange cross-pollination. Robes. Candles. Eucharist not communion. Prayer books. Pointy hats and strange hand gestures. Men in flowing gowns amidst the sweltering sub-tropical heat... carrying what at the time seemed to be an impractically ornate stick for removing cobwebs.

Years passed and I found myself in an Anglican church and a Baptist church. I started asking questions. People had different answers. New phrases: congregational polity, priesthood of all believers. Mission trips. Discipling courses. Theological College. Koine Greek. Eschatology. Pneumatology. Christology. Cheap nasty coffee.

Eventually the noise of confusion began to dim, then to ebb, then to assuage and stop altogether. It was replaced by a patience for others who were too seeking to know Christ and to make Him known.

I want for a walk to the shops one day and realised for the first time that being a mongrel Christian was one of the single most wonderful things in the world.

Somehow the process of theological genetic engineering, of cross-pollination, had given me a resilience to the schism virus... not immunity, but resilience. I had become cheap to insure because against my will and logic and reasoning and desire and character - God gave me a snippet of His grace for other human beings.

This is the point.

When I am standing in a church in Africa, listening to the atonal cacophony and smelling mainly diesel fumes... I find out that God speaks African. That does something. When I am standing in an empty Orthodox church and the priest has been singing every word of the mass even though before I walked in there was only Him there... I find out that church is not simply about how many come. When I sit in a Catholic cathedral and am selfishly ranting about the obscenities of wealth - and the Holy Spirit calls my attention to the people around me who are seeking Him as passionately and fervently as I am... My picture of the universal body of Christ changes. God moves walls. Schisms become unnecessary.

I am not a Methodist. But I think I want to be deep down. They started as an Anglican sect, initiated by the return to Anglicanism of the children of dissenters. It began as a meeting of tertiary educated thinkers seeking to spur one another on to holiness. God intervened with a storm and some Moravians which crystallized the necessity for both a life of increasing holiness and that the energy for such a life is found in the richness of true communing with God, through Christ, by the Holy Spirit. To seek God and to transform the self. Fluid not static. Messy not sanitized. Organic not sterilized.

Mongrel not pure-bred.

I suppose you could take any dog and call it a pure-bred and seek to only breed successful representations and reproductions of the first example. I'll be rude at this point and suggest that this is what became of Australian Methodism. The church which desires only to appear respectable makes a tame pure-bred of a mongrel, sacrificing genuine contextual resilience and effectiveness for the lethargic and soft-footed pampering of a life useful only for denominational dog shows.

Lord, please make me a mongrel. Let me see Your people as you see them. Help me to be patient with them. Help me to serve them. Help me to wash their feet - to help them arrive at Your solutions to the problems that they face. Let my thinking be rich. Let my praxis be malleable. Help me to be all things to all men so that I might win some.

Lord, you know what I really mean when I say this -

Father, please make me a Methodist.