Amy Sent Me To My Room

My bride is really cute when she gets bossy. And today I got her sufficiently torqued that she instructed me in no uncertain terms to march straight over to the computer and amend my sorry ways! My error?

Recently I wrote a worldview essay for a very cool web site. But instead of telling you all that I'm a sometimes-contributor to this site, and thus propping a site that's very props-worthy, I just re-posted the essay earlier today on this blog. So when Amy realized I wasn't calling everyone's attention to an awesome web resource because of my own ridiculous, violent aversion to self-promotion, she decided it was time to give me the business. She took me to several other blogs to show me how those bloggers cross-linked to other site they'd written for, and nonchalantly wondered out loud what my problem was. As usual, I didn't have a good answer.

So I'm amending my ways! The post has been deleted, but you can still read it under the heading Always Drinking, Always Thirsty at the web site for The Wilberforce Project. This web site has been under construction for many months and is just going live for the first time. The goal is to create the pre-eminent place on the internet for all things related to biblical worldview, from articles to book and web site summaries to studies in historical theology and much more. There's a short video from Chuck Colson on the Project's home page discussing the importance of worldview studies for the church and describing the Wilberforce Project. I encourage you to jump over there and spend a few minutes poking around some of the many very cool and quite varied resources that are already online and available, free of charge.

The group behind the web site is The Wilberforce Forum, which is the other side of Colson's Prison Fellowship ministry. The Wilberforce Forum is dedicated to equipping the church to impact the world for Christ through worldview training, including the Centurions Program:
a full year in-depth study program. I completed the program in 2006 and still consider it one of the best investments of time and energy I've made.

Book Review - Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne

I picked this book up because my friend Seth asked me if I had read it, and if so what I thought. At the time I didn't really know anything about the author, Shane Claiborne. In fact I had only heard of him from a couple youth pastor friends who had seen him speak at youth ministry conferences, and they basically said he was an edgy dude who lived in some sort of inner city commune and talked about being a serious Jesus follower. Sounded like a Jesus hippie to me -- I figured he was part of the emerging church movement and didn't think much else of it, until I got Seth's e-mail.

The length of this post is due to the way the book pleasantly surprised me. My assumption when I started reading the book was that I'd like a lot of it and not like a lot of it. I figured that, like many emergent guys, he'd be asking a lot of good and needed questions about the apathy of the American church. But I also assumed he'd proffer some dubious and typically-emergent answers, such as downplaying the study of orthodox theology and questioning whether anyone could know truth. I planned on being about 50/50 on what he was saying.

Well, it turns out he does live in a commune. But to my pleasant surprise, I ended up being about 80/20 on what he says. Really. (Don't worry mom: I got through my Berkeley years without joining a hippie commune and I'm not about to move your grandchildren into one now...)

The book (in a really small nutshell) is an attempt to wake up an affluent, apathetic American church and call her to a lifestyle of serious Jesus-following. He makes several different points in support of that goal using lots of stories from his personal journey interspersed with some free-flowing pontificating-on-paper. I won't recount all of his arguments (he already wrote the book, so I don't need to do it again!) but the core principle is to call Christians to a lifestyle of "radical love" which Claiborne sees as the only Jesus-ordained way to change the world. He's real big on Tony Campolo, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa, and he's real not-big on George W. Bush, Marketing-driven evangelical mega-churches and Pat Robertson. Come to think of it I'm not a big fan of the last two myself, even though I don't really go in for everyone on his list of heroes.

What I like
There's a lot of detail I could agree and disagree with, but I think the book's main strengths boil down to three major ideas.

First, unlike the worst of emerging church voices, Claiborne still takes the Bible seriously. I can't tell you how refreshing this was to see, and it allowed me to take his ideas more seriously than I would have otherwise. I could let his ideas challenge my own understanding of the gospel and agree or disagree with his perspective as with a brother in Christ, fellow truth lover and follower of Jesus. This was a way different experience than reading the postmodern nonsense that spews forth from some Emergents.

Now, his book does strike me as just a bit selective with Scripture. He's quick to quote any passage that speaks of liberating the poor and the oppressed, to the point where there wasn't much other Scripture quoted that I recall. To be fair though, that is essentially the thesis of his book and one can never say everything in a single volume. And there is a lot of scripture that speak of not befriending (or becoming) the oppressive rich & powerful. I also liked the fact that he didn't only quote from the gospels and the words of Jesus, as some Emergent guys are wont to do. Whether one arrives at all the same conclusions as Claiborne or not, one has to give him a lot credit for not losing a high view of Scripture as he re-thinks the American Christian life. I almost screamed in shock and joy when he said the way to correct bad theology isn't with no theology, but with good theology.

Second, Claiborne works hard at maintaining and conveying humility. This is no small feat in a book that aims to prophetically criticize much of church life. For instance, he admits at one point that he got caught up in the "rage against the machine" liberal activist culture which thrives on anger and hubris. He eventually recognized that arrogance can never undo arrogance and disowned his angry liberal activism for something more mature. Kudos to him for not only learning the lesson, but trying to teach it to others. He's still involved in more protesting and confronting than I personally care for, but this feels like a difference of emphasis to me rather than a completely different mentality. And while it's pretty obvious that he thinks more Christians should do what he's doing, he doesn't come out and say that we're not serious Christians if we don't.

One more thing I liked, and which I think is the most important contribution in this book, is the way he links reaching out with relationship. I think this is huge, and I've come to completely agree with him here. The idea is that our philanthropy and charitable giving are often mediated by massive public and private institutions, so when we give we often never see or know who is being helped. But when we spend time with the poor, the oppressed, and the washed-up we learn their story and come to see them as human beings made in God's image (which they are) rather than as losers and statistics (which they're not). The hooker working the corner, the addict and the abuser are the ones Jesus sent us to love and preach the gospel to. When we take the time to build relationships in this way, helping "the poor" becomes helping Joe Donatello, Mary Sanford, or her kid Jessica. Grace becomes personalized.

This is how generosity works, by which I mean it's far easier to get people to part with their money for the good of others when they know the "others" who are being helped. For example, we've sent about 10 people from our church to Boma, Sudan over the past year to help build and operate a school among other things. My good Kenyan friend Rosemary Khamati from SEA Partners recently came to Harvest and told us of some of the clothing needs for the school kids in the cool rainy weather. After her presentation I overheard one of the past team members tell Rosemary that no matter what the funds would be raised, and this lady had a determined fire in her eyes when she said it. Did this fire come from a general "bent toward philanthropy" or from being goaded to give by one of my amazing sermons on money? No way. It came because this woman has been to that school and has loved, served, and taught those kids herself. Relationship produces a Jesus-honoring desire to part with our own money for the good of others.

A Swing And A Miss
One thing I think Claiborne whiffs on is capitalism. He's not super clear on his vision for global economy, and seems to lump all economic systems together. At one point he declares he's neither capitalist or socialist, but after reading his book I have no idea how he sees the big economic picture; he doesn't explain how he thinks it should work. Now to be fair to Claiborne, many much smarter people than he (and than I) have fundamentally missed the essential genius of democratic capitalism including most of the people he's read and been mentored by. It's an easy mistake to make when so many intellectual voices shout down the perceived evils of the "greedy system." I hope some day Claiborne picks up a copy of Michael Novak's The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism which is an unfortunately difficult read that nonetheless contains a better view of reality.

Claiborne is extremely concerned about the plight of the world's poor, and rightly wants to live a life that loves them in Jesus' name. But it is too easy to decry the gap between rich & poor, as he does many times in his book. This simplistic look at the world's economy is not entirely off base, but it misses a much deeper and more important point: both the rich and the poor have been getting richer in the West because of one system: democratic capitalism. For example, Novak notes that in non-capitalist France during the 1780's, 4 out of every 5 families devoted 90% of their income to buying bread - and only bread - to stay alive. And French life expectancy in 1795 was roughly 25 years. Compare this to capitalist England which saw real wages double between 1800 and 1850 and again between 1850 and 1900, all while the population was increasing. Here's the point: anyone interested in seeing poverty driven back should be interested in capitalism, for as Novak puts it "after five millennia of blundering, human beings finally figured out how wealth may be produced in a sustained, systematic way."

The key insight is that democratic capitalism is the only political/economic system that respects the beautiful human spirit created in the Image of God - that's why democratic capitalism works. Claiborne misses this point, but again in fairness so do a lot of people. Capitalism entices creative people to create, innovative people to innovate, and as a result wealth is created and even the non-innovative and non-creative benefit. Is the world's wealth distribution sick? Of course it is. But what democratic capitalism needs is a strong moral vision for life that provides guidance and moral backbone to its wealth-creating potential. And Christians are well suited to provide such a moral vision. In fact that vision is precisely what Claiborne's book is all about, and his stories are quite effective at getting it across. This makes his predictable criticisms of wealth inequality a double shame because his vision contains the seeds that made capitalism thrive in the first place, and which can make it do so again to the benefit of all. We Christians should be urging a moral vision onto capitalism, so that more wealth can be created and better distributed to alleviate the suffering of the world's poor. Claiborne seems to get the latter point, but he misses the former point altogether. A couple examples from his book come to mind, but this post is getting long already and I don't want to risk sounding more critical of the book than I actually feel.

Concluding Thoughts
In fact I'm much more high on this book than I thought I'd be. It was useful to have read it while in the midst of Novak's book, and right after I had finished David Wells' The Courage to be Protestant. I think orthodox protestant Christianity needs a new/old vision moving forward: new in the sense that it should be different from the big-ticket, me-centered world of Marketing mega-churches, and old in the sense of being grounded in the theological orthodoxy and redemptive vision that has characterized the Christian faith for millennia. I don't personally think Claiborne has all the answers (he probably doesn't think so either) but I do think he has a different enough perspective to jolt the church into asking some big (and good) questions, yet orthodox enough to be worth listening to. He did so for me.

Good job Shane!

The Morality of Redistribution - A Final Thought

I have a book review on Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution coming soon (I'm about 80% through the book and pushing hard toward the finish).

In the meantime, my attention was recently directed to this thought provoking article from David Brooks on the morality, or lack thereof (i.e. the wrongness), of government-sponsored wealth redistribution. I think it's a fitting addition to my earlier discussion about capitalism.

While I think the title of his article The Real Culture War Is Over Capitalism is overstated, he nevertheless makes a couple noteworthy points that aren't getting nearly enough publicity or discussion in my opinion. Among them are the damage that gets done to liberty when too many citizens are exempt from paying taxes (if you don't see the connection, which I didn't at first, read the brief article!). Currently over half of Americans pay no or almost-no income taxes at all, and under the president's recently-released plan that percentage will climb to 60%.

What will the results be to society, and specifically to freedom, if this trend continues? Read Brooks' article at the link above and let me know what you think.

I need your input!

I really want Harvest to be a place where anyone can ask anything. A safe environment where all people, from the most experienced Christians to the newest of newbies, can wrestle with any question that's on their mind. An open community that encourages people to think, by fostering an "every question on the table" mindset that relishes evaluating all of life's questions in light of scripture.

So I'm considering two things for this coming summer, and I need your input! Especially if you're a regular part of the Harvest church family, though I'd benefit from the input of any churchgoing Christian anywhere, so please don't sit this out just because you don't attend my church. Here's what's simmering between my ears:

1. "Everything On The Table" - This would be a no-holds barred, ask any question you want type of discussion forum, where the curriculum is determined by the participants. Questions could be about Bible & theology, or why churches don't typically talk about such-and-such a Bible passage, or Christian living... you name it. All the questions people have wondered about but weren't ever completely sure it was OK to ask. I'm thinking of asking people to submit questions ahead of time which would allow for better quality guided discussion on how to think Biblically about the question at hand. Then we'd publish the list of upcoming questions (without identifying the original asker) so people know what we're going to be discussing that day in advance.

With the summer single-service format we'd probably do this during the 9:00 Community Cafe/breakfast hour before the main church service at 10:00, so childcare would be available for any who need it.

Now for your advice: If we did this, would you be interested in participating? ("no" or "on one condition..." are acceptable answers!)
AND secondly, what's the best way to obtain the questions? In other words, what would incite you to write down a question you'd like to see addressed
at church?

2. "Message Forum" - this is something we've talked about numerous times but never done: a discussion forum right after the main service on Sunday to talk about the sermon. Maybe a question occurred to you while I was speaking, or something I said needs clarifying (or correcting!), or you'd like to discuss how to make the truth we just taught a reality in our lives. This would be a place to get into the morning's text more actively - and interactively.

With our summer single-service format we would have to do this AFTER church. So Community Cafe would be at 9:00, the church service at 10:00, and then the Message Forum at around 11:30. You'd have to bring your kids with you, but they'd be welcome. We'd cap it at an hour and break earlier if needed.

Your input: Would you be interested enough in doing this that you'd consider staying for 30-60 minutes after church is over? Or would the Oregon sunshine be calling your name?

I'm very serious about asking for reader input here - especially from the 1/2 or 2/3 of you who attend Harvest. If I get a strong sense either way on either one of these things it may affect how, and whether, we do it.

So comment away - anonymously if you feel more comfortable that way. Or you can e-mail me. But either way, chime in! That's one confused looking dude in that picture, and he needs some help.


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