Open or Closed Table Eucharist – WWJD?

Vaux EucharistThe sacred meal that Jesus-followers celebrate, variously called ‘Eucharist’ or ‘Communion’ or ‘Lord’s Supper’ – is both the centerpiece of most Christian worship worldwide, and is also one of the most divisive rites we practice. My friend and Catholic Celtic contemplative (how much more alliteration can I pack into his descriptor – oh I know, his first name!) Carl McColman blogs about feeling this ambivalence firsthand in Communion and the Broken Body. What follows is a response to Carl, and the others who have interacted in the comments. I recommend you read Carl’s post before proceeding.

I’m grateful to Carl for sharing this – I recall he and I discussing restrictions that Roman Catholics (among others) place around the Eucharist the first time I came to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit with him and participated in the morning prayers and mass. It was beautiful, getting up way earlier than I normally do, chanting Psalms with the monks and Carl as the sun gradually illuminated the stained glass windows with an all-pervasive, translucent purple.

Because of both their hospitality and their declining numbers, Carl and I were able to sit in the monastic choir loft right there with the Cistercians; I felt very included. This made the next portion of the morning gathering all the more jarring, as I was technically not allowed to take the wafer and wine, as per Roman Catholic restrictions on non-Catholic participation. Instead I stood, arms crossed, receiving a “blessing” from the priest. the Christian community’s celebration of unity with God and each other is fragmented, broken much like Christ’s body on the altar, and this does indeed call for sadness. I agree with Carl in his post about both the lamentability of this reality, and working for change from within.

But I also agree with Darrell and some of the other (you could call us ‘green meme’) commentators on this thread – that unlike other things the Church might mourn, such as the energy crisis or genocide in Darfur, this is a matter wholly of our own making and within our purview to change. In stages of grief, if grieving doesn’t lead to fresh beginnings and new action, the griever is stunted in her growth. So let’s move on and become the change we wish to see.

Dines with SinnersHow might we do this? Well, if Catholics want to appeal to tradition and authority, and Protestants want to appeal to conscience and Scripture, maybe we can all agree to hold these in abeyance while taking a moment to appeal…to Jesus. (Ack – I realize upon typing this that it can sound awfully one-sidedly Protestant, even Pietist. Bear with me a moment…)

If I may be so presumptuous, I think Jesus agrees with Carl’s growing realization that there are legitimate boundaries to the community of faith – that there are mysteries to be stewarded, and hard roads to walk, and that while hospitality is a crucial part of our vocation as apprentices along the Christ-path, there are also places where the general public simply won’t go – and this is fine. Inclusive green meme progressives like me struggle with this a bit, but Jesus deliberately thinned out the crowds from time to time – speaking in enigmatic parables, ratcheting up Moses’ law a thousand-fold to show the uncompromising heart of God’s reign, and ultimately inviting followers to a challenging third way path between Roman hegemony and reactive Jewish intransigence. In this way Jesus brought a ‘sword,’ and families were divided over what to do about him and his message. So Jesus is exclusive, yes?

And I hardly need to argue in this esteemed audience that Jesus is inclusive, too. Maybe cranky and reluctant at times, but reaching out to Samaritan women and Roman centurions and – most significantly – to lowest-caste Jewish folks of his day that polite society and religious elites wouldn’t countenance. Jesus seems to genuinely enjoy the company of the outcast and ne’er-do-well.

And Jesus gave us a meal – sometimes somber, sometimes joyous, in re-membrance of him, embodying Christ for the sake of each other and the world. And the question we post-Christendom, postmodern friends of God in the way of Jesus are asking ourselves is,

How then shall we eat?

- and with whom?

Recognizing that there are initiation rituals and boundary rituals in any religious group, we could then ask the question “What are our boundary rituals?” and “What are our initiation rituals?”

And is Eucharist the former or the latter? I know that official Roman Catholic polity – and that of many other communions – say that Eucharist is the former, it’s a boundary ritual reinforcing membership in Christ’s Body.

Images from http://smallfire.org

Images from http://smallfire.org

Byzantine/Anglo-Catholic liturgist Richard Fabian makes a brief-but-compelling case for reversing the well-tread order of Baptism and Eucharist in his essay First the Table, Then the Font. I’m not going to reiterate his arguments here, but it’s well worth the read. Summarizing him from my point of view, I have to ask the question “How did Jesus eat with others in his earthly life? Were they initiation meals, or boundary-maintenance?” I have to conclude that, overwhelmingly, in his eating Jesus is precisely at his most inclusive. This is when he dines with terrorists and sex workers and tax collectors, whilst the religious authorities of his day were disgusted.

“But oh,” contemporary religious authorities might object, “his final meal this side of the grave – the one where he told his followers to keep eating in remembrance of him – that was just with his inner circle.” Granted, but let me ask you this: If Jesus was asking his followers to eat in his manner, to celebrate his presence among them, would they be drawing solely on this one ‘final’ meal, or the collective memory of their years shared together? To put it another way: If the Church wants to insist on a closed, bounded-set meal based on one night of our Lord’s life, shouldn’t it work equally vigorously to celebrate the scandalously inclusive, no-strings-attached manner of eating our Redeemer practiced during the vast majority of his public ministry?

And – perhaps more provocatively – shouldn’t we consider that even in his “inner circle,” Jesus extended radical hospitality to a betrayer in their midst! Doesn’t sound like particularly good boundary-maintenance to me.

Religious thinking is so bass-ackward sometimes. We’re afraid of ourselves, and afraid of the ‘outside world.’ We think of boundaries as something that we need to institute and enforce, externally, while gratuitous inclusion is something that will result in our loss of distinction and identity. Jesus seemed to reverse this pattern, finding his identity in complete open-handed invitational inclusion at the site of the shared meal, with boundary naturally arising in his call to follow him. It’s good branding, really – being salt and light both attracts and repels different people, or even the same people at different times – even ourselves at different stages of life’s journey.

With this said, I realize that – both practically and intentionally speaking – Eucharistic celebration is primarily for the edification of committed apprentices of Jesus; it is not ‘evangelistic’ per se in its design. Even so, it is invitational when practiced in the way of Jesus. We needn’t be concerned that abject heathens are going to keep beating down our doors to participate in a ritual that they disrespect and that holds no meaning to them – it just ain’t happening, folks. On the other hand, atheists, agnostics, sinners and ne’er-do-wells might just be curious enough to participate alongside us – to see if they can belong before believing, to see if they can ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.’ I long to see creative, prophetic acts of public worship, like my friend Lucas Land proposes in Eucharist as Eat-In. If we unshackle Jesus from our exclusionary practices, the transforming love of God can spill into the streets and the ‘profane’ lives or ordinary people – through our supposed ‘means of grace’ that we keep shut up.

That’s what happened to another friend, Sara Miles, who stumbled into Fabian’s congregation over a decade ago. I loathe to think of where Sara, her city, and even her congregation would be had she not been allowed to encounter Jesus at a no-strings-attached Communion table in her neighborhood. I shudder to think of how Jesus is being shuttered up in buildings across this world – what we’re missing out on by not making liturgy the work of the people, for the people.

I guess I should apologize to Carl – I got into the very argument that he didn’t want to have. And I’m going to ratchet it up slightly here – I don’t think that Darrell was being overly unkind or by describing the closed-handed exclusivity of certain Eucharist practices as ‘demonic.’ This needn’t be seen in an overly polemic way, but rather in the spirit of the apostle Paul, when he wrote a church to say he was giving one of its members “over to the devil.” This wasn’t a curse, but a naming of things as they really are in hopes of full repentance and restoration. I can’t – and won’t – stand in judgment of denominations that fence the table from all who don’t have confessional unity with them. But I do sniff the smell of fear and sulphur around such behavior at an institutional level, at what Walter Wink would call “the Powers” (demonic again. :) ) And I do pray that such power will be broken – for Christ’s sake, and the sake of the world.

If anyone wants to do some theological heavy-lifting on the matter, I’d recommend (in addition to Fabian’s essay above) Come to the Table by Anglican priest Jamie Howison – the full book is available here. Also Making A Meal of It: Rethinking the Lord’s Supper by United Methodist minister and theologian Ben Witherington III. And to be fair to another perspective (thanks Carl for pointing these resources out), Episcopal priest and Thomas W. Phillips Chair in Religious Studies professor at Bethany College in West Virginia Jim Farwell has staked a lot on a generous-but-boundary-keeping stance on limiting Communion to the baptized. His essay Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: On the Practice of  ‘Open Communion,’ as well as its rejoinder by Kathryn Tanner can be found on the Anglican Theological Review website here. (Interestingly, for me anyway, I took a class with Farwell over a decade ago on Eastern Religion with a focus on Zen and interreligious dialogue at Berry. It’s a small Body of Christ…)

It’s also worth noting that, in true house church fashion, I think that the Eucharist is best celebrated as a full meal – why redact God’s feast into a notional meal only? But that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother post…

An earlier version of this was originally posted September 21, 2009

Jesus: A Theography – the Sweet/Viola Interview + Recommendation

In the third century, Origen of Alexandria taught that there are four senses of Scripture. In Chanting the Psalms, Cynthia Bourgeault summarizes these as follows:

  1. Historical (or “literal”), where Scripture is “all about facts and linear causality” (50).
  2. Christological (or “allegorical”), in which “all the stories and images in the Bible [are]…pointing toward the Christ mystery” (51).
  3. Tropological (or “growth”), in which the stories of Scripture are seen as “holograms of the soul’s journey” (51).
  4. Unitive in full blossom, (others say “anagogical”), in which “we begin to realize that there is only one story, the great biblical drama of salvation, and our own life is perfectly mirrored and contained within it” (52).

For many contemporary readers of Scripture and followers of Jesus, we’re stuck at the literal or historical sense of Holy Writ. Now granted, for alot of us, this is actually a step up; I know that when I was a kid and even a high school and college student, so much of the Bible was reduced to a one-dimensional morality tale, a story about how to “be like David” (the giant-slaying David, mind you, not the Bathsheba-bedding David!) or the Proverbs 31 woman (well, not me, specifically) or whatever. So when I began to discover the historical context of Scripture through scholars like NT Wright or Amy-Jill Levine or James Dunn or Bruce Chilton, my world opened up, as did my Bible and my faith. Still, as Cynthia‘s outline suggests, the ancients had a far more multi-dimensional approach to our sacred text, and it wasn’t just for reading – it was to to experientially know the God of the Bible (as revealed in Jesus Christ) and move through our own soul’s journey into a sense of union with God and the fullness of our destiny.

To put it mildly, contemporary Bible studies don’t do that. Most of them stick to morals that are often shallow, dubious, and/or partisan. A few of the best dip into the historical context of Scripture and paint the narrative in a compelling way. (For fine examples of this, I’d recommend my friend Sean Gladding‘s The Story of God, the Story of Us from Likewise, with its accompanying DVD set for group reading – as well as the Network of Biblical Storytelling and the International Orality Network) But what if there was a resource the bridged the Historical sense of Scripture with the Christological – the latter being a style of interpretation that has been out of favor with the academy and churches alike for centuries – paving the way for the reader to be catapulted into the Tropological and the Unitive fellowship of the Godhead?

I daresay that Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet‘s Jesus: A Theography does precisely this.

I’ll say more in a minute. But first, I wanted to share with you some about the book from the authors’ own words. I sat down with Sweet and Viola (virtually speaking) over the weekend to glean the following (note – the words are the interviewees, but the links are mostly mine. I like you to be able to engage the conversation with as much depth as you desire; Andrew Jones doesn’t call me “Dr Linkage” for nothing!):

Mike: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to my readers and curious potential readers everywhere. My first question about your new release concerns your sub-title. “Theography?” What’s a theography?   

Len: “Theography” literally means “the story of a god.” Even though I’m not averse to coining words (some would call that an understatement), we did not make up the word “theography.” It’s an actual genre of literature which has a long history. Rather than write a “biography of God” (Jack Miles) or a “history of God” (Karen Armstrong), we decided to lay our cards on the table and write the story of someone we believe is, as the Nicene Creed puts it, “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made.”

Frank: A theography is a theological biography. The book, therefore, tells the story of Jesus, beginning from eternity (John 1:1), all the way through the Old Testament (where Christ is foreshadowed, prefigured, and prophesied about), all the way through the New Testament and ending in Revelation. It seeks to marry theology with biography, bringing together Christology with historical Jesus studies.

Mike: You resurrect an ancient way of reading Scripture that’s nearly lost today – what some would call allegorical, or typological. Can you each say something about this way of finding Christ on every page of Holy Writ?

Frank: It’s not allegorical. We make a clear distinction in the book between subjective allegory (which we don’t subscribe to) and classic typology – which is basically a semiotic reading of Scripture. The latter is how the NT authors interpreted the OT. It’s also how Jesus taught His disciples to read the Scriptures. We unpack those two statements in the book.

Let me add something else. There are three things being emphasized today by some Christians and our book speaks directly to each one:

First – there is an emphasis on being “Red Letter Christians.” For better or for worse, one result of this emphasis is that many people have the idea that in order to really understand Jesus, we have to focus solely on the Gospels, particularly the places where Jesus tells us what to do. The “red letter” emphasis is no doubt a reaction to those who have pushed the gospel strictly in Pauline terms. But the net is often that we end up pitting Justice against Justification and people take sides.

By contrast, we believe that we will never fully understand Jesus simply by reading the red letters in the Gospels. Nor do we believe that we can fully understand Him by reading the writings of Paul only.

It is our conviction that we can only fully understand Jesus by learning to discover Him from Genesis to Revelation and interpret the Scriptures the same way that Jesus taught His disciples to interpret them.

Luke says that the risen Christ opened the understanding of His disciples, revealing Himself to them through Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Those are the three parts of the Hebrew Bible – the Tenack.

In addition, if we understand that Jesus is speaking in and through the Old Testament as YHWH, then all of the Bible should be in red letters.

Consequently, we’re all for being “Red Letter Christians,” if by that we mean Genesis to Revelation should be written in red.

If all Christians learned to discover Christ in all the Scriptures, it would constitute no small revolution in the Body of Christ . . . and in turn, the world. I believe the earth begs for such a revolution.

Second – there’s a re-emphasis on discipleship today in many quarters (“discipleship” was also big in the late 60s early 70s, then it went off the rails. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, many who are on the discipleship band-wagon today don’t know their history. And ignorance of history usually ends up in a repetition of it.)

Most of the people who promote this emphasis talk about the importance of reading the Bible. But reading the Bible on its own doth not a disciple make. The Bible must be interpreted.

In Jesus: A Theography, Len and I demonstrate how the first Christians (the NT authors) interpreted the Old Testament. And then we use that same hermeneutic (method of interpretation) to unveil Christ from Genesis to Revelation.

Consequently, beyond being a book that converges NT scholarship with theology and canonical criticism, our volume is a handbook for discipleship, showing God’s people how to read the Bible in the light of Jesus Christ. Reading the Bible this way brings it to life on so many levels.

Third – we live in a time where there is perhaps more diversity among Christians than ever before. Last year, Christian Smith wrote a little book about this and asserted that the cure for the interpretive pluralism that plagues biblical interpretation among Christians today is the rediscovery of the Christocentric hermeneutic.

We believe that there is a lot of truth in Smith’s proposal. While it’s no panacea, reading the Scriptures Christologically can help us profoundly on this score. Thus our book seeks to show what a Christocentric hermeneutic is, what it looks like, and how it can be applied to the entire Bible – both Old and New Testaments.

Len: Nowadays christology is the weak slat under the bed of theology; Frank and I believe it should be the whole bed. That is what we tried to show in this book—the seamless garment story of Jesus.

There has been a renewed interest in both ancient approaches to the Bible known as allegorical and typological. Although Frank and I contrast the two, shunning the allegorical and embracing the typological, there are some scholars who argue that we are mistaken in this and that any crisp contrast between the two is misguided (e.g. David Dawson, Allegorical Readers and Cultural Revision in Ancient Alexandria [University of California Press, 1992).

But we maintain the distinction in our book, and believe that the “storied world of the Bible” (Hans Frei) needs a unitive telling that requires a typological hermeneutic. If we are to move the biblical narrative from its historical context into any present and future setting, “translation” must transition into typology.

Charles L. Campbell’s excellent book on typological preaching defines typology as “fundamentally a Christological and ecclesial form of interpretation. That is, the movement is from events in the story of Israel through Jesus as the center and ‘archetype’ of the story to the church as the ongoing bearer of the story” (p. 253 of Preaching Jesus [1997]).  I personally prefer the lens and language of “semiotics” to “typology,” but the consensus of the publishers was that this would be too confusing to the reader.

You say some intriguing things about gardens and temples in your book, and how they reveal Christ. Could you summarize and preview this a bit here?               

Frank: The garden-temple theme stretches from Genesis to Revelation. We trace it in great detail throughout the book. It’s everywhere in Genesis 1 and 2 (we dedicate two chapters to Genesis 1 and 2, in fact). The garden-temple theme reappears in Revelation 21 and 22.

Jesus uses these motifs often in pointing to Himself. In John 1 and 2, which is “the new Genesis,” Jesus describes Himself as the new temple. In John 7 and John 14, images of living water and a vine tree hearken back to the garden. Christ embodies both the temple and the garden. The details, which we explore in the book, are no less than fascinating.

Len: The world’s oldest profession is not what you think it is. The First Adam was a gardener. The Last Adam, whose mission it was to return us to that garden relationship with God, had the imagination, not of a tool-guy, but of a gardener. In his first post-resurrection appearance, Jesus was mistaken for a gardener. As a writer, I think of myself as a gardener with words, and my computer as a garden bed. The Bible begins in a garden, and ends in a garden city . . . .  Have we teased you enough with the metaphor?

Mike: Yes Len, you’ve given me plenty to plow through. :) (Ba-dum-bum!)

I’ve read both of you since the 1990s, and feel like I have a good handle on your respective themes and styles; I feel like this volume is much more ‘blended,’ style-and-content-wise, than your first collaboration together, Jesus Manifesto. Has your collaboration process evolved since then? How did you go about writing Jesus: A Theography?

Len: The more you spend time with someone, and think their thoughts with them and after them, the more you start to vibrate on the same wavelength. We wrote this book showing how Jesus is our tuning fork to the Eternal, God’s Perfect Pitch. As we disciplined our “tunings” to Him, our voices began to harmonize in a rich and rare way. I think you can still hear our distinctive frequencies, but it’s an ensemble of harmonious difference, not clashing differences.

Frank: Jesus Manifesto was a much shorter work and it reads more like an anthology of collected essays on the same topic. Jesus: A Theography is over 400 pages and it seeks to tell one story – a story that’s based in the discoveries of two lifetimes (Len’s and mine). We tried our best to write it with one voice. Some of our readers have observed that it reads similar to a novel. Each reader will have to decide if we succeeded in our intent.

Mike: Len, Frank – you’ve both served in ministry for decades, and yet I feel you both have as hallmarks of your ministries how everything old becomes new again – especially the ever-newness of God’s mercies in Christ. So I’m curious: In the process of putting words to paper (or pixel, as the case may be), did you each, personally, discover something fresh about the Christ you were unearthing in the pages of Scripture?           

Len: Our ancestors used to sing, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.” That’s the ultimate in discipleship. Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. But he also wants to be fresh every morning.

The Living Bread requires we bake fresh bread, which is what this book is: the freshest bread the two of us could serve up. Painter Robert Motherwell confessed one day that “most good painters don’t know what they think until they paint it.” I don’t think we really know what we believe and who Jesus is until we live our faith, put fingers to feelings and legs to thoughts. In writing this book, I discovered so much about Jesus I never knew or imagined.

Frank: When asked how long it took me to write my part of the book, my answer is that it took 30 years. I’ve spent my entire Christian life exploring Jesus in all the Scriptures, in the community of the church (present and ancient), and in day-to-day life. Yet there’s no way to exhaust Him.

So putting the story down in one place with Len took my breath away. And I hope it does the same for those who read our book cover to cover. There’s always more light to break forth from God’s Word whenever we look at it in the face of Jesus Christ. All Scripture really does point to Him (John 5:39).

People can take a look at the Introduction of the book (which includes endnotes), a full description, a Publishers Weekly review, the Table of Contents and a free audio where I share the untold story behind the book (including why we chose not to have any endorsements) and another audio where Len shares why he and I wrote the book. Just click http://frankviola.org/jesuschrist

Frank & Len: Thanks Mike!

Mike Morrell: You’re welcome. Thank you.

* * *

A couple of closing thoughts: I’ve been listening to Jesus: A Theography in audio book form in the kitchen this weekend, while the fam has milled about. My five-year-0ld daughter has been listening in, and started drawing pictures “of God.” There’s a lot of storytelling in the book, and the stories have kept her attention – and ours.

I personally believe that every evangelical, charismatic, missional-minded disciple and Reformed Jesus-follower should read this book. Youth groups and campus ministries especially (can you hear me, Cru, Inter-Varsity, and Campus Outreach?). It can form a True North that everything else you do is oriented toward.

Further, I hope that emergent, progressive, Integral, poststructural, Radical Orthodox, New Monastic, and liberation/anarchist-minded Christians and Questians don’t ignore this book. The authors throw some hermeneutical curve-balls that you may not agree with, but if you stay with the source material (take it, if it helps, as coming from the best of the devotional-Pietist tradition as informed by the Canoncial Critical school of Biblical interpretation), there will be rich material for reflection and community-formation, even if there are points you’d debate with as you hold this vision of Christ in creative tension with a Christology from below.

For readers of every stripe – including those who would not identify as Christian – I believe that Viola and Sweet have done a magisterial job of bridging the Historical and Christological senses of Scripture in a way that can connect and resonate with contemporary readers, which puts Jesus: A Theography at a distinct advantage over similar Patristic and Medieval texts that (at first encounter at least) cannot bridge this divide in the contemporary mind.

Check it out!

I’ve Been ‘Sliced! (or, when heresy-hunters attack)

Heresy-hunting is everywhere these days – even in presidential politics. Think what you want of the various candidates (I’ll not go into any stump speeches here), but when a presidential candidate criticizes the current president, not over disagreements in policy, but for “phony theology” as Santorum did Obama, well, you have presidential-level heresy-hunting. Here’s the scoop on that:

 

Targeting people with different spiritual and religious perspectives with appellations like “phony” and “heretic” has, of course, been going for a long time – arguably since the very existence of religion, but in contemporary times at least since the publication of John MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos in 1993. A few years ago, it was finally my turn…

Glory be, my day of infamy has arrived–the biggest heresy-hunting ‘blog this side of Ken Silva has targeted little ‘ol me for witchery! Ingrid Schlueter of Slice O’ Laodecia sez (in a piece titled Christian Witchcraft is Here) that my main website, zoecarnate.com, advocates “cool new “Christianity”, including an ad for an emerging conference, and links to all the emerging sites of Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, and a host of others listed under the category, “Dispatches from the Great Emergence”.

Guilty! Of everything except being cool. (My wife will tell you that I’m a big nerd, and I still dress funny if she doesn’t have any input.)

Apparently I made the ‘mistake’ of being linked to by a website called RavenWing, whose authors, Charlie and Melody Jenkins, are exploring the tensions and commonalities between neopagan practice and Christian faith. I’ve gotta admit, Ingrid, they have some pretty interesting beliefs. The thing to keep in mind of course is a.) They found me, not vice-versa, and b.) I’d love to hang out with the Jenkins over tea or something, and talk with them about their lives and faith journeys, rather than make some appraisal of their beliefs with the degree of easy finality that you do. I guess that’s just ’cause I’m just soooooooooo emergent. Either that or because I think there’s something to that whole ‘ministers of reconciliation’ thing.

But this isn’t all I’m being Sliced over. Ingrid continues,

“The ZoeCarnate [sic] site is also promoting The Shack as must reading for emerging Christians.”

Interestingly, she draws this connection because of the banners I have up on this blog and my site for the book, not because I’m one of the endorsers easily visible on the back cover. Why, oh why, does Eugene get all the attention? I feel slighted. To apply “eye salve” to this clear oversight (If you’re gonna play guilt-by-association, the heresy-hunters’ favorite game, you can’t miss key links like this), let me clarify just how much I love The Shack. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

“Finally! A guy-meets-God novel that has literary integrity and spiritual daring. The Shack cuts through the cliches of both religion and bad writing to reveal something compelling and beautiful about life’s integral dance with the divine. This story reads like a prayer–like the best kinds of prayer, filled with sweat and wonder and transparency and surprise. When I read it, I felt like I was fellowshipping with God. If you read one work of fiction this year, let this be it.”

I said it. I believe it. That settles it. : )

Siiiiiiiiiiiiiggh. This isn’t the first time self-proclaimed Christian Watch Doggies have targeted me, and I doubt it’ll be the last. If they only knew the company I keep, the friends I have, and the ideas that run through my mind while invoking Baphomet in my blood-drawn pentagram!

In all seriousness (and c’mon guys, that previous sentence wasn’t, so no fair quoting it as though it was), these folks might be surprised to know that I (and every alt.Christian I know) believe that there is such a thing as harmful or destructive teaching, we do think about our beliefs, and we don’t rip Jude or 2 Peter out of our Bibles. But the warning passages there (and in Timothy and the Gospels) aren’t biblical wax noses that we can bend at whim; there were specific heresies (dualism and legalism) being addressed in the pages of the New Testament. We’d do wise to treat these ‘attack passages’ (as they’ve become) while wearing asbestos gloves, with fear and trembling. We should pray and fast before ever leveling them at a sister or brother in Christ. Our reverence for Holy Writ (and the Holy One whom we confess has inspired it) demands no less.

In other news, the fundies seem to be devouring their own

The intro to this post is new. The bulk of this was originally posted on Feb 29, 2008

See also Resisting the Logic of Heresy-Hunting: A Cautionary Tale
Gutless-Grace Girlieman Inspires Po-Motivators…Story At 11

Sunday Devotional: Sara Miles – Jesus Says GO!

In the midst of all the (well-deserved) hoopla surrounding the release of Brian’s A New Kind of Christianity, it is literarily crucial not to lose sight of another, equally-important book that released this month: Jesus Freak: Feeding/Healing/Raising the Dead by Sara Miles. I really think that both of these books could well define Western Christianity’s soul-searching in the second decade of the 21st-century.

I’m not going to do a full book review today – this week, God-willing! – but for now I’ll just say that Sara’s book works on the reader in a whole different way than Brian’s; whereas Brian’s adeptly takes you on a journey through Scripture, church history, and the genealogy of ideas, Sara’s book is hyper-local (rarely, if ever, venturing outside of her home city of San Francisco) and deeply embodied – it’s story after story after story, driving a central theme home: God lives in us, and Jesus gives us the authority to feed, heal, forgive, and practice resurrection. Here is Sara reading an excerpt from Jesus Freak (this is what inspired the non-technological part of my KedgeForward Theology After Google Preview Talk):

The blogosphere has been positively abuzz about Sara’s infectious story and embodied spirituality. Here are some of the highlights:

Bill Dahl

Carl McColman

Faith Matters

Father Jake

In Touch Magazine (In Touch?? Isn’t that Charles Stanley’s magazine?? Wow!)

Journey With Jesus

Matthew Paul Turner

Next-Wave

Reiter’s Block

Rhodes Network

Sarx

Spirituality & Practice

Through A Glass Darkly

Walking With God

Whatever

Weary Pilgrim

Why Is Marko

Wrecked for the Ordinary

Wounded Bird

Yearns & Groans

Left-wing Lesbian author comes out as a Jesus freak and claims power to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and raise the dead – Religion Writers. Now that’s an attention-grabbing headline!

(My previous posts about Sara are here and here.)

This was originally posted on February 14, 2010. 

Spirit Week – Crowder & Morrell Final: Sweet Mystical Communion

Godka

This post concludes a five-part interview with arguably the most controversial contemporary charismatic minister, John Crowder. It’s worth noting that Crowder’s ministry has evolved since 2008, when these interviews first appeared. He’s recently released two new books reflecting this: Mystical Union & Seven Spirits Burning. Our interview here reflects the interest in this pair of books: what does ‘union with God’ look like?

So this is John Crowder and I’s final dialogue, for now at least. Despite some of our differences in previous installments, it’s here where we talk something near and dear to our hearts. It’s precisely here where I fear we’re going to alienate at least some of you dear readers. Why? Because if there’s one thing that most middle-of-the-road Christian moderates distrust more than ‘extreme’ charismatic experiences, it’s mysticism – Christian or otherwise. The word ‘mystic’ is heavily freighted for many people, synonymous with ‘heretical,’ ‘apostate,’ ‘unbiblical,’ etc.. To add insult to injury, John & I don’t spend even a second justifying our use of the term, or indeed explaining any of the terms, dates, movements, and spiritualities we discuss – it’s a kind of conversational machine-gun fire. This isn’t intentional; it’s simply an exchange where we hit the ground running, sharing a mystical lingua franca – though we still come out in somewhat different places. [This is the bridge, perhaps, between my Spirit Week series and my Wisdom Christianity one, exploring the teaching of Cynthia Bourgeault.] Let’s dive in…

Mike: Thanks so much for your time here this past week, John. You’ve given me and my blog-readers much to digest. My final questions have to do with developmental-transformational growth in God – what Protestants typically call sanctification, what Catholic mystics call union with God, and what East Orthodox call theosis or divinization. Wesleyan and holiness preachers – who laid the seed-bed for Pentecostal theology and praxis – advocated what they called a ‘second work’ of ‘entire sanctification,’ known variously in those days as ‘Spirit baptism’ or ‘fire baptism.’ The charismatic and ‘third wave’ movements, as best as I can tell, hold onto a ‘Spirit baptism’ point but stress the continuing in-filling of Holy Spirit, moving from ‘glory to glory’ as it were in increasing supernatural experiences. I guess my first question for you here on this, our final post (for now!), is where do you see this present move of the Spirit you’re involved in going? Where is it heading?

John: I see full-blown transformation of every human paradigm of reality itself. A generation completely raptured in the overwhelming love of God. I don’t care about pioneering new theology, cultural movements or witty new ways of delivering the gospel. I want to love and to experience the love of God more. I think this is the corporate goal of the Holy Spirit. This is true mysticism.

Mike: The great mystical/contemplative writers of ages past talked in great detail about manifestations of the Spirit (they usually called them ‘consolations’), but they had a complex relationship with them: The mystics usually discouraged dwelling too much on the consolations, or trying to keep them coming. To give you a contemporary example, Contemplative Outreach cofounder Thomas Keating says:

At this crucial period in one’s spiritual development, it is important to realize the sharp distinction between charismatic gifts such as tongues, prophecy, healing, etc., and the Seven Gifts of the Spirit. According to Paul, the charismatic gifts (with the exception of tongues) are designed for the building up of the local community. They do not necessarily indicate that those who possess them are either holy or becoming holy through their exercise. If one is attached to them, they are an obstacle to genuine spiritual growth. For those who have received one or more of these gifts, this is clearly part of God’s plan for their sanctification and a cause for gratitude. But they must learn to exercise these gifts with detachment and not take pride in themselves because they happen to be the recipients of a special grace. Generally God provides sufficient external trials to take care of this human tendency. Prophets, healers, and administrators can greatly benefit from opposition, because it tends to free them from the fascination of their gifts and to keep them humble.

Paul himself emphasizes the distinction between charismatic gifts that are given to build up the body of Christ and the substantial gift of divine love. According to him, one possessing the charismatic gifts is still nothing unless one also possesses divine love (see I Cor. 13:1-3). Hence, the basic thrust of charismatic prayer and the exercise of the charismatic gifts should be ordered to the growth of faith, hope, and charity. To remain faithful to the clear invitation to divine union extended by God through the grace of baptism of the Spirit, one must not be diverted by secondary manifestations of spiritual development. Moreover, there is need for discernment with even the most genuine charismatic gifts. It is the duty of the community…to discern these gifts and to determine whether they spring from grace or from the natural energies of the unconscious. Those who possess them should willingly submit to this discernment for the good of the community Otherwise, the exercise of the gifts may be destructive of the common good rather than a means of building up the body of Christ.

Along with the charismatic gifts, which may be given to anyone without a corresponding level of personal spiritual development, so-called “mystical” phenomena, such as clairvoyance, locutions, visions, levitation, trance states, and many others, may accompany spiritual development as one accesses the divine emerging from the ontological unconscious. These also are of little significance compared to the graces of interior transformation set in motion by the Seven Gifts of the Spirit. The unusual and sometimes showy character of “mystical” phenomena makes them a hazard for immature mystics. It is difficult for even advanced persons to avoid taking a certain self-satisfaction in them.

The Charismatic Renewal needs spiritual guides who are thoroughly qualified through knowledge and personal experience of contemplative prayer to distinguish what is essential from what is accidental in the spiritual path. They should be able to recognize when someone is being called by God to interior silence and solitude and when someone is being called out of solitude into some particular ministry or service. People must be encouraged to follow the attraction to interior silence in prayer even if this means not attending prayer meetings for a time. This is especially necessary if, because of the duties of one’s state in life, one cannot attend prayer meetings and still have time to practice contemplative prayer. Periods of silence in the liturgy and during prayer meetings are essential for groups whose members are growing in prayer. To allow one another space in which to develop the contemplative dimension of the gospel is an integral part of commitment to a Christian community. [Full piece here.]

It’s clear from your book The New Mystics that you value the Christian mystics. What do you make of their contemplative caution of the charisms?

John: We must remember also in scripture that Paul tells us to “lust” after the gifts. How can we do this, unless certain gifts and manifestations should be considered “extensions” of Christ in some way, rather than competitors for His affections? We think of these things in too linear a fashion, through a veil of modernistic hierarchy and competition. We’ve all heard this type of wet blanket statement: seek God’s face & not His hand. It’s been used to keep us from chasing miracles, manifestations, etc. The phrase sounds noble and holy, but it is very unscriptural. We need ALL of God: hands, feet, fingernails and even His serotonin gland. Otherwise we’re screwed. I love my wife’s face, but I’m also very thankful that she has hands as well. They are quite helpful. We’ve been told not to seek manifestations, but the apostles did so in Acts 4 (“Lord, stretch forth your hand to heal the sick and work wonders,” etc.). Cessationists tell us not to seek after signs and miracles, but the apostles did so, for a greater end, that God would be glorified.

Mike: So is there any line to be drawn between seeking the things of God and simply seeking God?

John: Is there some sort of subjective rubber ruler here? Or is it possible that we are splitting hairs that weren’t meant to be split? Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God’s Glory. 1 John 4:9 says, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” If Jesus is a “manifestation” of God’s love, a “consolation” if you will, could one make the argument that all Christians are called to worship a manifestation of the unseen God, which happens to be God Himself?

The perceived need to clinically separate God from the experience itself is a two-dimensional, linear way of thinking. Since biblical times, trances have been marked by visions and spiritual encounters, as well as frenzied physical manifestations and miracles. The lines between everyday lifestyle and divine encounter are going to be blurred in these days. Manifestations, ecstasies, consolations – these are not just a form of prayer, but a comprehensive way of living. Dwelling in unbroken pleasure. Letting our days become a fragrant song where Heaven and Earth continually collide. We will not be counting beans and trying to figure out if we are enjoying the worship service too much. We will be overwhelmed. We must worship God to excess in body, soul and spirit. With ALL of our mind, heart, soul and strength.

Mike: I agree with you in principle, but…those YouTube videos of you and your friends still seem pretty weird!

PhysMysJohn: While ecstatic experience is biblically orthodox, it is far from tame or ordinary in its practical application. Ecstatics have always produced the most bizarre physical manifestations: falling over, fainting, shaking, trembling, uncontrollable laughter, running, shouting and convulsing. Not to mention the signs, wonders and miraculous phenomena. Such strange outward behavior has marked the lives of many great saints and prophets, past and present. And these wild ecstatic contortions have been evident in every great revival – at the birth of every mainstream denominational movement in church history. The inward working of God’s goodness tends to produce an uncontrollable wildfire when He takes the helm of clinical, religious sobriety – when He turns our water into wine.

Mike: I’ll drink to that!

John: God’s sheer goodness is so great that it is uncontainable. Maybe the “self control” God desires is for us to control the old dead, dry, boring, sober self – so that we can demonstrate His true happiness. This goes far deeper than a surface manifestation of laughter, shaking or bodily demonstration.

Mike: Do you think some of the worshippers at your meetings are faking it?

John: Are some manifestations feigned? Of course. In churches that are experiencing renewal, I often see people “fake” their joy in order to look spiritual – as if their laughter is a supernatural manifestation when it is not. This usually comes out of insecurity, as people seek to find their identity behind a particular manifestation. Of course, there is no need to over-analyze every laugh, twitch, crunch or yelp. We need to keep it real, but who am I to intervene into their communion with the Lord? Besides, I see people faking smiles and laughter in many mainline churches as well.

Mike: Ouch! But what about the peer pressure to conform to what your neighbors are doing – y’know, to look more spiritual?

John: There is no need to recreate a past experience, fake a manifestation or feign your happiness. But I don’t think this is a grievous sin that is going to ruin us all. Ultimately, God wants to give true joy that is thorough and lasting. Manifestations are valid, and I am a proponent for daily encounter. But truly encountering God should cause you to be changed. Don’t tell me you’ve seen an angel, but you still look like hell! When God really shows up, you are not just twitching to look spiritual in front of your friends. You are undone. One cannot stir up the soul with emotion, in order to gain a spiritual experience. But the crazy thing about the gospel is this: you are already having a spiritual experience! Whether you feel it or not, you are already united with Christ and seated with Him in heavenly places. As these spiritual realities impact your soul, there is no limit to the excess of emotions that are ignited.

Mike: So much of what you’re saying here an “old mystic” or contemplative could agree to. The main difference, I think, is that they’d say some of the most flamboyant emotional displays would last a season ‘till they were purged, leaving a more whole and balanced person in their aftermath. But you seem to see this as an ongoing, normative stage of theosis.

John: Physical manifestations of ecstasy have been termed “fits”, “enthusiasms”, “the jerks”, “convulsions” and many other names in various revivals. But the similar thread of losing control to the Spirit of God has always been present.

It is humorous to consider the writings of great 18th and 19th century revivalists and missionaries of the past, when they spoke of gathering together to be “refreshed” in the Holy Spirit. Ever wonder what that looked like? We’ve stereotyped so many of our forerunners as stiff-necked, starch-collared holy rollers. But many of them were complete Holy Ghost drunks. Ecstatic trances and manifestations of spiritual intoxication did not end with the days of Samuel, David and Elijah.

Mike: Humor some of my more skeptical readers. When has this happened with the safe reivivals? Y’know, the ones far enough away from us in the present that they’re okay to talk about, even among cessationist types?

John: The First Great Awakening is a classic example. In Jonathan Edwards’ meetings, people swooned and fell over and entered trances under the weighty hand of God.

Mike: Fire-baptized Calvinists? Get out of town!

John: Describing the revival of 1740-1742, Edwards notes, “It was a very frequent thing to see a house full of outcries, faintings, convulsions, and such like, both with distress, and also with admiration and joy.” Remember, this guy is the founder of Princeton University. And the early Methodist meetings were deemed to be “more like a drunken rabble than the worshipers of God.”

Mike: Well then, it must have been that pernicious Arminian Methodist influence. : )

John: One of Edwards’ present-day disciples, John Piper, is known for his theology of Christian Hedonism. He purports that our enjoyment of God is the very essence of true worship. Are we to draw a line between our enjoyment of God and God Himself?

Mike: I can hear my Calvinist friends’ jaws hitting the floor that you’re invoking Edwards and even Piper in service of your genre of divine enjoyment. If you’re game, I will personally accompany you to Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis to interrupt one of Mr. Piper’s sermons with blowback from a Holy Spirit Spliff. We’ll pray and see what happens to the Christian Hedonist himself. PiperCrazy

John: Consider this view: rather than pitting the manifestation against God (i.e. worship God vs. worship the experience), we must see the experiences as means of worshipping God, to which there is no limit. For in the experience, I am partaking in the pleasure of God – the very thing I was created for – to be interdependent upon Him, enjoying Him forever.

I will make another analogy: as a married man, I am not continually comparing the love I have for my wife to the love I have for God. My wife will never be an idol who threatens to steal my devotion to the Lord. This is because I understand that in loving my wife, this is somehow a mystical extension of my love for Christ. By caring for her, I am worshiping Him. In the same way, when I give a cold cup of water to the poorest of poor, I am also doing this to Christ. I am not worshiping the beggar, but I am worshiping Christ through the beggar. It is foolish to draw lines of competition between God and experience that were never intended to be dissected in such fashion.

Let me also say that manifestations can be quite “extreme” if not outright fanatical, yet still be divine in origin. The radical nature of the manifestation is not in itself a determining factor of its source. I have considered myself nearly on the brink of insanity at times when God swept over me for hours of uncontrollable drunken behavior, yet the corresponding fruit was altogether tremendous, miraculous and life changing. I am always filled with joy and expectancy in these encounters.

Mike: I am all for diversity in the ways we love, enjoy, and worship God. Like I said when we were discussing charis-missional last post, I think that one of the ways we can love God is by loving others. I have no problem adding ecstatic worship and divine manifestations to the mix. But back to the mystics: They argue for a kind of divine detachment, from both people and manifestations. They encourage Christians to hold people, manifestations and all things subordinate to the indwelling Trinity and our deepening communion with God. People never go away, of course – but manifestations are seen as a transitory stage leading to greater (even if more subtle) intimacy with God.

John: Is it possible that this type of activity (manifestations/consolations) is a valid form of dwelling on the Trinity? That in allowing God to sing through us – body, soul and spirit – in all this craziness, we are somehow practicing His presence? Forget the loud and crazy orthopraxy for a moment, in all its various forms – is God’s tangible presence apparent in the midst of it all, and if so, how would you know? Do some propose to conjecture, who have never actually tasted? I believe that the more we taste and practice His presence, the more we individuate from the consensus orthodoxy of society, and grow into what Kierkegaard called the true “religious” sphere of life (religious meaning truly “spiritual”). We stop swimming with the pack, and we start to make waves.

Mike: God’s tangible presence, tasting God for oneself, individuating from consensus orthodoxy to actualized religious life…I like it! I’ll buy it. But I have to keep going back to these pesky mystics, whom we both love. They usually warn folks not to get ‘stuck’ at the level of manifestation but press on to the level of fully recognized Union.

John: But did they always practice what they preached? Teresa of Avila was continuously in ecstasies with documented eye-witness accounts of her levitating in mid-ecstasy, along with her own numerous admissions of this stuff (read her Life ch. 18 and onward). She sure impacted mystical theology, and didn’t seem to ever tone it down. Joseph of Cupertino was whacked all the time, and often struck mute. Catherine of Sienna and Catherine Emmerich literally spent years of their life in ecstatic states, with wild manifestations happening continually. Your readers wouldn’t believe some of the supernatural things that happened to them. This happened not because they focused on manifestations, but because they contemplated Christ.

Teresa, a doctor of the church, also acknowledged that all the levels of manifestation overlapped (recollection, union, ecstasy, prayer of quiet, etc.), but she also stated that full-blown ecstasy, the highest level of mystical prayer, is actually where all these manifestations were the craziest (ligature, inability to move, drunken stupor, levitations, etc.) She said that this was a level wherein the will almost ceased to function entirely because of the heavy pleasure of her inward raptures. I freely surrender my free will to the pleasures of Christ!

Others like John of the Cross and some of the darker mystics were absolutely depressed, so you have to take what they say about this with a big fat grain of salt. Anything that smacked of enjoyment was on the naughty list for them. You may note that we have coined a term “the new mystics” because we can now filter their theology through 500 years of rich, post-reformation grace theology. I am not into the morbid self-mortifications and false humility that many of the older mystics espoused, because it simply contradicts the finished works of the gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news that only God can save us, and that He did so with one fantastic checkmate of love on the cross. If you want a dark night of the soul for the romance of it, then go for it. You’re not going to earn any extra points with God. Depression is not a fruit of the Spirit, but joy is. I choose the free gift of grace.

Mike: I think the ‘dark night’ might be a bit more complex than that. Since neither of us are even close to 40, I’ll refrain from commenting for at least a decade. But I agree that the Reformation had valuable contributions to Christian spirituality. Grace informs mysticism by making it less a striving to attain union with God, and more a letting go to consciously awaken to the union that was always there.

John: Yes, the mystics all had their seven-step programs of spiritual advancement. Call me a Calvinist [There he goes again! – ed.] (you’ll only find a few charismatic ones), but I’m of the opinion that there is a one-step program called conversion. I believe that grace has to be drunk straight. No additives. What if God wanted to blow the whole “stages” and “levels” and “Christian growth curve” theology right out of the water, and somehow made us all pure and holy and perfect and obtaining all of Heaven’s goodies through one simple event: the spilling of Christ’s blood? What if just maybe, this whole religious mortification issue was put to death in one fell swoop, when we died together with Christ (Rom. 6, Gal. 2:20)? That would mean the craziest non-stop Holy Ghost party has just begun, and we’re all invited!

Many theologies have been built around an idea that manifestations are the lowest rung on the spirituality ladder. I just don’t see any scriptural support for it. Why would God take me from a fun experience to a boring one? I think this Christian journey is about getting progressively better, “from Glory to Glory.” You can try to mortify the soul, but it will never happen. Your best bet is to plug the soul’s desire for pleasure into socket it was created for. The only answer to counteract the pleasures of sin is not to kill yourself. The answer is to find a greater pleasure. He never gives us a lesser covenant in place of a better one. This is the whole “Galatian bewitchment” that Paul addressed. We think that after God gives us a treat, it is then up to us to suffer, work and earn our way through the rest of life. God would not grace us with consolations, just to bait us into a morbid, suffering-centered religion.

Mike: I think one of the blog commentors the other day said, helpfully, that boredom isn’t the ultimately enemy. And I’d beg to differ that silence and stillness is boring and a step down – it can be of course, but it all depends on one’s consent to God’s loving presence with you in the moment. I sit still, I center, I speak quietly in tongues – it’s kind of nice actually. But I digress…

Thank you again for all the time and energy you put into this dialogue. Hopefully we can do it again sometime. Since you’re like the only charismatic-oriented Christians I’m aware of who have a clue as to the mystics and their teachings, I guess I’m asking you what I’d like to ask the charismatic/prophetic movement on the whole: Do you see a day where the average ‘Spirit-filled Christian’ becomes a full contemplative in the classic sense? If not, what do you see?

John: Will everybody get this? I don’t know. This is Christianity 101. It’s just the gospel. The good news that God cracked open Heaven’s wine barrel for us. But for some reason, not everybody is thirsty. They just want to sit around, debate about the menu and scoff at the drunk guy in the corner.

Peace – Oinga Oinga Oinga!

John Crowder

And there you have it, folks. Your thoughts?

This was originally posted on June 4, 2008.

Spirit Week with Crowder & Morrell: Charismissional – What About The Poor?

This post continues a four-part interview with arguably the most controversial contemporary charismatic minister, John Crowder. It’s worth noting that Crowder’s ministry has evolved since 2008, and that he’s recently released two new books reflecting this: Mystical Union & Seven Spirits Burning. Here we talk about whether or not Spirit-filled types are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good. This is an important read for anyone who listened to my Homebrewed Christianity podcast with Leif Hetland on Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes.

I’m penning my prelude to today’s Crowder & Morrell piece while listening to Newwine Party, an album TR Post handed me today when I rendezvoused with him at the Raleigh Greyhound station. It seems that this week’s blogging series is making me new friends – and (in some cases) possibly straining old friendships! I hope new friends and would-be foes alike hear this dialogue out ’till it’s conclusion tomorrow. We’ve saved my most urgent two matters ’till last, both looking at the fruit of ministry in ‘bizarre, creative miracles’ and experiencing Spiritual inebriation.

Please note: All hyperlinks in the interview below are my fault doing.

Mike: Today we talk about something that a ton of folks have asked in the comments section – what do new-pneumatics have to say (and more importantly, do) about justice issues, compassion for the poor and widow and stranger? How does basking in the glory of God’s manifest presence enable us to live into the beloved community, as embodied in Jesus’ beatitudes?

Now before I give you the floor, let me say that I’m actually aware of a ton of ‘Spirit-filled’ folks out there whose life-paradigm seems to be soaking in prayer and worship, then expending their lives in the service of society’s least wanted. Jackie Pullinger comes to mind, as does Heidi and Roland Baker. Blood-N-Fire is a former Vineyard church movement focusing on ‘the youth, the poor and the nations;’ YWAM has manyPete Grieg and Andy Freeman‘s initiatives involving 24/7 Prayer and Boiler Rooms and missional monastic orders in the UK and US. So maybe the charge of navel-gazing is unfair. But let me put two things in your court, John – chapters focusing on lives of embodied service, as does

1.) Even with all these wonderful initiatives going on, how does the charismatic movement evolve beyond a ‘let’s give to charity’ mindset? What kind of involvement is encouraged of the average ‘pew-warmer’ beyond financial support to other people to do the work of ministry? and,

2.) What are you guys up to in this arena?

John: People who are not directly involved in prophetic/supernatural-focused ministries are rarely aware of the vast amounts of time, effort and resources being invested around the globe to improve society.

I am a strong advocate of presenting a holistic gospel. Even before we started construction of our India children’s home (this is hopefully the first of many, by the way), we were always traveling to developing nations and investing in other ministries which had a focus on orphans, widows, etc. But as you said, the vision for societal change must be embraced by the “rank and file” pew warmer. It is not enough for a few high-profile ministries to do a few projects within their own respective budgets. The average believer, by herself, could easily raise $15,000 to house a widow and 10 orphans in Africa or Asia, just by taking up collections from “secular” people at their office place. It does not take much for a citizen in the Western world to literally save lives around the globe. But most people are clueless on issues of global poverty, the sex slave trade, the AIDS crisis, etc.

Mike: Ain’t that the truth. I’ve been working with some amazing people both nationally and locally on transcending the slave trade in particular. It’s a daunting ‘issue’ with real lives at stake daily, and so much public ignorance on the matter even now.

John: Is this lethal apathy an epidemic found solely in an inward-focused charismatic stream? Is the continual desire (by Spirit-filled believers) for the next “spiritual fix” the real enemy of distraction here? Forgive me if I am blunt, but that is sheer stupidity. There are sluggards and nominalists in every denomination of Christianity, along with every sect and cult on the face of the planet. The apathy of the church is clearly not selective to the charismatic stream alone. If we are going to have a witch hunt, I think we could blame Western materialism, television idolatry or Sudoku addiction for distracting our focus. Why blame an emotional attraction to Jesus (or a distaste for sober, boring services) for the problems of a fallen world? Crowder Poor

The root issue here is deeper. The question posed by many – “What does all this hyper-spiritual extravagance do for the poor?” – is eerily reminiscent of Judas’ question, when Mary “wasted” the costly spikenard on Jesus, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold … and given to the poor?” Jesus said “Leave her alone. … you will always have the poor among you.” Was Jesus inward and self-focused? Was He unconcerned for the poor? Was Mary wasting her time and money on a pointless “spiritual fix?”

[Editor's note: John 12 should never be read without Deuteronomy 15 squarely in mind]

Jesus cares about the poor more than any of us. But He also understood priorities. God knows that He alone is the Source from which all of society’s problems find their resolution. I think that what Jesus says here in John 12 is this: if ever posed with the uncanny and difficult choice between feeding the poor and worshipping Him, choose rightly – you should worship Him.

As much as we may like to strike at the perceived “inwardness” of the charismatic stream (and yes, I see this with many individuals), none of us can deny that the first commandment (Love God) is still the first. And the second (Love your neighbor), is still the second. The second is like the first (and not to be forgotten! Remember the poor) – but it is still only secondary. Otherwise, what differentiates us from the pagans (just a figure of speech, emergent world – sort of)? The world is full of do-gooding do-gooders, but Christ is interested in relationship above service. I may sound fundamental here, but actions alone are not going to save the planet. Only the Glory of God is going to do that. It’s a supernatural thing (and I’m not talking about some eschatological rapture crap). What I mean is that this problem is too big for us. We need more of His presence above all. Do we sit by and twiddle our thumbs while we pray? No. But our number one priority should be to continually focus on the answer, not focus on the problem. Jesus is the answer. The more I inject Him in my veins, the more I want to go spill His love into the garbage dumps of the world, kissing lepers, feeding the hungry and bringing joy and hope to the depressed and downtrodden.

Mike: I hear you. But do you really mean to pit loving God against loving neighbor? I don’t know if Jesus’ two commandments can be prioritized; John’s gospel has Jesus conflating the two. Or as my friend Kevin Beck likes to say, “Love God by loving your neighbor.” (For more on this perspective see Kevin’s piece on Agapetheism)

John: Before I am pinned as being uncaring or enabling the problem of Christian passivity, let me make something very clear. I believe that to feed the poor is true religion and is a viable means of worshipping Jesus. But there is more. Christianity is not a moral club. The gospel is not a community ethics program. It is the “power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” The Holy Spirit is not just a tool that inspires us with a goosebump so that we can get to the REAL work of the Kingdom, which is to go do a bunch of stuff. That is the Galatian bewitchment. Ideally, our service to humanity comes in great gobs and heaps as an overflow of God’s love working through us. When the priorities are right, we are no longer workers who happen to love God. Rather, we are lovers who do stuff. Find your primary identity as a lover, continually fixated on Him, and your heart will burn to heal the brokenness of the world more than ever was humanly possible. The work of societal transformation is an overflow, not the main focus. But the main thing has to be the main thing. Otherwise, our efforts become idolatrous grounds for boasting. The more I get tanked up on the wine of Heaven, the more love I have for the things God loves. The more I give.

In all fairness, I would also like to add that I know very many “rank and file” folks who are extremely generous, going above and beyond the call of duty. I know people who will spend weeks trashed out in an ecstatic trance on their couch [Where can I get a job that lets me do that??], apparently doing nothing for the poor, but then they will go drop $10,000 in one fell swoop into orphanage projects [I guess the same vocation that lets people do that. Sigh.]. We simply can’t judge by appearances, can we? Just because someone does not appear to be concerned for the world’s problems does not mean they aren’t part of the solution. I do not walk around depressed all day, thinking of the planet’s woes. I do my part, but not out of an anxiousness that it all relies on me. I’m just convinced that God is going to pull through on the human experiment.

Mike: I am too, John! I think God is indeed pulling through right now. Thanks for your perspective.

Ever since the milieu of the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament), there has been tension between the ‘priests’ and the ‘prophets.’ (Don’t be confused by how we might be using ‘prophetic’ in these contemporary blog posts, ’cause I’m about to make the opposite point about ancient Hebrew prophets) The priests were concerned with temple plans and instruments and extravagant worship, whereas prophets were likely to rail against the worship-preoccupations of the priests. And yet there is a mystery present: God spoke in and through both. Apparently, God both inhabits the praises of his people, and yet desires mercy (justice) above sacrifice (worship). And this is precisely the tension we’re called to inhabit, living an integrated life loving God and neighbor, friend, stranger and enemy.

This was originally posted on June 3, 2008.

Spirit Week: Crowder & Morrell – Kids & Cocaine Jesus?

This post continues a four-part interview with arguably the most controversial contemporary charismatic minister, John Crowder. It’s worth noting that Crowder’s ministry has evolved since 2008, and that he’s recently released two new books reflecting this: Mystical Union & Seven Spirits Burning. Here we talk about all the DRUG references…

Mike: I totally get the idea of redeeming drug culture for Jesus and ministering to those within it with a ‘tokin’ the Ghost’ motif. And I’m *also* fine with consenting adults – whether they have such a drug background or not – participating in worship celebrations where Jehovah-juana and Godka are in fresh supply. We’re free in Christ, y’know? But I have a question: What about the children? On the YouTube videos I see kids participating in your meetings, which is great as far as it goes – as we’vd discussed. But when you pass spiritual joints to little kids (like I saw on one of Ben’s India videos), don’t you think that *could* be sending them the wrong messages, like that it’s a good idea to start smoking stuff?

John: This is a valid question, Mike, and has been asked before. I think the example you gave (re: Ben in India) is a bit moot though: the person in the video simply looked like a child, but it was actually a crippled person with no legs, who really did need a toke of the Ghost considering the circumstances!

Mike: I’m not sure we’re talking about the same video, John. I mean this one, at around 5 minutes in. It sure looks like a little girl to me [Alas, in 2011, this original video appears to be gone]:


 

John: You first have to understand something about what we are doing here before we tackle the subject of children. To the pure all things are pure. I am not “pretending” to smoke marijuana, I am REALLY getting blasted on the Holy Spirit by faith. I am not “pretending” to inject heroine, I am REALLY being infused by God’s presence. Obviously, I know the package is offensive, and to say this is not entirely intentional would be a lie. But you see, we are not trying to copy a worldly experience. We are offering the “real thing” which are the supernatural pleasures of Jesus Christ. Joy unspeakable (not humanly utterable).

One of your bloggers (Micah) made a great point with which I fully agree, and in fact I preach this very point vehemently:

“What disturbs me is the repackaging of the world, and it’s way as Christ in order to keep youth interested. I guess my question is, What did Christ have to offer? Did he offer the same culture and “ways of the world” repackaged and relabeled? Or did he offer an entirely new way of life, and an entirely new way of looking at and interacting with the world around us?

I also offer a challenge to the idea that there is anything wrong with going out dancing, or enjoying a glass of wine, and wonder why we would feel the need to try and co-opt and replace those things with a “Get high on Jesus” T-Shirt? If we cease to look at the world around us as something that we need to flee, and the Church as a way to cloister ourselves, but look at everything and everyone as an opportunity to experience and express Christ.. well I wonder if this would even happen?”

I think we are all sick of this repackaging nonsense. This is why I can’t stand Christian bookstores with all their duplicated Jesus paraphernalia knock-offs. We are on the same side on this one, so hold the friendly fire. I’ve had enough of “Let’s make our worship band sound like Nirvana” – rather than “Let’s create a whole new genre of music because the Creator lives inside of us!” We need to create, rather than to repackage. We need to set the standard, rather than duplicate. But is it possible that drug culture has simply “repackaged” something that originally belonged to the church? I am talking about recovering true, authentic experience – not imitating the counterfeit. Drugs imitate and copy the trance experiences of the apostles and the ecstasies of the mystics. They attempt to substitute deep spiritual and emotional needs for interior (and exterior) pleasure. John Piper is completely right that we are “created for holy pleasure.” In getting “whacked up,” am simply living out his theology to the furthest possible extreme. Holy joy is not a “repackaged” version of Prozak. The opposite is true. The issue here is precedence. Prozac is counterfeiting divine joy. Crack is already counterfeiting the bliss of the cross. Jesus is not the duplicator. It is satan/the world/the bad guys who are already trying to repackage the spiritual experience with their naughty schemes (shame on them). If you taste the real deal, you will not want the artificial substitute. Furthermore, we are not comparing God to drugs. The world has already made this comparison by presuming that a drugged lifestyle has more immediate pleasure than what is afforded by the Living God. I am simply recovering what was stolen.

Mike: I can follow what you’re saying here…I think…even though I’d still prefer to speak from the relatively original language & matrix developed for divine intoxication by the Christian mystical tradition rather than the drug culture – how un-missional of me? But hey, we’ll talk about that more on Wednesday, our final slated discussion day. For now I’ll bring it back to the children.

I mean, adults with discernment can tell the difference between the real and the counterfeit, right, but I’m a little worried that little kids (especially ones in other countries) might not know any better and get the wrong idea and start drinking and doing drugs and stuff, at an even earlier age than they normally might. Please give me your take on this – especially if you think I’m way off-base.

John: Let’s talk the issue of children. Kids are going to learn about drugs sooner than later; better at home than on the streets. But furthermore, what if we give them the “real deal” first, so that they are not tempted by the substitute? What if our kids learn to have an interior satisfaction on the pleasures of God, before drugs ever become a shadowy temptation? What if kids taste the presence of the real Holy Spirit before the duplicate ever comes along? What if they learn about visionary experiences before they are ever tempted by hallucinogens?

Whaddaya think parents, would-be Dr. Phils, Dr. Spocks, Dr. Dobsons? Will teaching your kids to savor the shekinah keep ‘em away from coke and meth? And what does it mean to be a divine original in a world of spiritual copycats? More tomorrow!

Spirit Week: Crowder & Morrell Dialogue – What About the Fam? (Or, ‘Sex-Crazed Charismatics?’)

This post continues a four-part interview with arguably the most controversial contemporary charismatic minister, John Crowder. It’s worth noting that Crowder’s ministry has evolved since 2008, and that he’s recently released two new books reflecting this: Mystical Union & Seven Spirits Burning. The conversation picks up…

Over the next several days, John and I will have a 3-4 part dialogue about some questions and concerns that occurred to me about their lives and ministry. Some are specific for them in their unique ministry, and others are general questions I’d have if I was talking to any itinerant prophetic minister or revivalist in this Spirit-saturated stream of faith. I learned a ton; read on…

Crowder Family

Mike: So John, what do you’re your and Ben’s wives think about all this recent ministry? Particularly yours, John! I mean, with four kids and all, being out all the time at Holy Ghost House Parties with beautiful sisters in Christ all around…itinerant ministry of any kind can be tough, but poured out in this fun ‘party’ manifestation, I’ll bet it’s extra challenging. Too often we only hear from the ‘alpha-male’ front-line ministers (when the ministers happen to be male)…what do the wimmin think??

John: Not sure why you ask this, but I have a hunch … Of course, my wife can speak for herself [Ooh! Can we have her do a guest blog?], but she loves the wildness of God. She often gets more plastered in the love of God than I do. She has seen me dry, bored and performance oriented. And she very much prefers the joyful, whacked, spiritually inebriated John much better. It does wonders for a marriage when the two of you are actually happy all the time (not just pretending to be so). Understand for starters that we are NOT Pentecostal, just because we interact with Holy Spirit. So you have to do away with all those old AG/holy roller mindsets of dominating women and forcing them to play the part of pastor’s wife (Pentecostal churches on the whole don’t like us very much, by the way). By this, I mean we are not chauvinistic abusers who keep our wives’ heads covered, barefoot and pregnant. We do not take the Mars Hill approach at all in this regard. The first person I ever ordained was a woman. We think the entire family needs to be integrated into the things of the Spirit.

Mike: Very cool. The family that drinks together…It’s nice to know she’s ‘with you’ in this adventure.

John: I would like to say that in terms of healthy families, marriages, sexual purity and other similar issues (if this is what you are hinting at), then there is a tremendous misconception (lie) among non-charismatics that all Spirit-filled persons somehow lack character and integrity in these areas. I would like to see a statistic on this, because it is simply not fact. I would contend that the opposite is true. It is not a common thread that spiritually gifted/charismatic people are shallow in the area of personal integrity, character and taking care of their families. This has been a common, baseless judgment coined off the back of a few televangelist scandals in the ‘80s. This “character argument” is really just an excuse for many non-charismatics NOT to pursue the Holy Spirit. I’ve even heard people say “I don’t need the anointing, I just want to have good character.” How silly is that? The anointing is the very unction of God the Holy Spirit Himself! How arrogant to think we can muster up good character on our own, without the help of God. Only the Spirit of God can sustain a healthy marriage. Lily Crowder

Mike: Ah, geez. Now I feel like a tool. I’m sorry for how my questions about your wives seemed. (And by ‘your wives’ I mean ‘yours and Ben’s’ – I’m not adding a fresh accusation of polygamy!) I was not insinuating unfaithfulness on your part – far more mundane than that, I just wondered if it’d be tough for your wife if you were on the road and she was home with the kids – especially since you’re so handsome and are bringing the Rave Anointing!

No problem. I didn’t take it personally, just thought you may be addressing the whole assumption that charismatics all have a fornication hobby. Not that many don’t, it’s just that the problem probably cuts across denominational lines.

Incidentally, Christianity Today agrees with your assessment of the Charismatic Playboy myth. Attempting to remove foot firmly from mouth, tell me more about the kiddies…

John: As for the kids, we think it is a grievous sin for them ever to be bored in church. The last thing we want is to give them the wrong impression that God is not an eternal source of excitement and holy pleasure. Children are a great indicator of whether the Spirit of God is really moving in your midst. If the kids are engaged – if they want to be in the services and they are demonstrating a real hunger for God on their own initiative – I think that something is happening right. If they are bored, then so is God. You can brainwash a kid to believe a theology, but you cannot brainwash them enough to enjoy God. We try to learn from our children. We listen to them, because they are continually saying prophetic things. There is really no age difference in the Kingdom. All of us will live for millions of years, so why is it difficult to learn from someone who is just 25 years younger than us? Everyone plays an integral part. We do not view the children as tag-a-longs. Every itinerate minister you see throughout history burned their family out because they could not find ways to engage the entire family in the ministry.

Mike: Yeah, I was that a lot with visiting ministers growing up in Assemblies of God churches. I even sometimes wonder how my emerging public-speaker friends do it. Any practical tips on keeping your family and your ministry?

John: I turn down many conferences and ministry opportunities in order to pace my schedule for the family. For us, family is a priority over ministry. In fact, I really don’t give much of a rip about “building ministry” in general anyway. I just stay whacked up, and somehow I get invitations to speak. If I cared about building a ministry empire, I would sure do things a lot differently and tone things down a lot more. I don’t care about making things palatable, I just want to experience the Lord and help others to do so.

Mike: Alrighty John. Tomorrow we get to talk about all that whacked-out druggie anointing that’s ticking so many people off!

Originally posted on May 31, 2008.

Spirit Week Guest Blog: John Crowder Speaks!

This is the post that started it all – a four-part interview with arguably the most controversial contemporary charismatic minister, John Crowder. It’s worth noting that Crowder’s ministry has evolved since 2008, and that he’s recently released two new books reflecting this: Mystical Union & Seven Spirits Burning. And now, without further ado…

And this is why I value talking to people and not just about their ideas, beliefs, and actions. Dialogue opens up so many doors of mutual understanding, respect, and maybe even partnership in common endeavor, despite (or because of!) the real differences that exist at the end of the day. When I posted Charismatic Chaos or (Holy) Spirited Deconstruction? I emailed John Crowder and Ben Dunn privately to a.) Let them know about the post and b.) Let them know that in addition to my cautious and idiosyncratic support for what they were doing, I had some questions and concerns. John quite graciously took time from his busy schedule to write me a novel in response – something I’ve not often seen any challenged people in ministry do, from any stream of the family of faith. I’m quite taken with the breadth, depth, and tone of John’s response, even while some differences of spirituality and praxis remain. So without further ado, I’m going to hand today’s blog entry over [with only the barest occasional interspersions-and hyperlinks-from me]. Ladies and gentlemen, Brother John Crowder!

Hi Mike – Thanks for writing and thanks for what you do. Enjoyed your blog and we would love to contribute something for you. Feel free to use any of these rambling thoughts for the site. [Thank you, John! I shall use them all. And if this is how you ramble, I'd hate to see you focused!] bento.png

Crowder 2I am normally quite busy for something like this (doing my circus road show in church basements all over the world! : ) ) but I appreciate your honest questions and know that you reach a lot of people who have a clear hunger for the things of the Spirit. We are quite familiar with the emergent church, and while not actively involved in Emergent as an “entity” we are having a lot of fun watching the fur fly, as we seem to have inadvertently broken a few sacred paradigms over the past few weeks. It’s an entertaining ride. It was exciting to garner a full expose in the Wittenburg Door – a magazine I have secretly loved for years! I feel like I need to buy a white suit now and preach from a golden throne to live up to all this notoriety. We also got an indirect slap on the wrist from Charisma this month in the editorial (for smoking Jehovah-wanna and Baby Jesus). When it rains it pours!

You hit the nail on the head in discussing the deconstruction of Pentecostalism – and kudos for addressing the topic of “emergent snobbery,” something the emergent camp has long winked at, if not openly coddled (especially toward “Spirit-filled” ministries – how dare those charismatics have a brain!)

[Mike sez: I think this is actually a little more complex than that - of course, wouldn't I, being emergent and all? ; ) But really. A whole term has been coined, 'post-charismatic,' (not 'anti') to describe many 'emergers' who love the Holy Spirit but who feel down-and-out about many aspects of Pentecostal and charismatic culture. In our own efforts at deconstruction, we've tried very hard not to throw the - ahem - baby out with the bathwater, but I know we've fallen short in many areas.]

I would love to talk about this just a little, as well as to give a brief anti-apologetic on the ongoing blogger fray, before getting to your questions.

[Yes! Please do.]

Apologia

Crowder 3Obviously, there are many bloggers better educated than I, who have an edge on what God Almighty is doing, who will never be able to acknowledge His movements outside their own personal experience (Bless their hearts). I would not waste time trying to convince someone who already has all the answers. For this reason, we do not engage in defensive diatribes (not trying to be negative, just honest). But I do love constructive (& deconstructive) controversy in the name of our Lord. Rather than offer up an apology to anyone who has a beef with us, we have just chosen never to defend ourselves. A form of radical pacifism I suppose, or else its just too much work to keep track of it all, considering the trail of carnage we leave behind us. Our nonresponsiveness on the blog circuit should not be mistaken as elitism – we do not assume ourselves too posh to combat these rampant strikes at our good names (My favorite are those blogs which end with the classic pomo courtesy tag at the end: After viciously lashing out at us, they say … “Or maybe I’m missing something and Crowder is right after all.” True Christian humility, I am sure).

[Aww, Steve's not so bad. Next time you're in C-Town hanging out with Ricky J and Company, look him up. He'll have a drink with you - though spirits or Holy Spirit on tap, that y'all will have to work out!]

Anyway Mike, you are the first person to approach us directly, so we appreciate the chance to talk.

[And I appreciate that you're talking!]

Of course, nasty emails are common for us, but I know where the delete button is. We’ve found the freedom in not caring about reputation or having to spend ourselves on the already satiated. I’m too addicted to the Wine Room to care about that stuff. And there are so many thousands of hungry people who want to experience God in fresh new ways, why get sidetracked by a few resilient critics? Other than this forum, folks should know we won’t be scrambling to correct every inaccuracy that floats around about us on the web. In fact, we like to intentionally chuck rocks at the hornet’s nest, just to stir things up all the more, then run away snickering at the mess we’ve made. Crowder 4

Just wanted to clear that up, so that readers know our motives in writing this. We want to be available to the thirsty, but this is not a knee-jerk reaction to some cyber-persecution. Whenever we get defensive, we cease to be on the offense. Life is too short to continually be explaining yourself.

I honestly believe that the age of apologetics is over, and the age of activation has come. Experience is more important than explanation. Not that explanation is irrelevant, but it is subsidiary. When we look at the ministry of Jesus, He rarely gave an explanation, prior to the experience. Mystery must be embraced before it is explicated. Jesus only explained Himself to the inner circle who were truly hungry. To those on the outside, he always spoke in parables and enigmas. It is almost as if he put up an intentional roadblock to the minds of men, offending their thoughtwork in order to reveal their hearts. Consider when He told the multitudes to essentially “Eat Me.” He knew that half of them would walk away, but He said it anyway.

What we see today is a lot of people looking for a Pneumatology without the Pneuma. They want the package without the Toy. What if God is intentionally making the package raw and offensive to these, in order to reveal their true colors? Maybe the package is irrelevant, as long as we’ve got the Toy.

It’s Hubris but it Makes Me Feel Cool!

Let me say something quickly about the emergent movement, while I’ve got your ear:

[Please do. You've got it! The emergoblogosphere is listening.]

While I have long acknowledged the existence of postmodernity as a reality of the age, this very intellectual elitism on which you have commented is one of the chief reasons I have been hesitant to dive headlong into the trendy “fad” aspect of the emergent discussion. I should add at the onset that I would not consider myself “emergent” anymore than I would consider myself “charismatic.” But both camps try to pin me down into the other. In the same way, you could say I am neither catholic nor protestant (I am not protesting anything; I am pursuing Someone). Like most emergents, I reject labels. Without the restraints of such labels, we are more apt to truthfully address the sacred cows in every respective camp. My orthodoxy may not be as generous as McLaren’s, but I am not ignorant of the discussion and appreciate the influx of new ideas. This openness is a God-given dispensation, but it must be guarded in the context of true humility. Whether they like to admit it or not, many emergents are entrenched in a religious package of trying to look cool and trying to impress a select audience with their perceived edginess of theological progression. The melee of anti-charisma these past few weeks is an indicator of a deeper problem. It surfaces clearly, for example, when they do not have a grid for someone who comes along with an outlandish orthopraxy.

[I'm not gonna say much here...but...most of those who came out strongest in response to some YouTubes they saw of you, actually are charismatic folks who would consider themselves 'moderate' and also in some way 'emerging.' I hope to be hearing from some of youse in the comments below...]

Crowder Baby Jesus TokeTo many emergents, some of my colleagues and myself will always be a challenge to the “new” intellect-based models of Christianity. I believe the intellectual pursuit of mystery is intrinsically modern in nature, by the way. It is an old hag carried over from the Age of Reason/Enlightenment, or shall we say further back – it is gnostic in origin (the idea that we are saved by knowledge is perhaps the very antithesis of the gospels, which say we are saved by the finished work of Jesus Christ). Gnosis is not the gateway that reveals mystery – faith is. And so for all the talk of pressing into terra nova, I believe there is inherent danger of building an intellectual religion of non-religion that is rooted in “ideas” and “discussion-only” without true, tangible interaction with the divine. I love the emergent notion of pulling outside the ecclesiastical boundaries of dead formality. But without radical possession by the Holy Spirit, we are simply “moving out” of something, and never “entering into” Someone. I do not see a majority of emergents discussing personal, supernatural experiences with this God we so glibly talk about, though many are quick to lay charges of charlatanry on anyone who does (by supernatural experiences I mean far more than the simple, goose-bumped quiet time, as beautiful as they may be. What is so far-fetched about healings, dead-raisings and even more extreme miracles, if we claim to know Big Pappa Himself?). I do not say this of ALL emergents, only those who are quick to shoot with their religiously non-religious anti-bullets. This criticism of what we do not understand (or have maybe never experienced firsthand) can be the most detrimental element to our spiritual walk. It is the very essence of hubris.

A Lack of Discernment

Lakeland

According to the recent blogstorm surrounding us, we are accused of being anti-intellectual, if not throwing our “discernment” right out the window (love the graphic, Robby Mac. God still loves you). I’ve previously made the point that I am rubber and the critics are glue, but nevertheless, allow me to respond to this topic. Let me say for one that “discernment” is not an intellectual tool made up of theological principles and opinions. I would die for good theology, and we all need sound doctrine. But discernment comes not from the head, but from the belly. If I may be so fundamental as to use a scriptural example, consider Luke 1 when Zechariah (a priest highly educated in theology) encounters an angel. Zack’s discernment of this encounter was so poor that he essentially asked the angel to “prove himself.” Zechariah, a well-studied priest, should have comprehended that this experience was from God. Because of his spiritual dullness, doubt, fears or all of the above, he was struck mute. He should have been on the cutting edge, but he missed it.

But hold the phone! In this very same chapter, a young, simple, likely uneducated girl named Mary had a similar angelic encounter. She lacked the theological armory and Princeton training of Zechariah, but she could taste something of Heaven on this experience. Mary was given a much more far-fetched word: you will give birth not merely to a prophet, but to the Son of God Himself! How crazy! Yet somehow, because of her intimate relationship with the Lord, her hunger or her faith – she instinctively discerned that this encounter was legitimate. She did not say “prove it to me.” She said “tell me more.” She said “let it be according to your word.” Her discernment was greater, because she intimately knew God enough to recognize how He felt, tasted and smelled. She had been with Him, not merely read about him. She could smell the cassia and aloes of Heaven on this encounter, and she jumped right in without having to process it. She discerned correctly. Not from her head or her theology. From her belly.

Intellectual discernment is a holdover from modernism. Moreover, it is paranoia-based (always focused on keeping the devil out, but never recognizing God when He is trying to come in). This spirit of fear is the bread and butter of the heresy hunter pages. The greatest discernment you will ever have is to be able to recognize God, not the devil. Anyone, the most depraved sinner, can point out the devil. But will we recognize God when He is trying to come in? We should embrace Him, even at the cost of our present level of understanding. I want to intimately experience Him. And I trust Him enough to explain later, if an explanation is even necessary. I would rather my spirit and heart to fully engage in experiential interaction, and allow my mental paradigms to catch up later. Is this anti-intellectual? Far from it. It is simply putting the mind and its Greco-rationalistic structures in their place, secondary to heart. What many consider “intellectual” is actually mental insanity (1 Cor. 2:14-15). True sanity only comes through conscious-altering epiphanies with God.

God wants the intellect to bloom and flourish. He does want a renaissance of fresh ideas and creativity to revolutionize not just the face of Christianity, but to transform all of society in a holistic fashion. But how arrogant to think our minds can be supernaturally renewed at such a colossal fashion apart from the very Spirit of God Himself! Who are we to limit God to the academic diagnoses of the seminary, or to the reading of books? I know Who I have experienced. I have seen His power. I have tasted His freedom. I’m done trying to make sense of it all. I am in for the ride.

If I am a nutbar for shaking on the floor – and yet I am experiencing the love of Jesus – then count me with the crazies. I am tired of running endless mental circles and playing religious games. The time for playing games is over. The time has now come to play games.

And there you have it, friends! Not quite the staggering HolyGhostDrunk response many anticipated, eh? So whaddaya think? Keep it respectful, please, but be free. And yes – there’s more! Over the next week, John and I will be discussing, one at a time, all the “Yeah, but…” ‘s that occurred to me as I dipped into my past and their present concerning the Holy Spirit’s wild side.

Originally posted May 30, 2008.

Spirit Week: Does ‘the Prophetic’ Have a Future?

What great feedback on Charismatic Chaos or (Holy) Spirited Deconstruction! I will be interacting with all of your thoughtful replies soon. And while that post outlined my affirmations of this new bacchanal of the Spirit, I still have a few caveats, which I will be airing this week. But in the spirit of filial kindness or what have you, I’ve emailed Ben and John personally in hopes of getting them to give me some feedback first. I want to hear from them in their own words – whether in the tongues of men or angels.

I know they’re probably busy, so I’m giving them a coupla more days; they can even have a guest blog if they want.

In the meantime I wanted to share with you something my friend/professor/mentor Jay Gary wrote, reflecting on the US & European pneumatic prophetic movement. In studying Strategic Foresight, I interact with future possibilities through a variety of lenses: human, ecological, technological, economic, political and – yes – spiritual futures. I’m often asked by my charismatic and Pentecostal friends how my studies relate to the revelatory spiritual gifts of prophecy, words of wisdom, knowledge, etc…

I have yet to articulate a fully satisfying response. But the good Professor Gary – scholar, consultant, and futurist extraordinaire – sheds some light. Read on!

Do You Hear Voices in Your Head? – Jay Gary

It is not normal to hear voices in your head, at least in my culture. Yet many of my friends claim to. If you confessed to ‘auditory hallucinations’ you would normally be diagnosed as borderline schizophrenia by your psychiatrist.

Among psychologists there is little agreement as to why people hear voices. Most relate the experience to our unconscious minds, which presumably aims to resolve our past troubles. Today there are dozens of support networks to help people learn to cope with their voices and the problems that may lie behind them. Not every one who hears voices is mentally ill, nor do they drown their children, like Andrea Yates.

Recently I spent two days with a growing number of true believers who aim to induce each other into ‘hearing voices.’ They are part of what Pentecostal Christians call “prophetic ministry.” They claim the practice of listening to the Holy Spirit goes back centuries to biblical prophets such as Elijah, Daniel, or even Jesus. Granted, few claim to “hear voices” in the literal sense, but they do claim to hear God through the “inner voice” of their spirit.

While receiving personal guidance has been widely practiced in Christianity, especially among Quakers or Friends through the “inner light,” the modern day prophetic claims it receives guidance far beyond personal matters. A contemporary web site, the “Elijah List” aggregates daily prophetic “words” to a subscription base of over 130,000, about matters ranging from church sloth to U.S. foreign policy crises.

Few books offer an objective view of the prophetic movement. Most are written to the choir, like Pytches and Buckingham’s 1991 account, “Some said it thundered: A personal encounter with the Kansas City prophets.” As an insider to this sub-culture, Clifford Hill has written a fairly balanced overview entitled “Prophecy past and present” (Vine, 1989).

Some boast the 21st century prophetic is part of a new breed of believer, who is spiritual charged to take back what’s been lost to a secular culture. While the warfare motif is strong across the prophetic, which some number up to 500,000 in the U.S., there is a modulating bridal dynamic at work, calling believers to recapture a new innocence with their Lord.

Few demonstrate this self-reflective, “bride of Christ” focus better than Graham Cooke. Recently I went to hear Cooke, after being prodded by a friend for nearly four years. The conference was packed wall to wall with 600 people, mostly suburban 40- and 50-somethings. Interactive Journals

Following an extended session of worship the first morning, Cooke gave a 100-minute talk. His British manner was very disarming. His conversational style and anti-institutional rhetoric was the polar opposite of a TV evangelist. In taking about upgrading one’s life, he spoke in street-language as appropriate to an Irish pub, as much to a church. I was surprised also, that unlike other prophetic superstars, he did not engage in any “called-out” prophecy to his audience, made famous by psychic medium John Edward, in a parallel world to Christian fundamentalism.

To me Cooke’s message was surprisingly refreshing–and future-oriented. He spoke about living out out of our dreams, nurtured by God’s love. He talked about “suddenlies” or encounters with life that re-orient us to who we can become, not just who we have been.

Perhaps taking a cue from Reggie McNeal’s book, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, Cooke labeled these as “present-future” experiences, rather than “present-past” fixations. To deal with our baggage, the Holy Spirit must speak to us from the future. The Word renews our identity, and makes way for us to inherit a larger work and service. In turn we are called to relate to our spouses or relatives as emerging, in their present-future potential, rather than present-past stereotype.

While the main sessions went from dawn to dusk, the real action was in the back room…

Continue Reading “Do You Hear Voices In Your Head?” …

This was originally posted on May 29, 2008.