What do you call it when you have one of those episodes that lasts a few hours - where an idea or concept emerges wth crystal clarity in a way that never did before, almost as though it were coming from outside yourself and not from within? A vision? An epiphany? A hyperactive brain? A transcendence? Whatever you want to call it, Mark had one this week. Long story short (which Mark shares long-form on the podcast), in a 12-hour window everything from name to location was unexpectedly birthed for a new gathering of people united not around a list of "We Believes" but around a wrestling with living out the ethics of Jesus in daily and weekly life. Don't miss the special announcement about The Alter coming this fall!
Then Mark sits down with superblogger Ryan Robinson - self-professed Anabaptist MennoNerd. They talk about pacifism - what it actually means and some common misconceptions; they talk about how churches are turning a corner on LGBT relationships and gay Christians; they talk about how truth is a person, not an idea or a set of proposals; they talk about how modernism and foundationalism has inhibited respecting and hearing the ideas and perspective of the other. Then Ryan shares some of his insights from the chapter of his book A Living Alternative about what the postmodern church needs to be in the 21st century: Jesus-centred, contextual, ecumenical, and unfoundational. Finally, he admonishes Jesus-followers to get on with the business of loving each other and seeing the value of every person.
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Notable Quotes from Ryan Robinson
"There are a lot of similarities between Canadian Baptists and a lot of Baptists in general and Anabaptists, but they are also different in some ways. but I do think it's fair to say that the Baptists set the stage especially with the central idea of Jesus as Lord. We're talking about a discipleship to the King Jesus, not just about a salvation exchange. And when you strip down what 'Anabaptist' means that's really what it comes down to: a heavy emphasis on discipleship to Jesus. It's following Jesus' teachings in a very practical way."
"When Jesus says to feed the poor, you actually go and feed the poor. When Jesus says to love your enemy, you actually go and love your enemy."
"A lot of other traditions haven't emphasized it in the same way - it has been either more about getting your doctrine lined up right or being a part of the right community or things like that instead. And a lot of those things can be very important, but, at least from the Anabaptists' perspective it all boils back down to interpret it through what it means to follow Jesus right now."
"Peace theology, which is not only 'do you not commit violence to your enemies' but you actually go out of your way to love them. So it's an active thing. 'Pacifist' doesn't come from 'being passive' it comes from 'to pacify' which is to make things clean, to fix things. So it's still a very active term; it's just active in a nonviolent way that honors your enemy's humanity as well as your own."
"I don't believe in passivism. I believe in radical enemy love."
"We all have a context whether we admit it or not. We might just think we are the pure objective ones and everybody else is biased by their context but we are not. in reality, we all are. And that's an important starting point: just admit what your biases are."
"Early on, some of my earlier blog posts on the topic [of LGBT] were like a lot of other stuff that you see about the topic - focused on whether or not Christians can be in a same-sex relationship or whether God would throw them in hell over that and of course some did not put it as bluntly as that - and I generally didn't either - but some did. And a lot of churches are still having the discussion primarily on those tones of whether it's right or wrong, and it's mostly usually straight people who are having the discussion. So I started out from that perspective and then, as is usually the case, my perspective started to shift when I actually knew some gay Christians."
"It's one thing to say that you don't think God blesses same-sex unions; I'm happy to say that's a disputable matter. It's something that's being wrestled with and I wouldn't try to tell anyone to go against their conscience and say that they support it when they don't or to force a pastor to do it when they don't support it or anything like that. So it's one thing to say that, but it's a completely different thing to not allow people to question that stance, especially those who actually have to deal with their own attractions - the ones who actually are affected by the decision. And it's especially not fair to say that it's a particular heinous sin in any way."
" I remember hearing Greg Boyd point out in a sermon once how at most - depending on your interpretation - there are six passages in the Bible that talk about homosexuality and there are 3000+ that talk about greed. And very rarely does the church condemn greed, and definitely not in the same blanket 'you're-going-to-hell' tones that we often talk about gay people. So there's a bit of an issue there just in terms of scale. Even if you're saying it's a sin, you still have to have a better sense of, 'Okay where does it fit in terms of what seems to be God's priorities throughout Scripture versus what's our priority now?' - which is highly politically charged."
"Wendy Gritter... basically argues for a position of seeing it as a disputable matter - where the people who are doing the disputing are the people who live with it. So again, not forcing pastors to do something against their conscience or telling them not to be clear about what they believe, but they just have to be - I would encourage them to be - more open to actually sit down and listen to what gay Christians have to say and listen to them as they wrestle with what they do with it. And some of them will decide to be celibate, and some of them won't. And there should be room for all of that to still exist within the church because we're all doing what we can to follow Jesus."
"...Even if you are sure that you're right about the theology about the right way to do evangelism or whatever, you still can be missing out on the truth, which is Jesus. Jesus said he is the truth, not the details of evangelism or what-have-you."
"The Western world for the bulk of the last 500 years primarily operated on this approach which is basically that you can know absolute truth as long as you go about the right process for getting there."
"Foundationalism just says you have a few foundational ideas and everything else builds up from there.... Some very good things came out of that approach like the Scientific Revolution.... It's not about dismantling that idea entirely. It becomes a problem when it's used as a way to shut down other people as a way to establish that you are better than them by virtue of being closer to the absolute truth. And it's particularly a problem because they are also thinking the same thing about you. So everybody is doing the same judgment of each other saying that each other is wrong about everything. And eventually we have to get to a point where we realize we can't both be completely right; just dismissing the other one doesn't really help."
"The modern framework of what you could mean by Jesus-centered would be very much that you have all of your ideas about Jesus correct. Whereas the postmodern framework would be much more about a personal knowing. We believe Jesus is resurrected; we believe Jesus is alive today; so we can personally know that Jesus.... So the postmodern drive is very much on getting past just having your facts right about Jesus, but also getting to know Jesus in a real practical way in your life."
"'Ecumenical' just means we need to listen to the entire church. Like Paul says in I Corinthians 12, we can't continue to just say I don't need you, too - the rest of the church that we don't agree with. I can't just write off the Catholics and the Orthodox and the Anglicans and the Pentecostals and everything. We need to actually stop and say, 'Hey, maybe you're providing something to the body here and that's valuable something that I can learn from."
"Modernism very much was a splintering movement. It cut us up into a lot of different denominations. We went from one denomination for the first thousand years to two in the next 500 to about 6000 today I think. So a big part of what it means in the postmodern era is to get back together and be listening to those other voices and be reminded that we're part of the same thing."
"I'm primarily speaking to those like us who hold a lot of the traditional power demographics in our culture: white, male, straight, middle-to-upper class. We often tend to think that we don't really have a context - that our context is just the default or the neutral. To cite one of my professors Pam Holmes at Queens, she pointed out that if we just use the phrase 'theology' we usually mean that it's being done by people like us: white, male, straight, middle- to-upper-class, probably Protestant, either European or North American. And then if we want to talk about anybody else doing theology, they're allowed, but we add an adjective to it: it's 'black' theology, it's 'feminist' theology, it's 'Catholic' theology.... It betrays the way that we assume that we are the default."
"There's nothing wrong with there being different ways; it's actually a beautiful thing once you learn how to dialogue with those other ways - to learn that there's some things about my being white or being male or whatever that's probably resulted in harmful theologies and there's probably some other ones that have resulted in good theologies. But I'm never going to learn that unless I sit and listen to other contexts as well."
"In one sense I would still say that theology is foundational, but the foundation isn't a proposition or a set of propositions; it's not about intellectual assent to something. The foundation instead is a living obedience to Jesus - to Jesus as King now and forever. Which, that opens up freedom to debate things like what we used to consider foundations. So some churches might have considered biblical inerrancy a foundation previously... and that to me is something that is very open for debate; that's something we should be able to say, 'Hey, we're all doing our best to follow Jesus, so, okay, what do you think about inerrancy?'"
"A Christian is one who looks like Christ. That's what it theoretically is supposed to mean. Generally speaking, I'm happy to say that kind of answer when we're talking in the abstract. Practically though, if we start talking about individual people, for the most part I'm just going to say, 'If you call yourself a Christian, I'm going to call you a Christian.' And that just comes back a lot to the idea of judgment. Even with that definition - that a Christian is one who looks like Jesus - I'm not really in the place to make that kind of black and white judgment over you."
"I think that really should be the starting point for how Christians interact with each other: if you're doing that together, continue to remember that God-image bearing of every single person, Christian or not. In the end, that goes a long way to be able to keep those differences in the right place. There are differences, they're worth talking about, but they are completely peripheral to the big stuff. Jesus' great command was love God and love neighbour. That's where our focus should be."
Next Week, Episode 19:
Dr. Helen Noh, Head of Department of Psychology (Tyndale UC & Seminary)