10) (De)Constructing Our Gospels | Gene Tempelmeyer

Quick! When I say, "Gospel," you think... what? In this episode, Mark explores what we're talking about when we're talking about "the gospel." Whether you’re a Christian or Muslim or agnostic or anything else, when you hear the word "gospel," you likely have a version in mind - a version that you've either accepted or rejected. But one thing is certain: you probably don't think you don't know what it means. Said another way, you probably assume you know what the Christian gospel is.

Before we can have any sort of confidence in an assertion we propose, we need to see if our assertion can stand up to scrutiny. We don’t deconstruct for the sake of destroying. We deconstruct for the sake of reconstructing.

So - what was "the gospel" when Jesus said it? And what was "my gospel" when St. Paul said it? And what was the gospel the way Abraham understood it and the way Christians at the end of the first century talked about it? Because my gospel - whatever it is - needs to sound as closely as possible like Jesus' gospel and like every early Jesus-follower who talked about it: liberation for the poor and the oppressed; everyone invited into the tent; God's favour lavished on all; terrible news for people who held the reigns of power and kept exclusive gates; great news for the people who were pushed out and away by structures of privilege.

Then Mark sits down with Gene Tempelmeyer - accomplished artist and storied pastor with a 40-year career in leading churches. Gene shares some thoughts on why Spring Garden Church is getting demographically younger and talks about the value of children. Then Mark and Gene talk about the current confluence in contemporary churches, from liturgical to experiential to word-centred; about the unique opportunity presented to the church by postmodernism; about how to keep "gospel" historically grounded; the need to strip away our personal constructs; how one can stand in the "Jesus-tent" and learn about Jesus from people of different faiths; the philosophy that guides Gene's painting; and how Toronto is the future of church models for the world.

Check out Gene's art here: GKTart.com.

Check out Spring Garden Church here: http://springgardenchurch.ca.

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Notable Quotes from Gene Tempelmeyer:

"It was in dealing with that brokenness that I had a living encounter with God at the age of sixteen that was as transformative for me as Paul's experience on the road to Damascus."

 "Somewhere in the middle of that service I prayed my first real prayer and I said, 'I don't even know if you exist, God. But if you do, I need help.' And that simple prayer changed my life."

 "I truly believe that it's a sign of the Kingdom of God when kids, who have very little to offer - they can't put anything in the offering plate, they don't have deep profound insights - but they're nevertheless loved and celebrated and show us the goodness of God... I really think that's a sign of the Kingdom of God."

"We [at Spring Garden Church] really value openness, we really value relationships - we don't want to be slick; we want to be real."

"What makes you part of it is not that you've bought into a certain system of thought or certain way of behaving but that you're trying to move toward the centre point, which is Jesus. That anyone who's moving in that centre point is welcome in the community and in the conversation and in the journey.... We don't necessarily see things the same way, we don't necessarily experience God the same way, but what we share in common is this desire to be close to Jesus in the way we live and the way we think."

"I had really three very different sources that were working together: one highly liturgical and sacramental, one very experiential, and one very word-based, and I think that I always was kind of pulled in all three of those directions and felt like you couldn't just be one."

"Of course, the more you learn, the more you find out you don't know and the more you realize that other people in a of different ways have things to say that you need to pay attention to."

 "For me, I think that my basic understanding of [postmodern thought] is that we all are in a context. And we think that our context is normative. We don't really have a sense of how our context defines us and shapes the way that we think. And that includes language - language is just a major part of our culture and there are all kinds of assumptions in the way that we speak. And the same reality is described by differently by different people in different contexts, and if you really want to get to what is real and what is true, you have to strip away all of the context, all of the construction that has been built, all of the scaffolding of thought and language that has been built. Which is somewhere between extremely hard to do and impossible to do."

"The more that you can stand back and look at what you think and believe, identifying what parts of that come out of the construction of your life and your history and your culture, the closer you can get to what's actually real and true and good."

"When I encounter your construct which is a little different from mine, it helps me recognize, 'Ok, well, that's maybe not what's real. That's just part of my construct.' And it helps me get down to what's basically there."

"The problem is this: there's no correct verbalization of absolute truth. So as soon as I begin talking about something, I'm already applying my construct. As soon as I begin talking about God, I'm applying my construct to God. And that helps, because it allows me to talk to you about it, but I need to be aware that God is more than my construct. And that ethics are more complicated than my construct."

"The God that I experience is beyond words, and in that sense the God that I experience is beyond Christianity."

"There have been a handful of times when I have in the course of my ministry intentionally stripped away everything I believed to rebuild it. Because I wanted to know, 'What is it you really believe? What's primary? What's foundational?' And that's a scary process because what if you strip that all away and you've been working as a pastor all your life and suddenly you realize, 'My gosh, I don't believe any of it!' Where does that leave you? But when I've stripped it all away, I've come down to this one thing I was never able to get away from. And that is that I so much admire and love the Jesus of Nazareth that I meet in the four gospels."

"All of the ideals that I've ever had in my life going back to before I was a Christian... those ideals are most perfectly contained in this man Jesus of Nazareth. And I can't get away from him."

"What I want to encourage people to do is to encounter some of the stories in the gospels and ask, 'What if this person [Jesus] were really here?'"

 "The gospel works on its own. I don't have to make it work. I just have to be there to get people started on the journey."

"If you ask me the question, 'What is the gospel to you?' I would say, because the centre of my faith is Jesus, 'What was the gospel to Jesus?'"

 "The world may look like a mess but God is at work in all of the mess of this world and he's at work in all of the mess of your life. What would that look like for God to take charge?"

 "I don't think it matters whether you're a musician or a painter or a sculptor or a poet or a weaver - you're really trying to say something about what is real. And helping people to see what is real."

 "I think that God is in the equation E=mc2. Everything that is is kind of an illusion. And everything in the material world, at least, as solid and stable as it looks is really quivering energy. That's all it is. So what I try to paint is quivering energy. So when I'm painting a portrait of you, what I want to paint is that energy that constitutes you."

"I would say that the church in Toronto has got at this point in time the most astounding opportunity to embrace diversity that I think the church has had anytime anywhere. And that most churches... are overlooking that opportunity." 

 "[Diversity] is an opportunity to deepen faith in a really profound way because every time faith encounters a new construct, a new context, it refines itself."

"I find it ironic that a lot of people who have too little faith to think that their faith can survive some input are the people who think that I don't have any faith at all. But I think that Christianity thrived in the Roman empire because it was a place of such incredible diversity. And even when you look at the 12 people that Jesus drew around him - there was incredible diversity there."

"[Jesus] grew up in the context of a very defined faith system and he said, 'You know, we've gotta open this system up; we've gotta find new ways of thinking about this. Your fathers said this to you, but I'm saying to you it goes deeper than that.'"

"Toronto is the future of the world. Churches are finding their models in the United States because there's... a big Evangelical population base there. But really, those models are fifteen or twenty years behind where Toronto is now. It's insane to be using those models in Toronto churches. We need to be developing models for American churches. Because cities like Chicago and LA and Nashville and Memphis and Little Rock, Arkansas, and Austin, Texas - those places are going to continue to become more and more diverse, ethnically, culturally, religiously, and so on. And this is a perfect laboratory to study how that can work in the church and how we can make it happen."

 "I would love to have dialogue with people in the mosque and in the Buddhist temple and in the synagogue, and I would still stand in the tent with Jesus because that's the tent that I'm in, and I would still listen - I would still want them to understand why I believe that Jesus is a source of life, the source of life.... But I would also think that there were things I could learn from them that would help me develop my spirituality and my understanding of the life that I find in Jesus. They're not the enemy."

Next Week, Episode 11 >

Guest: Eric Frans, CRFE - Director of Philanthropy at World Relief Canada