Posted on: July 18th, 2011 Breaking Down the “Gay Issue”

Are you trying to figure out what you think about how to respond to the challenge which our “progressive,” modern, enlightenment culture poses to the church in terms of the gay rights movement?

Here are three (of many) sub-issues which must be studied and mastered. I suggest that when these issues are understood (when it comes to dealing with this issue within the church, not in terms of our secular culture and our modern nation-state) the “gay issue” to some extent dissolves and vanishes.

1. The “buffered self” versus the “porous self.” See Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self and A Secular Age, and also here.

2. The rhetoric of individual, “human rights.” See Milbank’s article “Against Human Rights,” here.

3. The idolatrous, vicious character of market-driven determination of individual preference and identity construction. See William Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed. Cavanaugh is also interviewed by Ken Myers here (much recommended).

Note that all three sub-issues above presuppose, on the “revisionist” side, a commitment to liberal philosophical individualism.

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Posted on: July 13th, 2011 Soul Friends (Belonging before Believing)

I recently reviewed George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism.

The Celtic way of evangelism was all about bringing people into a new kind of community, through such practices as radical hospitality as well as “soul friends” (anamchara). Soul friends would engage the visitor or stranger in “the ministry of conversation,” and involvement in small groups of fellowship. In all these ways and more, the Celtic Christians practiced evangelism in a way which many “postmodern” Christians have come to embrace, that is, in recognition that many times “belonging precedes belief,” that before many people can begin to believe in Jesus, they must feel that they belong to a community of his followers.

This kind of evangelism, based in a ministry of hospitality, is (among other things) what we are doing in the Epiphany Community of Tyler.

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Posted on: July 13th, 2011 Review: The Celtic Way of Evangelism (II)

In the second half of the book Hunter turns his attention to the ways and means of Celtic evangelism, and how such strategies might inform the way the church of the 21st century does evangelism in a western culture which is increasingly “post-Christian” (even here in Tyler … recall the Tyler Rose Marathon which was scheduled last year on a Sunday morning, a civic decision inconceivable a mere decade ago).

Hunter focuses on various ways in which the great Celtic missionaries (specifically Patrick, Columba, Aidan, and Cuthbert) and their communities planted and nurtured the Gospel in their respective pagan mission fields.

First, the Celtic communication of the Gospel took very seriously the ethos of the Gospel communicator (be it St. Patrick or the larger community of Celtic Christians), the pathos of the receiving communities, and the logos of the Gospel message. Patrick himself set the standard for a compelling ethos by providing the “authentic sign” (a phrase coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson) of risking danger and personal loss. Aidan continued this authentic Gospel witness by his lifestyle of selfless giving and his complete disinterestedness in material security. Additionally, the unique pathos of the Celtic people shaped the way Patrick and his followers shaped the Gospel message. The indigenous emotional intensity of the Celtic peoples, as well as their sensual way of approaching life molded the ways in which Patrick and his followers embodied and presented of the truth of Christ, as witnessed in the vibrant poetry and art which flourished in Celtic Christian culture. The logos of the Gospel to the Celts included aspects of biblical truth which would resonate powerfully with the imaginative Celts. For example, the former slave Patrick frequently spoke of how Jesus is the “ransom” price used to “purchase” the freedom of slaves … a different emphasis than the more “Roman” stress upon guilt and innocence.

“I have decided, after long deliberation about the English people … that the idol temples of that race should by no means be destroyed, but only the idols in them. Take holy water and sprinkle it in these shrines, build altars and place relics in them. For if the shrines are well built, it is essential that they be changed from the worship of devils to the service of the true God. When the people see that their shrines are not destroyed they will be able to … [worship] the true God.”

This directive from St. Gregory the Great, sent to his missionaries in Canterbury in the 6th century, captures well (even though written by a “Roman” leader!) a second Celtic aspect of evangelism: the instinct to built upon, rather than to destroy, the religious instincts of the people to whom they were bringing the good news about Jesus Christ. Citing the examples of the Celtic fascination with the number three, their practice of human sacrifice accompanying their obsession with death, of their deep sense of the divine presence within nature Hunter clearly shows how the ancient missionaries to the Celts built upon, rather than simply dismissed, many of the deep seeded drives, desires, and instincts of the Celtic people.

Finally, Hunter imaginatively speculates about the “Celtic future of the Christian movement in the West.” The upshot of this part of the book is that the contemporary church in the West must seek to understand and to befriend “the host of New Barbarians [who] substantially populate the West once again.” As we do that, and as we creatively adapt the ways in which our ancient mothers and fathers incarnated the Gospel to an analogous people in an analogous age, we will, by the grace of God, see “tens of millions risk opening their hearts to the God who understands them.”

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Posted on: July 13th, 2011 Review: The Celtic Way of Evangelism (I)

George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism, published by Abingdon Press in 2000, builds on Thomas Cahill’s provocative How the Irish Saved Civilization, traces the roots of the establishment of the Celtic Church first among the Celts in Ireland by the Romanized Briton St. Patrick; then among the Picts in Scotland by the Celt St. Columba (using the monastic community of Iona as a missionary base); then among the newly arrived Angles and Saxons (think of the Rescript of Honorius, beginning the abandonment of Britain by the Roman military in 410) in now pagan England by St. Aidan (the monastery of Lindisfarne this time serving as the base of missionary operations). Finally, under the leadership of St. Columbanus, the Celtic way of practicing the faith was extended to many corners of the now “barbarianized” continent as well.

Unique features of the Celtic Church, according to Hunter, include the refusal to separate “lay people” and “clergy” for the purposes of doing ministry (resonating with Fr. David’s recent emphasis on the “grassroots origins” of the English Church and by extension of the Celtic Church); the wholistic nature of Celtic monasteries (they were more like cities, teeming with all sorts of economic, cultural, and religious activity, complete with families and children, as opposed to the standard picture of austerity and solitary reverence we get from more “Roman” monasteries); and the evangelistic practice of “belonging before believing.”

It is with this last feature of the Celtic Church (the idea that, both in the ancient world of the pagans as well as in our increasingly post-Christian world of the West, many people must belong to a community of Jesus followers before they are able to believe) that Hunter begins to apply the wisdom of this missionary movement to the (post)modern Western Church in our day.

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