Theostorying: Reflecting on my Reflections

I wrote a little book called “Theo-storying: Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture.” It wasn’t for formal publication. It was just an exercise in my own theological reflections. I put it up on this site (under “My Books”) and on Scribd. I reread it in the last couple of days and was pleasantly surprised that I still liked it. It has some misspellings and some awkward grammar at times. Some things I would change if I decided to revise it. Generally, I feel it stands up fairly well, however. The book is now available on Amazon… HERE.Cover 1

But it got me thinking. I used (sort of coined) the term “theostorying” but what does the term mean? In chapter 2 I play with the idea of definition, but never really come up with one. Further, the more I think about it, the more inadequate what I wrote in chapter 2 seems. So here are some thoughts at least for the moment.

Theostorying is “the act of creative reflection on God, and our associated relationships with Him and each other, crafted artistically into the medium of the story, so as to allow the listener to join in the reflection through experiencing the story, being challenged by the story, and inspiring further questions.”

Let’s work through the proposed definition.

1.  Creative reflection. Theostorying should neither be a rehashing of dogma, nor be heterodox. It should, however, push and challenge our understanding of truth. It should look at theology from a different perspective. It should provide a new voice to old questions, as well as new questions.

2. Crafted artistically. Storying (both the creation of stories and the telling of stories) is an art. Storying in this case would normally be as a short story or anecdote rather than as a novel or epic. It should draw interest and entice the listener in. But regardless of the form, creativity and imagination are required to create the story and transmit the story.

3. Medium of the story. The story is the medium but it is also inextricably intertwined with the message. If one ends with “the moral of the story is” or “the lesson we can learn from this is”, such a lesson would only be one prepackaged idea drawn from the story… not the sum purpose of the story. If the story could be adequately summed up in one sentence, the story does not adequately inspire  theological reflection.

4. Experiencing the story. We are given the opportunity to be drawn into the story. We tend to learn best through reflection on our own life experiences (and sometimes through the life experiences of others). A good story allows us to join into the story… often from the perspective of different characters. Doing so, we experience, reflect, and learn.

5. Challenged by the story. A good story doesn’t just tell us what we already know, or what we already believe, or what we already believe we know. It challenges us culturally, theologically, and personally. <An example of a personal challenge: The parable of the ewe lamb, challenged King David. The story did not challenge him culturally or theologically… he knew theologically and culturally what should be done and the story did not question that. Rather, it challenged him personally when he was told that he was experiencing the story from the wrong perspective. He was experiencing it as the kingly judge, when he should be experiencing it from the perspective of the rich neighbor.>

6. Inspire further questions. Good theostories don’t just give the full answer. They inspire questions. They might inspire questions because the story seems unfinished, or because the story doesn’t explain why things went in one direction versus another, or because it suggests conclusions that are personally uncomfortable.

What are some good questions associated with theostories?

A.  What next? In the Bible, we don’t know what happens to Jonah after chapter 4 of the book. We don’t know (for sure) what happens to Japheth’s daughter. What did the Prodigal Son’s elder brother do next. In missions we often do case studies where the situation is set up but the ending is intentionally unfinished. We are supposed to place ourselves within a specified role in the story and say what we would do next and why. It is highly educational and far superior to memorizing a bunch of rules.

B. What if? What if pharoah had let the people of Israel go without a fight? What if Judas had confessed and asked for forgiveness? What if Job did curse God? What if Zedekah had stood up to the power elite in Judah?

C.  Why? Why did Judas decide to betray Christ? Why did God place enticing fruit in the garden and then tell His inquisitive creations not to eat it? Why did God save us through a blood sacrifice? (Was God “handcuffed” into doing it that way, or did He choose that way as a lesson for us?)

D.  Who? Whose perspective do you connect to in the story. What if you placed yourself in a different perspective. What if you were not one of the Israelites invading Canaan, but a person living in Jericho desperately trying to protect his family? What if you were the Levite, in the story of the Good Samaritan, hurrying to your next appointment (perhaps afraid of being attacked, with no medical skills)… how would you respond seeing the dying (possible dead) man… honestly?

An Ineffable Game of Divine Solitaire

The following is from “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman & Terry Prachett (pg. 388-389, Harperbooks paperback edition, 2006). The two characters are Crowley (a demon, but more like Loki of Nordic tradiiton than the classic  Christian view of being demonic) and Aziraphale (and angel, close to the classic Christian view of a guardian angel, although more Epicurean).Crowleey starts:

“I don’t know. You can never be certain about what’s really intended. Plans within plans.”

“Sorry?” siad Aziraphale.

“Well,” said Crowley, who’d been thinking about this until his head ached, “haven’t you ever wondered about it all? You know— your people and my people. Heaven and Hell, good and evil, all that sort of thing? I mean, why?”

“As I recall,” said the angel stiffly, “there was the rebellion and…”

“Ah, yes. And why did it happen, eh? I mean, it didn’t have to, did it?” said Crowley, a manic look in his eye. “Anyone who could build a universe in six days isn’t going to let a little thing like that happen. Unless they want it to, of course.”

“Oh, come on. Be sensible,” said Aziraphale, doubtfully.

“That’s not good advice,” said Crowley, “That’s not good advice at all. If you sit down and think about it sensibly, you come up with some very funny ideas. Like why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!’?”

“I don’t remember any neon.”

“Metaphorically, I mean. I mean, why do that if you really don’t want them to eat it, eh? I mean, maybe you just want to see how it all turns out. Maybe it’s all part of a great big ineffable plan. All of it. You, me, him, everything. Some great big test to see if what you’ve built all works properly, eh? You start thinking: it can’t be a great cosmic game of chess, it has to be just very complicated Solitaire. And don’t bother to answer. If we could understand, we wouldn’t be us. Because it’s all–all–“

“INEFFABLE…”

 

Sometimes I like to read theological musings that are not, strictly speaking tied to any particular religious viewpoint (Christian or otherwise). Sometimes it can inspire creative musings of one’s own.

Frankly, it is true that many Christians (and not just Folk Christianity) tend to view the world in terms of a great Chess match. God versus the Devil… Good versus Evil. And while there are war metaphors used in the Bible, it is quite evident that the chess match view (a dualistic or gnostic view) has no traction in Scripture. The Bible is God’s story and that story plays itself out in the Universe we call home. As in Pogo, the enemy, ultimately, is us.

The idea of our world being a complex game of Solitaire appears to be a much better metaphor than a chess match. That doesn’t suggest a “theology of decrees” but rather God as the director and lead actor in the drama.

Unfortunately, some Christians go to the opposite side of the chess match. They drift into Triumphalism. Focusing on the idea that the battle is already won (in a sense there was no battle) they go into brag mode… kind of like fans of a championship team sitting in the stands saying “WE won!  WE are the champions!”  Theologically, this may be sound, but ministerially, it is poor. From Christians desecrating Roman idols in the early church, cutting down pagan shrines in the “Dark Ages,” insulting Muslim neighbors in Persia during the Mongol occupation, on down to the present, we see that humility (see Philippians 2) is not just the Law, it is a good idea, as ambassadors of Christ.

I have drifted off topic a bit… but that is the point. It is good sometimes to hear or read other people’s reflections on God… and see where one’s (sanctified?) imagination takes one.

Ineffable is an uncommon word meaning “too great or extreme to be put into words.” I think that describes both God and God’s plan quite well. When we become too good at putting it into words… it is quite possible we got it wrong.

Involvement in a Cause

Good thoughts that apply beyond simply Neighbor Transformation.

Stantheurbancheguy's Blog

It is important that people find a cause that they resonate with and then get involved at the level of their interest and amount of time they are willing to give. People are involved in different activities based upon their interest in a cause.
  • The first level is Expose where people are testing the water to see what the cause is all about and if it matches their interest
  • The second level is Engagement where they have tested the waters and there seems to be a fit and people want to become more involved
  • The third level is Own which their interest and the cause are in sync and the person knows they want to be involved.

This process can be likened to a funnel

EEO Funnel 1 

Below are ways in which show ways that people can become involved in transforming a neighborhood in each of the three levels. The A…

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Book Reflection: “The Mission of God” Part 2

This is a continuation of the reflections on “The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative” by Christopher J.H. Wright.  NOTE: This is NOT a review… just things that the book got me thinking about. I haven’t finished the book yet (I am slow sometimes, but I have to give it a STRONG recommendation already).

The book seeks to develop a Biblical Theology of Missions, as well as a missional hermeneutic for understanding the Bible. This got me thinking…

IS HAVING A SOLID MISSION THEOLOGY NEEDED?

With some reflection it seems to me that the obvious answer is YES and NO. It is NO in the sense that most Christians can carry out God’s mission on earth quite effectively without having a very strong theological foundation for what they do and why. But where does YES come in?

1. History has shown that Christian missions has moved forward in fits and starts (and stops). It pops up here with great fervor and dies away over there. Among missional people there is often a belief that missions people are more godly or spiritual or “on fire” than those who are not. I have not seen this as true. Perhaps missional fervor is NOT a good judge of spirituality. Perhaps the fact that missions is often disconnected from normal Christian life, and ecclesiastical life means that missions is commonly borne along through a few who are motivated in that specific area of the Christian walk. Perhaps, having a missional theology that is linked better with the overall understanding of the theology of God, Man, World, and Church, would reduce the fickleness of the overall movement of Christian missions. (Just a theory.)

2. When there is a disconnect between theology and its application, problems often spring up. Let me give an example. William Carey was a pastor of the Particular Baptists, a strongly Calvinistic group in England. This group had little interest in missions. God preordained people to Heaven or Hell after all… so what is the point of reaching out? William Carey wrote a booklet challenging this logic. He used the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to argue that Jesus gave the command to evangelize to all Christians not just the original Twelve. He made a strong case for this.

However, note this. He did not really challenge the Calvinistic doctrines… just argued that one should not use those doctrines to deny something the Jesus commanded us to do. Calvinism (particularly consistent Calvinists) always had a gaping hole when it came to missions going back to… well… John Calvin. Carey made it clear that regardless of what one believes doctrinely, one should evangelize because Jesus commanded us to. There is a seeming disconnect here. It is hardly surprising that just decades later among the Baptists (and the Campbellite offshoot) developed the “Antimissional Movement.” It was a reaction away from missions, in part because of the Calvinistic theology of its members.

This is not a diatribe against Calvinism (I am neither Calvinist nor Anti-Calvinist). But when one’s theology is not consistent with the ministerial application, it is hardly a shock that problems recur. One could argue that Re-Thinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry After One Hundred Years, also known as the Hocking Report (1932) got much of its strength from the fact that missions was built on a poor theological foundation… and as such was easy to topple or redirect.

3.  Missions is often drawn from a “gerrymandering” of Bible verses. Often it seems as the practitioners of missions have already determined what they want to do and why, and simply pick those verses that seem to support what they are already doing. I know churches who have dumped all social missions because missions to them is proclamation, conversion, discipleship, and church-planting. I have known of churches who have cut off funding to orphanages because orphanages are not evangelistic… and so are not missional. They have verses to support their view… but they have to throw out an awful lot of the Bible to support such an idea. I have known missions agencies that have (incredibly) stopped working in very productive areas because people in those areas were no longer labeled “unreached people groups.” The Biblical justification for this is shallow, and the logic of stopping work because it is productive is… odd to say the least. Wouldn’t it be better to understand what God’s mission is (based on God’s revelation and character) and then come alongside… rather than doing what we want to do  and then select verses (“prooftexts”) to back it up?

4.  There is some really sloppy missions methodology out there… some of which comes from a very poor theological foundation. The focus on Unreached People Groups has been justified by utilizing Matthew 24:14. Some have taught that once we have reached all “people groups” Christ will immediately (or at least almost immediately) return. First, the passage never says that, nor, in my mind, even implies it. Second, the application of that interpretation results in a behavior that comes close to… well… evil. Think about it. People focus on trying to get the gospel into every “people group” (however one chooses to define such an entity) pulling resources away from successful outreaches among “reached” peoples in hopes that God would come back sooner. In practice that means one is seeking to reduce outreach to many people and shorten the time that the Gospel is available for response. One is actually trying to send more people to hell by giving them less time and opportunity to respond. Weird! If one truly believed the quite fanciful interpretation of the Matthew passage and believed (equally fancifully) that one could define exact “people groups” (ethne)… the proper response would seem to be to reach as many people as possible among all people groups as possible— except one. Only after evangelistic saturation of all peoples (is that realistic?) would one saturate the last people group with the gospel. <Thankfully, God did not give us control of when He comes, nor gave us the calling to “time” His return.> By the way, I am not against reaching all people in all cultures… nor do I believe that doing so nor failing to do so will change God’s timing one iota.

Some evangelical missions leaders back in the 1950s and 60s had embraced an apocalyptic view of Christianity (Christ is coming any day… at least any day really really soon.) As such, they tossed aside God’s work in caring for people’s needs in favor of quick conversion. But they were wrong… 50, 60 years later and Christ is not here yet. What if investment in demonstrating God’s love had been effectively linked to proclaiming God’s love over the last several decades (rather than disconnected). Personally, I think carrying out God’s full mission faithfully without trying to “read the signs” would have been more effective, and is still more effective today.

The Missionary Call seems to be another area of sloppiness. There seems to be little Biblical support for it at all. Christ calls all to follow Him. The church may call people to be pastors or missionaries (apostles)… but does God? I don’t think so. If He did, then the missionary call is primarily an “anti-missionary call” since the vast majority of Christians are, presumably,  not so called. The missionary call seems to be more of an excuse not to be missional than it is to motivate people to missions. Defining missions in terms of only being cross-cultural, or only to the “called”, or only for “professionals” seems to be without theological basis as well. It is hardly surprising that there are good Christians that argue that missions and missionaries are unbiblical. I have even seen blogsites that challenge Christians to show that missions and missionaries are Biblical. You know, IF one uses the common definitions utilized today, I think they have a point. However, if one is willing to challenge the definitions I believe we see the Bible as a missional book and a book of God on mission and us on God’s mission.

5.  The poor theology has led to questions about even what is the goals of missions. What is missions supposed to do?

  • Get conversions and baptisms?
  • Get churches planted?
  • Disciple?
  • “Civilize” the people?
  • Help social needs?
  • Socially liberate?
  • Promote specific denomination or theological goals?

A sound theology of missions should help determine what are our priorities and what are extraneous.

Yes, I think it is high time that God’s people take seriously Missions Theology… or a missional understanding of God.

Spiritual Abuse Parts 1-5

Below are the 5 presentations I have done so far on Spiritual Abuse. They are (intentionally) a bit redundant at times. Some things need to be resaid. A much more detailed article is added written by a different person (submitted to Slideshare by “arulmraj” but I am not sure if M.A. Pragasam is the author or not). It is much more detailed and I think some might find it fascinating.






Book Reflection: “The Mission of God” Part 1

Based on the recommendation of a former pastor of mine, I have started reading “The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative” by Christopher J.H. Wright. It is still early (I haven’t reached page 100 yet) but I have found much value in what I have read so far. The book seeks to look at Missions from the grand narrative (the eschatological history through the Old and New Testament) of the Bible. It isn’t a Missions Theology perhaps, but it seems to me to be a refreshing first step… a Biblical theology of missions.

If that (a Biblical theology of missions) was its only accomplishment (drawing missions inductively from the entire Biblical text) it would be a worthy accomplishment. Wright, however, seeks to go further and suggest a missional hermeneutic for Biblical interpretation. At first thought, this seems flawed. It suggests a Procrustean process of jamming the Bible into a mold, and changing the interpretation to fit that mold while removing or ignoring things that ultimately don’t fit. (I am sure many/most of us can come up with examples of this). But the Bible, as God’s message of love and hope to man is arguably a direct product of God’s mission, and a clear proclamation of that same mission. As such, missional interpretation seems quite appropriate.

I have heard many people involved in Christian missions say that they do missions because of the “Great Commission.” But there are a few more GREATS needed.

1.  We may do missions “because” of the “Great Commission.” But

2.  The Great Commission is simply application of the “Great Commandment.” But

3.  The Great Commandment is simply a summarization of the “Great Communication” (God’s Special Revelation). But

4.  The Great Communication is simply the literary form of the “Great Creation” (Referring to God’s revelations in physical creation, in narrative creation, in self-disclosure). But

5.  The Great Creation is the artifacts and observed behavior of God our “Great Christ.” (In this case, Christ is used, utilizing the ‘C’, to described God as the one who reigns.)

Anyone who stops at the Great Commission, has stopped way too early.

 

Getting our Priorities Straight

I’ve been doing some more research on authoritarian religions, both classic “cults” and Christian groups that utilize “cultic” practices. While there are notable, and welcome, exceptions, so many of the resources available are from people (some as part of organizations and some as not) who have left these authoritarian groups and have decided to reject (sometimes quite angrily) all religion (or at least theistic, organized religion).

One would assume (naively?) that religious people would be deeply concerned about groups that harm their membership, and have at least as much concern, if not more, for members of such groups. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

Why might this be. I don’t know. Let me suggest a few possible reasons:

1.  It may be easy for churches and church members to oppose some of the classically weird cults… but it is awkward to challenge churches or denominations that are doctrinely closer to home, while still utilizing authoritarian (cultic) methodologies. It is often easier to ignore, denigrate from a distance, or (and I have seen this remarkably) act as if such groups don’t exist.

2.  Christians/Christian groups that do challenge such groups tend to be more focused on apologetics then people. (At least it seems so to me).

3. There is a greater focus among many Christians on conversion (sudden change) rather than nurture, reconciliation, healing, sustaining, and liberation (typically much slower processes).

4.  Related to #3, Christians like to focus on “low hanging fruits.” We want people for whom we can evangelize and then (perhaps) disciple. But people from authoritarian cults, as well as Christian-based authoritarian groups, are difficult to convert since they are taught not to listen to “deceivers.” And those who leave cults are often turned off to religion and God in general.

5.  Christians (like most people) have trouble applying the Great Commandment. We are to love all people (including enemies). Members of groups that are hostile are easy to label as “the enemy.” Those that leave these groups often connect to groups that are (not surprisingly) anti-religious. As such they still seem like enemies. It is easier to hate or ignore enemies.

But what a shame! Those who are abused spiritually (religious abuse or other spiritual abuse) are certainly those in great need of help… of liberation. When we fail to do this, it is hardly surprising that such people (and the broader public) tend to label Christians with the same brush applied to authoritarian groups.

Of course, we need to be careful with labels anyway. Using the term “cult” for every group that we have issues with, can build barriers with both groups and their members. Additionally, I was raised in a church that described itself as “Fundamentalist” but wasn’t authoritarian (despite the fact that Fundamentalism is often described as being, by definition, authoritarian). There is a danger with being too quick to label, and an equal danger of applying characteristics carelessly to labels.

Demonstrating genuine love and care for all people regardless of the group they are with (whether that group is “for us” or “against us”) is a good start in helping people in need.