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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!


Friday, June 29, 2007

During a recent discussion I was involved in, where we were debating the metaphor of journey to represent the Christian life, a friend referred to Luke's account of the penitent criminal dying on the cross next to Jesus (passage below) and argued that this demonstrated the need for a definite point of conversion. The criminal, his argument went, at that point of near-death, recognised who Jesus was and his own need of forgiveness, so he repented and turned to Jesus in faith. As a result, he was promised salvation.

At the time, I wasn't wholly comfortable with this argument but couldn't put my finger on why, so I came away and looked at the passage again. As I did, I realised that Luke said no such thing! What my friend was guilty of (if that's not too strong a way of putting it) was I guess what we all have a tendency to do (certainly Derrida thinks so!), and that's read texts through our own interpretive frameworks. If 'conversion' is a central concept for you then it's easy to see the criminal's words as reflecting a conversion of sorts which 'earned' him a place in paradise.

My problem with this interpretive framework is that it may reduce what really was going on, leading us to see the criminal as the true hero of the story who's own initiative led to the happy ending (granted, you could argue that this 'conversion' was itself a result of the Spirit's activity, but that could simply be another layer of interpretation applied to back up the point!). When I read the text in question, I see an example of pure unadulterated grace on the part of Jesus! The criminal had recognised that he deserved the punishment he was getting - he had committed a capital crime and this was justice (at least in the eyes of first century Roman law), whereas the man hanging between him and his partner in crime was nothing more that a political victim - a 'prisoner of conscience' to use terms that we are familiar with. His challenge to 'fear God' was to do with the outworking of justice and injustice.

But what about his words to Jesus? True, they could have reflected a deep theological understanding of Jesus as Messiah, even of Jesus' divinity, but I doubt it! My guess is that he saw in Jesus something different and, aware of the sign that hung above Jesus' head, simply wanted to show an empathy for this innocent man. The truth is... we don't know! Luke doesn't tell us what was going on in the criminal's mind (presumably, because Luke didn't actually know!). What we do know is that Jesus, in perfect keeping with his ministry of eating and drinking with sinners and outcasts, extends pure grace to the criminal next to him and promises him heaven.

Why am I bothering to argue such a seemingly trivial point? Because I don't think it is trivial... Jesus consistently resisted the theological boxes of his day that tried to explain away his actions whilst holding them in the structures of power that had been created by the religious establishment. Are we guilty of doing the same? Was my friend unwittingly reducing an amazing, even reckless, act of grace on the part of Jesus to simply the outcome of a spiritual transaction that was taking place on those crosses? Do we need to have an answer as to why Jesus 'saved' this criminal or can't we just rejoice that he did and gladly hold on to the hope that this gives us all?

There was a written notice above [Jesus], which read: "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS". One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[a]" Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
(Luke 23:38-43 (NIV))

[a] Some manuscripts read 'come with your kingly power'

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:04 AM | link | 6 comments |

church growth...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I love this...

click on the cartoon to go to David Hayward's blog ('nakedpastor'), where it was originally posted, and read the comments that it generated. I must admit to often having an inbuilt resistance to 'strategies' (though I can see their value if they are about empowering and not imposing), so this cartoon brought a smile to my face!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 4:27 PM | link | 0 comments |

preach it Bono!...

Friday, June 22, 2007

If you're not a fan of U2's music, then stick with this anyway (or skip ahead to 4:44) to hear Bono's inspirational words...

... the address that these words are taken from is posted in full 'here' - I know it's a bit old now, but it's still one of the most powerful, most biblical addresses on poverty and justice I've ever heard, so it's well worth watching again.

Also, if you've got an hour to spare (I haven't!) YouTube also has an interview of Bono by Bill Hybels which was aired at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit last summer. It's been posted in several parts beginning 'here' with Bill Hybels' introduction about Bono. It also features the video posted above. I haven't yet had the chance to watch it in its entirety, so can't comment on it, but thought it was worth posting the link anyway!

hat tip... Beth at 'U2 Sermons' blog

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:25 AM | link | 0 comments |


Thursday, June 21, 2007

The below pictures are part of an amazing art installation by Chris Jordan, depicting the habits of contemporary American (and so western) society, with regard to consumption and waste. 'This' website shows several of the powerful images in the series (and includes an image of one installation on display to give an idea of scale) - it's well worth a visit! Here's a sample...

an image depicting 11,000 jet trails, equal to the number of commercial flights in the US every eight hours...

partial zoom...

details at actual size...

There are more images like this 'here'

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 3:11 PM | link | 1 comments |

the sign of love...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I've just read the book that I mentioned in 'this' post, where I blogged some of my own reflections about having an open policy towards sacramental worship on the back of a conversation had with my diocesan bishop.

I have to say that in just 87 pages (I love short books) Timothy Gorringe manages to pack a lot of material in! In six highly readable brief chapters he discusses the concept of 'sign', seeing the eucharist in that context; the historical development of eucharistic practice from the simple table fellowship of Jesus to the protected 'ritual' of church worship; the economic and political implications and demands of eucharistic observance; the eucharist as a fashioning of new community; and the centrality of the picture of the Trinity, explored through the lens of Rublyev's famous fifteenth-century icon (used as the image on the book's cover), which demands that eucharistic worship be earthed in relational reality.

Gorringe also addresses some of the great issues of our day - the environment, international debt and trade justice, and human sexuality; and finds keys to understanding these in the eucharist. Not bad for 87 pages!!

For me, though, the most exciting and illuminating insight Gorringe offers is in his sketch of how (what we today understand as) eucharistic worship was deeply rooted in Jesus' ongoing table fellowship. Gorringe reminds us that it was at table that Jesus showed grace and acceptance to 'tax-collectors and sinners', earning him criticism and accusations (Mark 2:16, Luke 7:34, Matthew 11:19), and argues that at the Last Supper Jesus simply continues in this vain of using table fellowship redemptively. As such, it should be a rite offered by 'the Church' to anyone who wishes to partake, as it becomes a means of connecting with God's grace and with the community of faith - a sign of the gospel being proclaimed. Rather than admission to communion following on from baptism, Gorringe argues that the eucharist should be offered unconditionally to all, and may itself become a significant part of a person's story leading them to baptism and identification with the community of faith.

For the record... I'm with Gorringe here! It seems to me that closing the doors to the eucharist runs counter to the grace with which we see Christ opening the doors of table-fellowship to (literally) all and sundry! We've taken a redemptive sign of the kingdom and turned it into an exclusive and solemn ritual, which can only damage our witness to a culture that is rediscovering the significance of symbol and participation. As Gorringe writes...

"If the eucharist is, then, rooted in Jesus' table fellowship with sinners, not exclusively, but as importantly as it is rooted in the Last Supper, what an irony it is that receiving communion was hedged about in the way it was with dire warnings to 'the wicked'. If we eat and drink unworthily, according to the homilies in the Book of Common Prayer, 'We eat and drink our own damnation ... we kindle God's wrath against us; we provoke him to plague us with divers diseases and sundry kinds of death.' This is a far cry from the meal with Zacchaeus indeed!" (p21)

We talk of 'celebrating the eucharist' - maybe we need to rediscover that celebration at the core and throw the party doors wide open.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 12:47 PM | link | 1 comments |

missional entrepreneurship...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Mark Berry has a great post 'here' on developing missional entrepreneurs. You need to set aside a good few minutes to do it justice (grab a cup of coffee and sit in comfort!) but it's well worth reading and taking in. Here's a taster...

"A culture of infinite innovation also means accepting the uncomfortable reality that all is provisional, even our notions of Ecclesiology and Theology, as South African Missiologist David Bosch said “The Christian Church is always in the process of becoming; the church of the present is both the product of the past and the seed of the future… we need an experimental theology in which an ongoing dialogue is taking place between text and context, a theology which, in the nature of the case, remains provisional and hypothetical”. ...
... the Church needs to acknowledge the world we live in and to embrace the ‘dangerous journey’, not simply for reasons of survival but for reasons of Mission."

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:52 AM | link | 0 comments |

many a true word...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Here's one for those who are sceptical of the over-intellectualising that goes on in the theological ivory towers (well, it made me laugh anyway!)...

And Jesus said unto them, "And whom do you say that I am?"

They replied,

"You are the totaliter aliter, the vestigious trinitatum who speaks to us in the modality of Christo-monism."

"You are he who heals our ambiguities and overcomes the split of angst and existential estrangement; you are he who speaks of the theonomous viewpoint of the analogia entis, the analogy of our being and the ground of all possibilities."

"You are the impossible possibility who brings to us, your children of light and children of darkness, the overwhelming roughness’ in the midst of our fraught condition of estrangement and brokenness in the contiguity and existential anxieties of our ontological relationships."

"You are my Oppressed One, my soul's shalom, the One who was, who is, and who shall be, who has never left us alone in the struggle, the event of liberation in the lives of the oppressed struggling for freedom, and whose blackness is both literal and symbolic."

And Jesus replied, "Huh?"

hat tip... Maggi Dawn

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 3:55 PM | link | 0 comments |

is your Spirit too small?...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Matt Stone has written an excellent post on missional pneumatology 'here', which is bound to ruffle a few feathers and make many feel uncomfortable, but is well worth reading (perhaps for this very reason!). For those pressed for time, here's the gist of his argument (which is likely to make you want to read the full post anyway!!)...

"The most critical challenge as I see it is the demonization of world religions and irreligious spiritualities by evangelicals, especially the counter-cult and strategic level spiritual warfare leaders, but also by everyday believers. To be blunt, it is difficult to engage sensitively and incarnationally with alternate spiritualities where you are convinced they, and the spiritual experiences they testify to, are 100% of the devil. Of course, that statement proves nothing in and of itself, but if we loosen up and look at the Bible afresh, we may just be surprised by what we might find. I won't elaborate further right now, but just suggest that Acts 17 and the story of Balaam turn up some very interesting things.

This is one of the reasons I like to focus on engaging with Wicca. If you can find the Spirit at work even within Wicca, the perennial boogie man of evangelicals, well, where should you not expect to find the Spirit moving then?

This brings me to my essential challenge to Charismatics and the rest of the institutional church. Your Spirit is too small. Your Spirituality is too small. You think the Spirit only falls in the house of the Lord? Phah! You think there are territories where demons rule with impunity? Henotheism! Have you forgotten the teaching of omnipresence? The Spirit does not send us anywhere where he is not already at."

Read the post in full 'here'.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 3:51 PM | link | 0 comments |

the most critical thing...

"In the Church of England, the biggest most positive focus is the project that we call Fresh Expressions, an initiative for networking and resourcing church planting across the country."

These are the words of Archbishop Rowan Williams in response to the question, "With so many things on your plate, what do you think are the most critical things you need to focus on as Archbishop in the short term?"

It's good to see that, with all the destructive debates going on in the Anglican Communion, our Archbishop at least is continuing to focus on what really matters.

Read the whole interview 'here'

hat tip... Paul Fromont

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 3:37 PM | link | 0 comments |

small is beautiful...

Jonny Baker wrote his Church Times Greenbelt column about Dream this month, which you can read 'here'. Jonny's also blogged about Dream in more detail 'here'. Great to see Dream growing all the time - there are now 8 groups meeting, with others soon to get up and running! Check out the Dream website to find out more. Dream will be leading worship at this year's Greenbelt Festival at 7pm on the Sunday (26th Aug) evening in the New Forms Cafe.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 3:14 PM | link | 0 comments |

open community, open commuion...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Holidays are wonderful things - change of scenery, plenty of rest, new food (I tried snails for the first time!) and quality family time... and then you come home! Actually, it's great to be home and getting back into the swing of things, it's just that I've found the mountain of emails (over 400 - and, yes, I know that's not many for some of you out there, but it's more than enough for me!) a bit draining to say the least. Some have been very welcome though, especially those from friends I've not heard from in a while. I'm also trying to catch up on over 300 blog posts that my Bloglines reader has stored up for me - I dare say I'll comment on one or two of them in the days to come.

So, with all those words of wisdom to catch up on, it's not easy to find time to post myself! But, I promised that I would today so for the one or two of you that might visit to see, here goes...

A few days before leaving for France, I had a meeting with my bishop and we had a great discussion about the place of the Eucharist in the emerging church (in fact, this seems to be a constantly recurring theme in a whole range of discussions over the last month or so, but that's for another post). This particular conversation with the bishop began with us talking about Dream and its development over the last few months.

He then asked if we'd had any baptisms or weddings connected to the Dream communities which led into a general discussion about sacraments (you can see how it could can't you?!) I spoke a bit about how the Eucharist was a key part of the worshipping life for several of the Dream communities, and then came the question... "what is your policy for admitting people to communion before they have publicly professed faith in baptism?" (or words to that effect).

Remember, the question came from my diocesan bishop and I must have looked slightly uncomfortable as I was desperately trying to formulate my response, because he quickly followed it up by saying... "don't worry, I'm not trying to catch you out, I'm just interested in how a community reaching unchurched people offers sacramental worship." He went on (and this is all paraphrased from memory but I'm confident I've got the gist right)... "I've been reading this book recently in which the author argues for a generous open policy on communion as a way into Christian community." He's lent me the book and I've just started reading it; it's called The Sign of Love by Timothy Gorringe. I'll post about it when I've finished it!

It was a great conversation because it carried a definite air of permission on the part of my bishop, which is always a welcome thing! His question is, of course, a very important one if we're serious about building open and inclusive community. My own church background and theological training led me to be quite protective of baptism and Eucharist, wanting to make sure that recipients had jumped through the various hoops of doctrine and belief before allowing them to receive, but in recent years I've become much more open and generous (some would say 'liberal') in my attitude. If, as I now think, the sacraments are gifts of God's grace and signs of heaven present in the ordinary and 'earthly', seen in the use of very 'earthly' things (water, wine, bread) conveying deeply spiritual mysteries, then who are we to withhold such grace? Who made us the gatekeepers of God's extravagant love, such that we deem some people able to receive and some not. Surely, the decision as to whether or not someone should be in receipt of God's grace is God's and God's alone, and as God's already so abundantly and openly offered it to us, that leaves the decision as to whether I partake of it mine and mine alone - no-one can withhold God from me, nor can I withhold God from anyone else.

So, in answer to the bishop's question, we never enquire of a person's faith or ask to see their baptismal certificate before 'allowing' them communion at Dream - we simply make the invitation to all and allow individuals to decide for themselves as to whether they want to join in at that time or not - some do and some don't.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 3:21 PM | link | 0 comments |