The Nadia Bolz-Weber phenomenon

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a tattooed, non-conformist, cutting-edge kind of person.  She’s also a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, two strikes against her for us Missouri-Synod Lutherans.  But she has the ear of “progressive Christians.”  And the thing is, she preaches the Gospel.

For all of her ministry to gays, the poor, and other outcasts, she does not approve of the leftwing social gospel that dominates most mainline liberal churches.  She is supernaturalist.  She proclaims Jesus.  She focuses on the theology of the Cross, not theologies of glory.  She teaches salvation by grace through faith.  She quotes Martin Luther.  She is having an impact.

Can we bracket all of the ELCA things we disapprove of?  Can we refrain from simply attacking her?  How can you account for the Nadia Bolz-Weber phenomenon?  Her audience is mainly “progressive Christians” who haven’t heard this sort of thing in a long time.  Does she illustrate my thesis that Lutheranism is the true emergent Christianity?  That is, that the way to reach postmoderns is not to water down faith (which was the tactic, mostly unsuccessful, to reach modernists), but to emphasize faith as Lutheranism does, in a way that is different from much of contemporary Christianity? [Read more...]

9.5 Theses on the Emergent Church

In the tradition of someone else, Wheaton professor David Milliner has posted 9.5 Theses against the Emergent Church (that variety of the church growth movement that tries to be postmodernist).   Here are some of them:

1. I’ll say it again: He who marries the spirit of the age will soon become a widower. Do those who married postmodernity realize their spouse is in a nursing home?

1.5 Christians who cater their theology to accommodate deconstruction are comparable to sub-rate CCM bands who copy Green Day five years after they’ve ceased being cool. They’ll sell, but to a subset of evangelicalism who want to be “relevant” – which is the only group they’ll ever be relevant to.

2. Yes Paul said he sees through a glass darkly – but he still saw. Don’t forget to keep reading.

2.5 Paul did not end his speech at the Areopagus by saying “the Unknown God” is a great idea, sorry I bothered you. Nice statue. Can I have a copy? . . . .

NEW! 4.75 POP QUIZ! What is wrong with the following Biblical quotation? “Seek and you shall seek.”

Revised! 5. Protestantism’s only hope is to cling to its birthright, a passionate focus on the written Word of God, the unique, authoritative avenue to the Word of God in Christ. Protestants are an order of the written Word (in very sad condition) within God’s woefully divided church. Our guide in stewarding this threatened charism is not the “spirit of protest” but the Holy Spirit. There’s a difference. . . .

6.5 Speaking of big words, consider this one: “And.” It’s especially helpful when confronted with polarizing rhetoric shortsighted enough to suggest one must choose propositional/factual truth or narrative/aesthetic truth.7. It does not “puncture the hegemony of logic” to deny the central tenets of the Christian faith. The central tenets of the Christian faith do a fine job of that already. It is not humility to deny what God has done by impenetrable obscurity masquerading as “nuance.” It is pride.

7.5 To correct abuses of rationality (which are legion) by neutering epistemology is like correcting poor carpentry by outlawing tools.

NEW! 7.75 The most radical postmodern epistemology appears numbingly Newtonian next to the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 8: You can’t know this kind of knowledge (verse 3), this Knowledge knows you.

8. Heresy is boring, not exciting because it eviscerates mystery. If you’re attracted to heresy because it makes you feel naughty then that’s kinda creepy. If you’re attracted to it because you don’t want to “limit God,” then the religion that serves a God who became a particular first-century Palestinian Jew might not be for you.

via millinerd.com: 9.5 Theses.

HT:David Mills

Lutheranism as the emergent church?

Set aside the pastor being a woman.  Set aside the tattoos.   Set aside the social justice stuff.  Well, you’ll have to set aside quite a bit.  But what’s striking here is that the latest star of the “emergent church” (congregations trying to reach trendy postmodernists by being trendy and postmodernist) employs traditional Lutheran theology and liturgy:

Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber is a dichotomy wrapped in a paradox covered in tattoos.

Creation, Advent, Christmas, Lent, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost — practically the entire liturgical year — unfurl in technicolor ink from her shoulder to her wrist.

That’s just her left arm. Mary Magdalene and Lazarus rising from the dead are on the long right arm of this 6-foot-1 Christian billboard.

The 42-year-old came to Jesus later in life but then pursued a vocation in Christ full throttle. In a state where Focus on the Family and other strands of evangelical Christianity have long grabbed most headlines, a progressive Lutheran is now stealing the marquee.

On the strength of her preaching, Bolz-Weber received the invitation to sermonize Sunday at Easter sunrise services for roughly 10,000 people at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

In the few years since ordination in late 2008, she has become famous within her denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and achieved international acclaim.

She has a wide audience for her sermons and blogs, touted by the likes of progressive Christianity torch-bearer Jim Wallis. Her blog is under the heading “Sarcastic Lutheran: The cranky spirituality of a postmodern Gal. Emerging church ala Luther.” . . .

Bolz-Weber sums up her own small mission church as “a group of folks figuring out how to be liturgical, Christo-centric, social-justice oriented, queer inclusive, incarnational, contemplative, irreverent, ancient-future church with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination.”

Bolz-Weber makes it seem reasonable and fun to be simultaneously traditional and innovative, ancient and postmodern, devout and irreverent, brash and humble, flip and profound, and so on. . . .

While she shatters all stereotypes of Lutheran pastors, [ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark] Hanson said, she is “absolutely grounded in the heart of Lutheran theology.”

Bolz-Weber herself bristles at the notion she is a “rogue Lutheran” or that her church is niche marketing.

“I’ve never asked myself what do young adults want on church,” she said. “I’ve never tried to fill a market niche by producing a particular religious product.”

She just wanted to start a church her friends didn’t have “to commute to spiritually and culturally” from the context of their normal lives. . . .

She tried out the Unitarian Universalist Church, where they have “a high opinion of humans” that didn’t fit with her experience. People are flawed, she said.”It’s dark in there,” she said tapping her chest over her heart. “We’re all simultaneously sinners and saints. We live in response to God’s grace. Nobody’s climbing the spiritual ladder.”

She chose the Lutheran denomination, she said, “because I met this really cute guy playing volleyball.”

He’s now her husband. Matthew Weber is also a Lutheran pastor, but of a more mainline stripe. Married in 1996, the couple have two children, 10 and 12.

Bolz-Weber also fell in love with the Lutheran liturgy, she said. “The Lutheran Church is the only place that gave me language true to what I’d experienced, true to my life,” she said. “I want to give people what I got out of that.”

James Wall, a self-described coat-and-tie Episcopalian who co-founded “The Wilderness,” an emerging church within the church at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, serves as contemplative-in-residence at House for All Sinners and Saints.

“She works within a mainstream denomination, yet her congregation is nearly all young people,” Wall said. “The liturgy is traditional and sacramental, with ancient chants and traditional hymns. This is not some rock-band-led, happy-clappy church in the suburbs. And yet young, radical Christians come every Sunday.”

via Pastor turns heads by blending tradition and irreverence – The Denver Post”.

I have been critical of the emergent church movement, with its doctrinal revisionism, while saluting some of its  criticisms of American Christianity.   Emergent Christians, to their credit, want to bring back “mystery” into their beliefs and ritual into their worship, but they by-and-large reject Christian orthodoxy, which reveals the true mysteries of the faith, and they ignore the historical liturgy in favor of made-up rituals, even though the former is so much better by any standard.  They seem to be groping for the sacramental, but they lack the theology and the doctrines for a genuine sacramental spirituality.  I have often thought that Lutheranism is the true emergent church, addressing its valid concerns without falling into its mistakes.  So maybe the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is onto something.  But are postmodernists so shallow that they need so much coolness and progressive trappings  in a pastor?  Why wouldn’t a regular congregation with traditional theology, liturgy, and sacraments do just as well?

HT: David Halbrook

Trying to make Christianity cool

Twenty-something Brett McCracken is put off by what churches are doing to attract him:

Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains.

There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated “No Country For Old Men.” For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.’s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).

“Wannabe cool” Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge. Churches like Central Christian in Las Vegas and Liquid Church in New Brunswick, N.J., for example, have online church services where people can have a worship experience at an “iCampus.” Many other churches now encourage texting, Twitter and iPhone interaction with the pastor during their services.

But one of the most popular—and arguably most unseemly—methods of making Christianity hip is to make it shocking. What better way to appeal to younger generations than to push the envelope and go where no fundamentalist has gone before? . . .

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.

via The Perils of Hipster Christianity and Why Young Evangelicals Reject Churches That Try To Be Cool – WSJ.com.

The emergent church meets the “Spirituality of the Cross”

I am very grateful to Dan, who had said that he was influenced by my book Spirituality of the Cross and, in answer to Paul McCain’s query, explained why. I am posting it here, even though it’s long, because you might have missed it. I offer it to you not because of the kind things he said about my book but because Dan gives some trenchant critiques, born of experience, to the emerging church and other cutting edge movements in American evangelicalism. It’s moving to hear his account of how he moved back into historic Christianity and how my book played a role in that (s.d.g.). It also demonstrates what I have long thought, that Lutheranism is the true emergent church, answering every one of its valid concerns and avoiding every one of its weaknesses. Here is what Dan says (and I urge you to follow up with his blog, linked below):

I’m comfortable posting here. There are a few prevalent ideas that are very popular in the house church crowd, and I have fallen prey to them for quite some time. In many ways I am still coming out of all this. I’m going to answer your question about Veith’s book in a very round-a-bout way, stay with me.

It is extremely couth to question authority and to doubt and challenge tradition in my generation. This comes as no surprise to most of you, but it is somehow embedded in my genes. In my personal observation (which may be very limited), it seems that most folks in my parents’ generation take the pastor’s word for it because they trust his authority. My generation doesn’t do that. You need to prove why I should trust you.

After reading Frank Viola’s “Pagan Christianity,” I had a lot of questions and plenty of ammo. I went to several local pastors (a few of them LCMS) and none of them could give me an intelligible response to the book. One pastor had read the book and was questioning his own tradition as a result – we were practically in the same boat. The book really set me on a path of rejecting the institutional church for a couple of years, and it caused me to really study church history and how our Christian practices came to be. Unfortunately, it set me on the wrong path, but my studies in church history set me straight (largely due to the fact that my wife is earning an M.A. in Theology, so good church history books are abundant in our house). While Viola and Barna make profound points about some church practices, their church history leaves a lot to be desired. Their “analysis” is a mishmash of outdated secondary sources, out-of-context quotations, unsupported hypotheses, and personal prejudices. Even worse, on those occasions where legitimate experts on the field are cited (i.e., Dom Gregory Dix, Paul F. Bradshaw, Alexander Schmeman) their views are taken so out of context as to have them seemingly ally with the authors when in fact their views are quite the opposite. But no pastors were able to tell me that. I had to do my own research. Sadly, I don’t think most folks who read this book will do the same, nor do many know how.

Despite having sorted through some of the faulty church history in “Pagan Christianity,” a lot of the ideology still stuck. Especially since it has been continually reinforced by books like “unChristian,” “Reimagining Church,” “Blue Like Jazz,” “Revolution,” “The Untold Story of the New Testament,” etc. In many ways, “Blue Like Jazz” got me started on this whole kick back when I attended Concordia Seward (prior to dropping out and leaving the church altogether). The book is still extremely popular in young adult circles, including in the LCMS.

Only within the last year or so have I begun to deconstruct the deconstruction, so to speak. I began by reading “Why We’re Not Emergent” and “Why We Love the Church,” both by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Those books helped me realize that “so much that passes for spirituality these days is nothing more than middle class, 20-something coffee culture. If you like jazz, soul patches, earth tone furniture, and lattes, that’s cool. But this culture is no holier than the McNugget, Hi-C, Value City, football culture that most people live in. Why does incarnational ministry usually mean hanging out at Starbucks instead of McDonalds?” (Kevin DeYoung, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2009/01/29/jesus-came-to-save-grimace-and).

But these books and all my research thus far still only brought me to a point where I essentially could respect the institutional church as a valid form of ministry, but I still thought it was the least effective approach and continued to hold most of my Viola/Barna-inspired prejudices.

The two prevailing areas of cognitive dissonance that I still retained at that point were:
1. The clergy/laity distinction
2. The sacred/secular dichotomy

These two areas are widely attacked by house church folks, and they make some pretty good arguments. Let me begin with the clergy/laity distinction. I blog frequently at prayeramedic.com, and you can actually watch my progression of thought on this issue. When first confronted with the idea that there is no hierarchy whatsoever in church leadership, and that church leaders have no authority over church members, I knew it was wrong. It went against Scripture. I immediately pointed this out: http://prayeramedic.com/2008/10/biblical-leadership/

You’ll see that I used Scripture to demonstrate that church leaders had genuine authority and that this was God-given. But then I read Viola’s book and continued to listen to the house church crowd. I then wrote this post: http://prayeramedic.com/2008/10/secular-job/

That’s a huge shift in a VERY short period of time. The subtle deception that I didn’t recognize at the time is co-mingling the two issues I listed above into being one and the same. In fact, I probably need to take down this blog post – but I’ll leave it up for now.

In many ways, I was right. The things I have been griping about in the church are extremely prevalent in mainstream evangelical churches. The pastor is more of a CEO than a spiritual leader and so much of what is being passed off as spirituality is empty emotions, false hope, deception, manipulation, etc. It didn’t help that my wife and I were extremely jaded by the church. I was serving as a young adult minister in a Pentecostal church where things got out of hand and my wife was asked to leave (but I was not). To make a long story short, we left then got mixed up in a United Pentecostal cult (denies Trinity, requires baptism in Jesus’ name only), we left there and got into some wacky charismaniac groups, then we found “mainstream” churches that might as well have called their sermons “motivational speaking” or “lessons in morality.” It was all so shallow and insincere, and so fake. It’s no wonder that the house church message was so appealing.

The postmodern mantra seems to be “authenticity,” “community,” “experiential,” “participatory,” etc. and that appeals to someone who has only seen fake, inauthentic expressions of faith that have more to do with making people feel good about themselves. I also was struggling with some major sin issues and so were many other folks I knew, but the church was not a place we felt free to confess these things. Nor was it a place where we felt welcome to be ourselves. To most folks Church is just a cultural thing, something they do, not something they are. The house church mantra cries out that the church is an organism, not an organization. This still appeals to me in many ways.

And we can learn a lot from house church folks. But their fatal flaw is dismissing the institutional church, altogether. Both are valid ministry models that can coexist – and each has its unique strengths and weaknesses.

Enter Veith’s book. I started looking for books on spirituality, and I found “Grace Upon Grace” by Kleinig. I started reading it and enjoyed it, but I found his writing style difficult to stick with for lengthy periods of time, kind of like reading Kierkegaard or ancient church literature. I then found “Spirituality of the Cross.” Remember that my main two issues were clergy/laity and sacred/secular.

Veith’s writing style was so easy to read and approachable that I read the book in only a few sittings (similar to Viola/Barna books). Veith really threw me off guard by building a comprehensive model of spirituality and avoiding intellectual quibbles. The answer to the sacred/secular problem is the doctrine of the two kingdoms, and the answer to clergy/laity is the doctrine of the vocation. People had told me this before, but only in theological terms. Veith explained these doctrines in an authentic way, explaining them in a way that actually made me consider how I should live in light of these truths – not just how I should think.

He immediately tore down the false approaches to God from Koberle: moral, intellectual and mystical. Even though I had heard Koberle’s ideas before, the way Veith explained it made me go “aha!” I got it. His talk about the presence and hiddenness of God was profound as well. I always viewed the Lutheran view of the Sacraments as being only slightly removed from Catholicism. I basically figured that Catholicism was so ingrained in Luther that he didn’t want to stray far in the means of grace doctrines. But Veith clearly explained the mystery and beauty of these means in a practical way.

I was so confused after all of my experience with charismatic churches and the general teachings of the prosperity gospel and positive confession that are so prevalent in American Christianity. Veith really helped draw the big picture for me, what spirituality really looks like. It isn’t so much about “doing big things for God,” as it is about yielding to God in the small things and recognizing how many big things God IS DOING that we neglect, like what He accomplishes through His means of grace and regular worship.

I felt as though I had been lied to and deceived by Christianity, as though I had fallen prey to a “bait and switch” tactic. But God had been working all along, I had simply been taught to seek Him according to my own will, not His.

Also Veith, citing C.S. Lewis, helped me realize that by spending all my time in limbo I was missing out on true community. The entire time I thought that the traditions and customs were the culprit, but I came to realize that sin and human depravity was the real issue. I had been imposing impossible ideals on the people of God, looking for a perfect church in many ways. I didn’t think this was the case, I would claim I wanted an authentic church, not a perfect church. Veith showed me that as a child of God, I often don’t even want the right things. What I need most is often not what I desire. There’s far more authenticity in bad coffee, hard pews, and people of all generations who aren’t very cool and often aren’t very intellectual than there is in coffee shops, smartly-dressed people, and haughty lounges with only folks from one generation who think they know everything. When you think about it, the emergent church is really only a white, suburban, 18-35 yr old movement. That is very limited and is not cross-generational and interracial (issues the emergent church often critique mainstream evangelicals for). Jesus died for all people of all nations, races, and languages – not just for a select group of haughty young adults.

All in all, Veith challenged me to think critically about my presuppositions. He showed me that I was simply chasing after another fad, setting myself up for another disappointment and further disillusionment. All the while I was seeking authenticity, truth, community, experiences with God, and to be used by God. Veith made it clear that I have been misdiagnosing the issue altogether. The problem isn’t a lack of these things, the problem is sin. The answer is the cross. This is the only true spirituality. This is the only true contentment. I must seek Christ, all these other things flow only from that. When we put the cart before the horse we end up with another man-made institution, even if it meets in homes.

I still have unanswered questions (end times, women in ministry, etc.), but these are not as important as the central issues: Jesus Christ, sin and forgiveness, the cross. I had been struggling a lot with daily prayer prior to reading Veith’s book. After reading it I came to see that in many ways, tradition keeps me safe. Tradition is not always bad. I traditionally wash every morning, and that keeps me from smelling like a farm animal. I now use “Treasury of Daily Prayer” to get in the Word and pray daily, and it works for me. Before I would have never done this, claiming it would be “quenching the Spirit” and binding me in traditions. But you know what? For all my complaints, I wasn’t praying. Now I am. The simple format makes it harder for my flesh to get distracted. I’m a lot weaker than I used to think I was. I am far more dependent on Christ than I realized. This is humbling. This is almost humiliating. But I was wrong. I NEED Jesus. I NEED His grace. I NEED structure. I NEED accountability. I NEED fellowship. And the house church movement made me doubt and mistrust the very things that could have brought me freedom. All relationships are guarded and preserved by structure. Try telling your wife after you’ve had an affair, “Come on, I thought our marriage was about the relationship, not all these do’s and don’ts.” I’ve learned to embrace the structure, rather than fight it and “deconstruct” it.

So I am probably rambling now. The bottom line is that through reading Veith’s book, the Holy Spirit has taught me some important things (and He continues to do so). I have learned that Jesus Christ is the focal point of Christianity, not authenticity, community or anything else. This fact requires that we live differently, not simply pay lip service to this fact intellectually while practically pursuing other things. If Jesus Christ is at the center of our spirituality then a lot of things are different. I still agree with many of my gripes about mainstream churches, but the Lutheran faith offers something more stable than the changing winds of most of these groups (in most cases), it simply points me to Jesus.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X