the Crucible


The models of organization and structure at these meetings lend themselves to flexibility. As a result attendees are often expecting to co-participate with God in shaping the event. Although the Spirit seems to give specific leading to people as the Spirit chooses, many attending these gatherings are not intimidated to speak out, dialogue, or give an impromptu teaching. This is a unique phenomenon to observe in a setting of 30 people; it becomes even more staggering in audiences of 300. There is a difference in starting points between 200 people attending church on a Sunday morning to hear one preacher preach a sermon he took all week to prepare and 200 people preparing all week to potentially preach; it quickly shifts the onus of participation and demonstration from exclusively the clergy to implicitly the laity as well. “In the average U.S. church today less than 10 percent of the people are doing 90 percent of the work.”5 Rather than cater to this strictly consumer-oriented religious culture, these organizations have been attempting to foster an environment in which participation and demonstration are blended as part of the proclamation. In the end, it fosters a missionality that is contagious:

It is practitioner-focused. We believe that the best theology arises in the context of mission, and the best mission is informed by sound theology….We seek to bring theological scholars, thinkers and missional practitioners from around the world together for mutual learning, encouragement, and fruitful contact with each other so that effective strategy and sound theory may be wedded together….It makes available educational resources and material to help facilitate vision and change in the missional life of faith communities.6 
      The excitement, expectancy, and participation on their websites are explainable when one takes into an account that their membership is entirely online. Yes, there are forums and groups that meet in buildings owned by groups that identify with these three parachurch organizations and that shared their values of fostering and educating the people of God, but it is important to note that such groups are only informally associated with them. In no way are they legally connected through any formal membership process.

These organizations are models of “both/and” ministry. The marketplace needs both proclaimers of the Christian faith who are well-informed, educationally-adept students of the Kingdom, and students of the Kingdom who are acting out and demonstrating what it means to be followers of Christ. 


      Although the charismatic battle was fought, waged, and won on an intellectual level a generation ago via the charismatic renewal, it has since waned in implementation. One of its unique contributions was the concept of “Power Evangelism,” defined as “the coupling of power from the spirit….A proclamation coupled with demonstration of the God’s mercy.”7 However, Eddie Gibbs, Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Fuller Seminary, tragically stated, “We will never know if power evangelism [proclaiming spiritual gifts and demonstrating them] works [as a form of evangelism] because we never saw anyone try it long enough to see the results.”8

      This is due to the Church’s inability at times to meld proclamation to demonstration. Perhaps this is due to the multi-definitional culture of which we are a part.  Semantically-driven discussions over definitions at times bring in baggage and words loaded with personal history make some discussions difficult to comprehend. Two individuals can be speaking using the same language and words, with radically different interpretations. In an attempt to find common ground, definitions sometimes become the lowest common denominator and lose the essential truth, thus becoming a detriment to the engagement/discussion: “Well, when you say ’X,’ what exactly do you mean? Do you mean ’X’ as in the cultural definition of ’X’? Or in your impression of ’X”? Or in the context of its historical definition? Or do you mean ’X’ like I mean ‘Y’? Do you know what I mean?” The iPod generation loves to debate and question; it is in our DNA from the 1960s. But too many times we find ourselves trapped in dilemmas that need redefining in order just to bring clarity to what it is we are debating!

      For example, among academic and theologians there has lately been some discussion of the word “spirit,” and the spirit’s life-changing power coupled with the spirit’s ever life-changing presence, especially in the context of the emerging church/post modernity discussion.9 This has been encouraging in one respect; however, it has also ironically brought about a misconception and even confusion regarding the work of the Spirit. The aspect of Spirit that has begun gleaning attention from scholars like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster and from teachers like Leonard Sweet and Brian McLaren is incredibly relevant, prophetic, timely, and necessary. These men, along with many others, are stirring a wave of theological renewal that will continue to shape the church for many years to come. Their conferences, speaking engagements, and retreats are beautiful examples of individuals who are proclaiming the message of Christianity. However, the pretexts and baggage associated with individual words makes all their starting points unique, and less cohesive.

      While “Spirit” is a beautiful start to engaging in the message of Christianity, many discussions are lacking a critical component: “lab time,” or physical demonstrations and concrete examples, a chance for their audiences to engage and move from rhetoric to praxis and become the co-conspirators10 that these speakers are encouraging followers of Jesus to become. A dilemma in these speaking forums is that typically the theologians invited are high-profile leaders in mainstream Christianity. Whether it is due to the insecurity of their audiences to give direction to their speakers, or whether it is a failure to consider the necessary time constraints of teasing out definitions—whatever the reason—these leaders are lacking the time and tools to create the acute metaphors and imagery that should be associated with their subject matter.

      Imagine the frustration of a leader who is asked to speak and flippantly mentions the word “Spirit.” In Pentecostal circles this word takes on a unique meaning, but for those in the culture of the emerging Church it could have an entirely different one. In some emerging church circles they have reduced their understanding of this word to a self- help adage for personal well-being. In this context, stripped of the Spirit’s creative power, the emerging Church has gotten lost in language and semantics rather than engaging in praxis involving pneumatological expression. The emerging Church needs to learn how to cooperate, listen to, and, most importantly, identify with the Spirit before they will sustain a source of power which aligns itself holistically with the Gospel within a context of renewed humanity. Demonstration, as opposed to mere articulation, of these concepts is really where the practitioners get set apart from the rhetoricians, and unfortunately this has been a difficult distinction to tease out.
Standing Under to Understand

      Many in the emerging church have waged the battle against hate, speaking out against Christians hating homosexuals, Christians hating abortionists, Christians hating drug offenders, Christians hating violence, Christians hating pacifism, etc. Now there is a new kind of hate being unleashed that is of equal concern, which is the hate of the mainstream evangelical church. And at times it seems that Christians are leading the fight. Why is this? Perhaps it is inflamed by culture, or a by-product of zeal, but it is wrong. Perhaps it is because the Church has poor metaphors for communicating who they are and from whence they have come. The tragic dilemma the church is facing is that programmatic voices with the purest of intentions are failing to reach a generation of people no longer impressed by the trappings of evangelicalism. So how can these opportunities be used to show people about Jesus? The answer is demonstration, not just articulation. Granted, this process often takes much longer than the forums in conferences/seminars and speaking engagements often allow, but failing to demonstrate this life-changing power in forms that are unifying is a trap into which academics too easily fall. Failing to marry the demonstration to their proclamation is not only dualistic in thinking, but it also perpetuates an unspoken agenda of dualism in the Church and a pervasive attitude of “Well, it’s not my job; it’s someone else’s.”

      Even with the best of intentions demonstrating the kingdom is hard. It is messy, it brings controversy, and there is great potential for error; however, it is a reality that many prominent followers of God (including, but not limited to, Moses, Jesus, and Paul) continually addressed and modeled. Demonstration stirs its viewers and potential participants to address their own personal misconceptions. It challenges their own maturation process and rivals their own grids and agendas for defining the kingdom of God, in a sense giving them a new paradigm, or ”spiritual set of glasses,”11 through which to see God. Demonstration, coupled with an explanation pointing back to God (via proclamation), is a kingdom methodology embedded in our creative DNA—from an individual perspective a resonance occurs that causes the heart to reverberate with the mind. How do we assist the brilliance that academics are able to communicate and still provide terms and abstracts that draw the marketplace culture into seeking out what it means to be followers of Jesus? One solution is giving the culture of the day new metaphors.

Categorized as E-Say\'s

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