Posted by: jadanzzy | February 4, 2008

Faith

This weekend I went down to St. Petersburg, Florida for the Southeast Regional Emergent Conference. The theme surrounding the conference was “A Sustainable Faith.” Keynote speakers and breakout speakers included the likes of Tim Keel, Shane Claiborne, Frank Viola, Spencer Burke, Troy Bronsink, and Danielle Shroyer.

Overall there were some ups and downs, some paradigmatic shifts along with crystallizations of past convictions. In general, it was a great time where I met fantastic people, heard fantastic things, and enjoyed fantastic weather. There I realized that the words “emergent/emerging church” are actually becoming somewhat of a poison and a thorn in the sides of many people. It was also refreshing to see that the speakers don’t all agree with each other, sometimes even vehemently so. However, two events marked the high peaks of the weekend:

Shane Claiborne (the reluctant Christian celebrity that he is now) takes the gospel I had known, then grabs it and wrings its neck, throwing it to the ground. Then he steps on it and only then does he say, “Let’s think about this again, together.” At this point, I had to re-examine my faith and its purposes. I felt I had to surrender and kill the “Personal Savior Gospel” once and for all: Jesus did not die for the mere purpose of saving our souls from hell but for our entire lives, our systems, our environment and so much more. It was terribly hard for me to listen to what he was sharing. To re-learn that the Gospel message really isn’t sin management.

My last night in Florida, I got to spend the post-conference downtime with several of the guys who put the conference together. Among them was Spencer Burke, who is a big voice in the “emerging” conversation. I’ll say it now: this informal gathering was the best part of the whole weekend. We drove down to Treasure Island at dark and ate at a restaurant right on the beach. There we spent a long time discussing theology (or the lack thereof), and life. After the dinner, we went outside to the water at around 10:30 pm. It was chilly, dark, wonderful – six guys sharing one moment in the face of the vast ocean and endless nighttime sky.

And that moment settled it. I will never figure God out, but neither will any scholar or school of thought. My perspective is just as valid as theirs, and it is as faulty. I came to this realization when Spencer explained the name of his collaborative website project, aptly named “THE OOZE.” Through this website, people are free to voice their thoughts, opinions and ideas about journeying with God. When I asked why he chose that name, he compared the properties of mercury with the nature of God: just as it is impossible for mercury to be pinned down by any finger or object, it is impossible for man to pin God down with thought. Despite our very best efforts to contain him, God will always ooze from the boxes we’ve created to put Him in. That is why Jesus is a beauty and a mystery to me, and it is in this mystery that I will revel. I will fight to refuse any adherence to any particular brand of theology. And as God continues to establish His kingdom on the earth, I will join him in seeking grace and love, justice and equity, the redemption and restoration of humanity.

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Responses

  1. Amen, Dan! I will be wrestling with all the stuff this conference put into my head for a long time. I also enjoyed the last night on the beach (after the “exciting” trip there). It reminded me that restricted theology can be like playing in a sand box on the beach. While we do find pieces of God in the sand box, we only get a narrow, limited understanding. I hear God inviting us to step out of the sand box, run down the beach, put our toes into the water and stare at the stars that are too numerous to count. Talking with Spencer really made me aware that we must resist “hanging out in the sand box”. Think about this: I have never seen a sand box that has been able to effectively keep all the sand in – it always finds a way to “ooze” out…

  2. Thanks jadanzzy.

    I’m like, oddly, very proud of you or something. it’s weird.

    this echoes a thought of mine that i’ve been kinda wondering about for the past few weeks:

    “Bad theology does not preclude good Christianity”

    and i guess what constitutes “bad theology” (as well as “good Christianity”) is extremely wide in its potential meaning/implication but i kinda know what i mean when i say it and more and more i believe it.

    and also, i’m not saying that pursuing theology is bad.

  3. really enjoyed this post. wish i could have been there, but am very happy that you were able to go.

  4. dan,

    thanks for taking the time to hang out. it was great getting to know you and your passion to question, listen and push back.

    keep oozing,
    spencer

  5. this sounds like an amazing time! I would have loved to be there.

    I am so glad that the final takeaway was that you would never really figure everything out. I really admire people who can readily admit to know just one thing, that they can’t know EVERY thing.

  6. I like it too. It’s the infinity of God, the mind-blowing nature itself that we should sometimes just stop trying to articulate and theologize. It’s a great exercise to attempt it, and to approximate His infinite self in the various lenses that we can glean from Scripture, from circumstances, from our encounters with the Spirit.

    And isn’t it that mystery that gives rise to more faith? Isn’t it the unfathomable nature of His majesty that causes us to dare and to dream and to hope and have faith?

    And perhaps one day, in the glory to come, God will NOT ooze. Though we will not be able to contain Him, it’s exciting to look forward to a day when glory is revealed and we’re confronted with His infinite personhood.

    For now we know in part, but then we shall know in full.

  7. Dan,

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your story here. These are some really great thoughts, and some tough things with which to wrestle.

    I’m glad to hear that you had the opportunity to connect on a personal level with others outside of the formal bounds of the conference. Makes me think sometimes that we should schedule conferences without an actual schedule — those “outside” times are often the best anyways!

    I appreciate your struggle with the “personal savior gospel.” I mean, how many of us heard the well-intentioned but kind of misleading idea that Jesus would have died for us even if we were the only people on earth? The kingdom of God is such a grander story than that, and the truly amazing thing about grace is that we get to be a part of what God is doing.

    It’s mind-boggling how controversial this idea can be in some circles — never mind the fact that most of them are praying for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven most every week. Sin management is simple, direct and quantifiable. The kingdom of God, not so much.


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