March 27, 2008

New Faith

During my senior year in high school, I was in a band called Secondhand. We played exactly one big show as a part of Erie, PA's Lake Effect In Effect hardcore scene (with Hatebreed, no less!) before breaking up. A few years later I got together with one of the guitarists in the band, who had just gotten back from recording school, and we decided to spend a few weeks of the summer recording some of our old songs.

There was one problem -- neither of us knew any of the words to those old songs of ours. So we wrote new ones. Tim wrote the scream parts and screamed them, and I wrote the sung parts and sung them. If you're in the mood for a laugh, or for feeling angry yet hopeful (wink), take a look at our MySpace by clicking the link below.

Listen to what we recorded here.

Even though we were just messing around, I ended up writing one of the only songs I've ever been proud of for years after I wrote it. They've strangely stuck with me ever since. I think they're especially relevant to the things on this blog, so I'm sharing them below.

New Faith
by Jason Rhodes

I am nothing,
Understanding far away.
Old faith's been charred and cold,
Releasing and renamed.
I am something,
Unknowing and unsure.
This is my new faith:
The hope of what's in store.

March 19, 2008

Why So Angry?

Russell Moore, while filling in for Albert Mohler on the Albert Mohler radio program several months ago, interviewed Tony Jones of Emergent Village.

Listen to the interview.
Read Jones's (.pdf) paper that Moore focuses on during the interview.

After the interview, Moore had some commentary. The following quote caught my attention.

Russell Moore: I think the reason that the emerging church conversation is gaining a foothold is because many in the emerging church are pointing to some people in our churches and they are absolutely right. Too many of our churches are not counter-cultural. Too many of our churches do not have real authenticity. Too many of our churches do not have real community. Too many of our churches are awash in consumerism and boring, American middle-class life.

I think the problem is that you have some people that are coming in willing to talk about these things and they're called "Emerging" because they wear black turtlenecks or sit on a stool, but they're faithful Christians. But you have others, like [Tony Jones], kind of growing out of youth ministry curriculum peddlers and [unclear], taking consumerism to the next level.... That's not new. The inerrancy debate that Tony Jones says is new? That's been going on since the Garden of Eden, and it still is. Truth is of God. Truth is about Jesus.

I think it's interesting and somewhat confusing that he starts off by generally agreeing with a lot of what Emergent Village and those in the greater emerging church conversation have been saying*, and then finishes by pouring a load of disdain over most of them. And then he finishes with two seemingly irrelevant rallying platitudes that no one would disagree with. Where does this strong urge to criticize and condemn come from?

Also, Moore repeatedly used a quote to defend the idea of absolute truth that was something along the lines of "my Word is forever settled in the heavens." I hadn't heard it before, and I can't find it in the Bible anywhere. I see a hymn that has it. Is this Scripture or not?

What a confusing and exciting and weird and fun and strange time to be a Christian.

*With the one glaring exception of what I bolded in Moore's comments. Can someone explain to me why "counter-cultural" is good?

March 18, 2008

A Conversation About Inclusivity

Everyone talks about how we should be more inclusive, implying that we should accept everything from everyone, no matter what. What are the consequences of opening that door?

Inclusivity is the new tolerance. Remember when tolerance was the big buzz for churchy arguments? Slippery liberals cried, hugged, sang Kumbayah, and begged us all to be more tolerant while stern-nosed, crotchety conservatives rolled around in their big piles of money andJust look at how crotchety they are! grumbled about loving the sinner and hating the sin. It was the argument du jour for quite a few years. For whatever reason, we don't hear too much about tolerance anymore, but we've replaced it with a new argumentative ideal called inclusivity!

Inclusivity, despite being a made up word that smacks of snooty elitism, is a Pretty Good Thing. As the church we want to do everything we can to make people feel welcome and to give them the good news that they're loved. We all know that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, he let the children come to him, he didn't send the hooker away when she poured oil over his feet at a dinner party, and he even sat and talked with one of the Pharisees he had such harsh words for at other times. In fact, there are exactly zero stories in the Gospels that describe Jesus turning anyone away (with the exception of when he would move on to another town and had to send the crowds home, etc.). These are hard attitudes to adopt as a church community, when so much of our language is built on who is in and who is out.

In fact, you could make an argument that Burning Man, the annual art-fest held in the Nevada Look at that man burn!desert, embraces a more Jesus-like attitude than many of our church policies often do. The event, which has gained a lot of popularity and publicity over the past twenty years, has since developed the 10 Principles of Burning Man, which include radical inclusion, gifting, communal effort, civic responsibility, and participation. While the event is by no means a Christian one, it is quite a display of the kind of radical inclusion that many, especially in the Emerging Church, are so keen to apply to our church implementations. "Let's be radically inclusive!" could be a rallying cry or pep motto for a lot of postmodern cheerleaders.

But we have to be careful as we get caught up in great-sounding ideals that we don't set up unassailable positions. What I mean is, for example, the abortion debate is often framed as "Are you okay with murder?" or "Pro-choice is pro-abortion" or even "Do you like babies?" Simple platitude questions like those ignore the complexity on both sides and make any kind of healthy discussion impossible. We really need to be careful that we don't do the same for inclusivity by framing the issue as "Do you love people?" when it's much more complex than that kind of softball question suggests.

I'll give three examples of what I think are some of the dangers of inclusivity. The first two involve worship, as I spend a lot of my church time as a worship leader. Recently I've even taken on the role of organizing worship from week to week, which makes me the person to talk to when you want to be involved with the worship team or whatever you call it. And that's where it gets sticky, because a pure doctrine of inclusivity suggests that we allow anyone and everyone to be involved. But what if someone sings really badly? Or what if they don't play their instrument very well, and show little sign of caring to improve? Make a joyful noise to the Lord, people will say, until that noise distracts them from their own worship, and then it's "Please make your joyful noise in another room, thank you."

Inclusivity and worship can get even stickier, too. At Solomon's Porch in Minnesota, they encourage everyone to be involved not only in the singing and instrument-playing but also with the writing of their all-original worship songs. The concept is amazing, and one I want to try to incorporate, because it gives the community a chance to express itself in beautiful waThese hippies are really hipping it up.ys. But again, straight inclusivity demands that we allow everyone's song to be played and every lyric to be sung. This could be one of the most terrifying ideas I've ever heard of -- open that door so wide and who knows what will come in? Am I prepared to deal with the consequences of whatever it is?

So inclusivity can lead to distracting worship, unpredictable results, and possibly awkward or offensive situations, but it can also open the door to poor quality. Spencer Burke's website,, is an incredibly collaborative project, with a blog that has a list of 33 regular contributors. In addition to the blog there's a section for Articles of various topics and kinds. I have absolutely no idea what the screening process is for these article submissions, if any, but a close look at the most recent article (entitled "Five Second Theology Without Meaning: Living the Church Organic, Part 2" by John O'Keefe) shows why standards are sometimes helpful. I've included a few of the sentences from the article below.
Ever had your world explode around in with such force you are left deaf from the noise and numb to the results for days?

Have you ever been so moved by hurt, pain and loses that all you want to do is go into a corner, curl up in a ball and just stay forever and let the world move along without you?

I have, several times in my life, had those feeling.

I don't mean to pick on Mr. O'Keefe too much. I don't know anything about him or his story, and I encourage you to go and read his article for yourself. But there's a debate to be had about quality and how much it matters as we try to hammer out the concept of inclusivity in each of our churches. Some people will encourage participation at any cost while others will hope that the way we represent God and theology will be held to some standards of excellence.

So inclusivity is good, but it can have unwanted or unintended consequences. How can we include people and still have standards? Is true inclusivity the absence of standards and the acceptance of everyone's offerings, no matter what? If you read this blog at all you won't be surprised that I have no answers, but I hope the conversation moves beyond "Do you love people?" and on to some of the other questions that some of us have. I've raised a few of those questions here, and I hope some of you raise even more in the comments. (Please no stupid questions, though. Thanks.)

March 13, 2008

Passion Is Bad

If you search for "passion" in the New Testament of the Bible, you find this list:

  1. Romans 7:5
    For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.
    Romans 7:4-6 (in Context) Romans 7 (Whole Chapter)
  2. 1 Corinthians 7:9
    But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
    1 Corinthians 7:8-10 (in Context) 1 Corinthians 7 (Whole Chapter)
  3. Galatians 5:24
    Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
    Galatians 5:23-25 (in Context) Galatians 5 (Whole Chapter)
  4. 1 Thessalonians 4:5
    not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God;
    1 Thessalonians 4:4-6 (in Context) 1 Thessalonians 4 (Whole Chapter)
  5. Titus 2:12
    It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
    Titus 2:11-13 (in Context) Titus 2 (Whole Chapter)
  6. Titus 3:3
    At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
    Titus 3:2-4 (in Context) Titus 3 (Whole Chapter)

    Search results courtesy of

It just jumped out to me today that every use is referring to a negative thing, a sinful thing, or a worldly thing, and never encouraged or idealized. And that seemed interesting enough to share.

March 11, 2008

Phrases To Avoid

(Especially when talking about the people I disagree with.)

They never...
Those people...
They always...
For them, everything is...

Are there others?

March 10, 2008

What About Seminary?

Here's me. I grew up in a 'Northern' Baptist congregation in Erie, PA. By the time I was in 6th grade I was getting involved in the youth group leadership. By my senior year I led the youth group as student leader (under guided yet trusting supervision from an amazing youth pastor) as well as the "Bible Club" at my large high school. You could say I was involved.

I left Erie and went to Penn State University to major in Religious Studies at a secular school. I can't explain why it was so important for me to do this at a time when everything I know about myself should have made me desire a Christian education, but there I was, taking courses on New Testament criticism taught by aggravated atheists. I spent four and a half years there, completing both a Religious Studies B.A. and a Sociology B.A. (I couldn't resist Roger Finke's Sociology of Religion course, and got hooked on the subject). And though a lot of things shifted and changed for me over that time, I never got any less passionate about pursuing the truth.

After graduating, I continued going to church for the sake of my desire to be a part of community worship. But the disconnect I felt in my relationships with Christians (old and new) and in the sermons I heard preached most Sunday mornings eventually wore me out, and my wife and I left. We took a year away from church, retreats, worship nights, seminars, sermons, pastors, baptisms, etc. But not from thinking.

A year later brought me to last October, when we got involved with a little church plant in Baltimore called The Light. We couldn't stay away from church forever, and the draw to be involved in Christ-centered community again finally got to be more powerful than the fear and dread that surrounded it. As we've gotten more involved, the passions I have for these issues have gotten more and more inflamed. I've been reading as many books as I can get my hands on, listening to sermons online, writing, talking to people, reading blogs and articles, and basically eating and breathing these things for the past 6 months.

Which brings me to a question I've come back to several times over this last half year. What do I want to do? I work in a research office, managing grants and contracts and budgets. I went to a meeting this morning for my department and heard them all talk about budget discrepancies, cost sharing, and NIH deadlines. I might as well have driven a spike through my eye socket and out the back of my skull. I know for certain I don't want to be here all my life, but they pay me twice a month and it's enough to live on. And that's pretty nice.

This is usually the point of this conversation when a lot of people say, "Well you have to do what makes you happy and alive -- so if x makes you happy and alive, you should drop everything and do x!" What makes me happy and alive is reading, writing, teaching, talking, and thinking about God, Christ, community, church, and people. Which provokes that same person to say, "Sounds like you want to be a pastor!" (This person uses a lot of exclamation points.) But something inside my stomach lurches 100 feet in the air at the thought of becoming a pastor. All I know is that I want to do those things as much as possible.

So what about seminary (see post title)? Should I go? Should I enroll in a part time program that I can go to while I work? Or better yet, do I need to go in order to do the things I want to do? Would it be really good for me to go, or would it end up being a waste? Will it allow me more freedom to do what I love or apply restrictions on me in a way that makes me crazy? Is it worth the time it will take and the money it would cost? Would it be better to get a Master's in something I'm interested in and just go from there? What if I'm scared to ever accept money from a church because I don't know how I feel about that, would that be the kind of feeling that should tip someone off that seminary isn't right for them?

Here's the biggest, "mainest" question: Why do people go to seminary for an M.Div.? Is it only when they know they want to become a pastor or other full-time minister?

Lots of questions. Comments, answers, cheers, jeers, and other responses are welcome.

March 3, 2008

Hermeneutics, the Quiz

Friends over at Merging Lanes posted a link to Scot McKnight's Hermeneutics quiz. It's worth taking, if just for the things it makes you think about as you go through the questions. Questions like:

The Bible’s words are:
A. Inerrant on everything.
B. Inerrant on matters of faith and practice.
C. Not defined by inerrancy or errancy, which are modernistic categories.

The commands in the Old Testament to destroy a village, including women and children, are:
A. Justifiable judgment against sinful, pagan, immoral peoples.
B. God’s ways in the days of the Judges (etc.): they are primitive words but people’s understanding as divine words for that day.
C. A barbaric form of war in a primitive society, and I wish they weren’t in the Bible.

The command of Jesus to wash feet is:
A. To be taken literally, despite near universal neglect in the church.
B. A first century form of serving others, to be practiced today in other ways.
C. An ancient custom with no real implication for our world.

Once you've finished, it generates a score somewhere between 20 and 100 and groups you in one of three categories ranging from Conservative (20-52) to Moderate (53-65) to Progressive (66 or higher). I'm not thrilled with the labels as they generate a lot of preconceived emotion even before you look at the test, and I honestly wasn't thrilled with the questions, either. There was usually an answer I felt comfortable with, but I saw several questions where the more conservative response was probably ill-phrased, in my opinion.

Overall, though, I think it produces some interesting conversation about how we look at scripture and how that affects the rest of our theology and practice. I scored a 73 on the quiz, which puts me just over the Progressive line. I fell there because I think our interactions with the Bible have to be carefully compared to their context, both then and now, as well as to what we know about God through our communities and through our own experience. But to answer some of the questions as definitively as I would have needed to in order to score higher on the Progressive scale would have made me equally fundamentalist and extreme by saying things like "The commands against homosexuality are definitely not applicable today" or "Injunctions against women found in the New Testament are completely irrelevant to today's theology". Those are too final and conclusive for me on issues like those.

The most important part of my approach to scripture (and to church in general) is the phrase, "I might be wrong." To me, that's the only thing that can keep me in community with all of my brothers and sisters, regardless of our differences in belief, style, practice, "hermeneutics", etc.