“(I)s the Christian view of the world to be optimistic or pessimistic? If it is essentially evil, then creation is to be beaten into submission to the will of God. If it is good, then it is to be worked with and honoured as something sacramental, in which we can see the hand of the one who created it. If a pessimistic view is taken, then the church is an ark into which to drag as many souls as possible so that they may be saved from the final bonfire. If the view taken is optimistic, then the church prays that God’s Kingdom ‘may come on earth as it is in heaven’, and co-operates with nature.” (emphasis added)
—John Finney, in “Recovering The Past – Celtic and Roman Mission.”
It is interesting to me that, though Jesus taught us to pray the Kingdom of God would come, he didn’t explain what that is supposed to look like so that we would recognize it when we see it, or so that we could pray specifically about what exactly should come. This does not sit well with many evangelicals who have mistakenly been taught that 1 Peter 3:15 means that we need to know all the answers – and many Christians act as if they do. In fact, I remember reading a survey asking people what they find most objectionable about Christians. One of the top answers was that Christians tend to be know-it-alls. That would certainly be one of my answers – yes, I find many of my own tribe annoying – and I’ve been guilty of it myself. The evangelical answer to the question of what Jesus meant when he told us to pray “thy kingdom come” is that we should pray for the “second coming”. This is rooted in the evangelical mentality that we need to “get saved”, and get others saved, so that we can, as N.T. Wright puts it, “go to heaven when we die”, as if there’s nothing more going on in between. This mindset misses the point of our creation, our calling as Sons and Daughters, redemption (See Romans 8:20-22), and the whole will and the purposes of God. I look forward to the return of Jesus, but I’m convinced that’s not what he meant when he taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”
There is lots and lots of mystery about God, and about His Kingdom. How could it be otherwise? He is Eternal, and we are less than a speck in a vast universe, itself fully holdable and observable by an omnipresent Creator of All Things. And yet, to some, mystery is uncomfortable. I wrote in my last blog about finding the Imago Dei in all things. One example of the Imago Dei that I see in post-modernism as a world view is the childlike delight many of the “spiritual-not-religious” express toward Mystery. In that, they have some fellowship with their Creator, even if they couldn’t say it that way. They are, I think, many steps ahead of believers who chafe against that same Mystery, and who see nothing redeemable about post-modernism (Side note: Just as a world view such as post-modernism is not all bad, so our current expression of Christianity’s not the best one possible. We are living in a post-Christian age. Rather than bemoan that fact, we ought to rejoice in it and see it as an opportunity to re-examine ourselves and our Christian praxis).
So what are we to know about the Kingdom of God? The subject is bigger than the universe, in fact, it is infinite. But I can give a simple illustration with a typical encounter from my ministry; A woman, not a Jesus follower, comes into the ministry tent, and we find she is being held back from growing spiritually by resentment against her mother. She is not willing to forgive her. Through addressing other, peripheral wounded places in her soul, she finally completely forgives her mother. A piece of the Kingdom has come into her life.
Upon hearing a story like this (I, and others like me, have hundreds of them), a regular church goer will likely ask, “But did you get them to accept Christ?”, only without question intonation – it is meant more as a statement than a question.
In his book, “The Celtic Way Of Evangelism”, George G. Hunter III points out the difference between evangelization by the Roman bishops, and that of the Celtic saints. The Romans considered the Barbarians, which included the Celts, to be “unreachable”; when they did attempt to evangelize them, their efforts involved first getting them “civilized” enough to receive the Gospel. The Celtic saints were very different. Many of them were indigenous with the Celts, or at least had lived among them, as St. Patrick did. Their usual method was to build a monastery in the midst of their neighbors, then simply interact naturally with them. They served them in whatever ways they could. Eventually, their neighbors would find the monks’ way of life to be worthwhile and would become Jesus followers themselves. Sometimes it took a long time, but the Celts were eventually successful in bringing all of Great Britain – Celts, Angles, Saxons, Picts, Jutes, and Britons -to faith in Christ. They had an impact on the mainland as well, apparently all the way to Asia Minor. The Romans, on the other hand, did what is normally recognized as evangelizing to this day – they preached at them, and/or tried to change their culture, which has been a common and regrettable mistake in missions throughout Christian history. They were not nearly as successful, at least not initially, among the “Barbarians”. Also, the Celtic saints really didn’t have much doctrine or have much use for it. Doctrine may be important but you can’t indoctrinate people into faith. In contrast to the Romans, the Celts were a poetic, emotional, passionate people. As pagans, they loved, and probably worshipped, the natural world. Once they became Christians, they continued to place a high value on nature and in their poetry, recognized the hand of their Creator in the creation. Wisely, the saints realized there wasn’t necessarily anything to be gained by scrubbing clean everything about the existing culture.
Although it’s hard to know exactly the methodology used by the Celtic evangelists, since they resisted writing, it appears that the methods used today by what John Finney calls “the new evangelists”, which include myself and my fellows, resembles that used by them. We like to go to festivals, especially “transformational festivals”. Hunter refers to our post modern culture as turning toward “neo-barbarism”. I confess I rather like that, and I identify as such without abandoning civility completely, I hope. So I’m a natural fit at these festivals. We set up our camp among the others. Our mentality is not that we are the Christians come to “save” the heathen. It is that we are festival people, indigenous with that culture, and as Jesus followers, we are there to serve our neighbors. We hope we can bring something of the Kingdom into the lives of individuals and into the micro-community we find ourselves in as well, and we invariably do so. We hope that our neighbors will see something in us that they want and that they will be influenced by us. We in turn allow ourselves to be influenced by them, by recognizing the Imago Dei that they necessarily possess, and which, maybe, we lack. But if and when any of them ever choose to “convert”, which we are prepared to walk them through, that will be 100% their choice. That is what Honor looks like. God himself honors our choices; free will is, I believe, God’s greatest gift to us, because without that, neither love nor grace is possible. Why would we treat anyone any differently?
“(I)s the Christian view of the world to be optimistic or pessimistic? If it is essentially evil, then creation is to be beaten into submission to the will of God. If it is good, then it is to be worked with and honoured as something sacramental, in which we can see the hand of the one who created it.”
—John Finney, in “Recovering The Past – Celtic and Roman Mission.”
I came to faith in Jesus in 1979 at age twenty four. My spiritual journey from that point was rooted in evangelicalism, first in a baptist church, but the first church I was really involved in was much more Charismatic. I was placed in a leadership role, which is to say the pastor attempted to remake me in his own image. He was Calvinist, and trained me in that way. So, like most evangelicals, I developed a strong sin consciousness. My radar was tuned to immediately pick up not only sin, but that even more dastardly enemy, heresy.
Many, many years I continued in that state, until I came across a monthly newsletter that a friend of mine subscribed to (newsletters still came in the mail in those days) which was filled with four pages of various heresies du jour. I devoured that newsletter and subscribed to it myself.
After several months, I began to get uneasy. All this ministry did was sniff out what they considered to be heresies. Besides the fact that some of the beliefs or practices they found heretical I found to be biblical, I began to wonder; in the day we all stand before God, will this fault finding be accounted to them as good fruit?
It’s strange to me now to think that it took me so long to see the parallel between such a mindset and that of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. But that was not the end of my sin consciousness. It continued for many more years. It began to crumble around 2006 and the dismantling picked up speed when I began doing formal evangelism the following year. I had already begun to see that identifying and pointing out faults in others was not helpful. I began to be exposed to people who believed what is, for Jesus people, possibly the most inarguable truth about humanity – that we are all created in the image of our Maker – and their approach to evangelism was to identify what looks like God, whether in individuals, communities, institutions, etc., and focus on it. Because what you focus on, you magnify. If you focus on the negatives in your spouse, they will multiply. If you focus on the positives, they will multiply.
That which looks like God, in an individual etc., is called the Imago Dei – the image of God. There is nothing under the sun which does not carry something of the Imago Dei, even if it’s only a speck, even if I can’t see it – and if I can’t, perhaps there’s something wrong with my “eyes”.
The “total depravity” of man taught by Calvinists had completely dissipated from my belief system. What a relief to learn that I myself am not totally depraved!
I have just finished listening to a YouTube Christian radio program featuring several people who have either been to or are interested in the phenomenon of “transformational festivals”, like Burning Man. As someone who ministers in those settings, I found it pretty refreshing. They are truly seeking to understand everything they could about the subject, and they actually know a lot. They were generous and loving in their remarks about the events themselves and about the people who attend. Even so, there were those vestiges of the evangelical sin consciousness evident in their language.
I understand fully how deeply ingrained these attitudes are, so I have no desire to be critical of those people. My purpose in mentioning it is that I wish, hope, and pray that we can break the habit. It has always been the offspring of a bad theology, which I myself have only escaped through grace. But it is more crucial to shed this baggage, which generations before us have laid on our well-meaning shoulders, at this very exciting, post-modern, post-Christian time in history. As Jesus followers (and, sad to say, not all Christians are Jesus followers), we have much to offer a rapidly changing world. But not if we keep trying, even inadvertently, to lay burdens on people we ourselves have failed to bear. Therefore, we must first unburden ourselves.
“(I)s the Christian view of the world to be optimistic or pessimistic?” If we have any trust in God at all, optimism can be the only answer, and the world, and people in it, we must treat with honor, and we must recognize the hand of their Creator in them. Trust me, it is there. It is always there.
I’d like to say something today about the nature of Truth. It’s been a source of frustration to me that truth is something that needs to be explained at all. It’s very simple, but it’s debated by great minds even going back to ancient times. Actually, that fact is one of the things that caused me to be disillusioned about philosophy, which, for a brief period in my young life, I really enjoyed. Why the strenuous debate?
Very simply, truth is what is. It is independent of what anyone thinks or believes. I can fully understand strenuous, ongoing debate over what is true, and over our ability and means for discovering truth. But as for the truth itself, nothing could be simpler. The well-worn parable about the blind men and the elephant says nothing about the nature of truth; it only describes the problem with perspective. Despite the various perspectives of the blind men who all encountered the elephant differently, the truth is, there is an elephant.
In order to learn what is true, I need to value the truth more than anything else – more than any preferred conclusions, for example. Today, we have done so much damage to the notion of truth, thanks in part to a corrupt academia that takes strange comfort in materialism and relativism, that very many people don’t know what it is, though they may talk about it all the time. Beliefs and opinions are formed according to the world we prefer rather than what is. This is tragic.
The search for truth often starts with a premise. If the premise is wrong, but I am objective, meaning, I have no agenda but to know “what is”, hopefully I can discover what’s wrong with the premise and change it. If I am committed to the premise, insisting on into matter what, I will no doubt find “facts” to substantiate it. As someone has said, you can proves anything with “facts”. Anything you like.
Naturalism in science is an example of this. Naturalism is defined as “a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted.” Proponents of naturalism claim that allowing for supernatural causes allows for superstition to be used to account for certain phenomena. There may be some truth to this, though the history of science has demonstrated otherwise. But that’s beside the point. It has never been demonstrated that there are no supernatural causes. If there are such causes, then this is a flawed premise and can’t help but lead to incomplete or even wrong conclusions.
Statements like that always lead to an outcry from materialists and I’m not going to enter into a debate on that subject as I’ve done many times in the past. I offer it as an example. My real motivation for writing this article has to do with far more ridiculous examples from my own tribe. I am a Christian. False premises based on religious legalism and literalism have led to some very bizarre beliefs, held with militaristic fervor, that are actually destructive to the cause of Christ.
I recently had an argument on social media with several Christians who believe in geocentrism – that the sun orbits the earth – that the earth is flat, that the moon produces its own light and that the planets are wandering stars, and NASA is nothing but a huge conspiracy to fool us all (to what end, I don’t know). Presumably (we didn’t get into this, so I am assuming), the universe is a few thousand years old.
Why do they believe this? Because, in their minds, that’s what the Bible says, and to not believe everything it says 100% literally means you are without faith and are offending God. Actually, they are more than literal; they are extra-literal. You see, Pharisaism never went away. The Pharisees were so intent on keeping the Mosaic law that they invented their own laws which went beyond the Mosaic law. For instance, their law forbade cooking a young animal in its mother’s milk. In order to avoid breaking that law unintentionally, they would not allow dairy of any form to be placed in any utensil in which meat was used. One rationale for geocentrism that I was confronted with was the story in the Book of Joshua in which Joshua asked God to make the sun stand still, which God did. How could the sun be made to stand still unless the sun revolves around the earth?
Have you ever had someone completely misspeak something they were trying to say, but you didn’t correct them because you knew exactly what they were saying? Is there a single praying person in the world that hasn’t seen that God often does not answer our prayers exactly as we asked? These are not stupid people I’m talking about. What leads to such nonsense? It can be nothing but fanaticism, with maybe some elitism grown in the same culture.
I’ve spoken many times about the fact that, as an evangelist, one of my biggest obstacles is the bad behavior of other Christians. Non-Christians see that and say, “Nope, I don’t want any part of that god”. And I don’t either. I haven’t brought it up much, but stupid beliefs like these, and more, by people who are not stupid is another obstacle. As a Christian, it’s extremely embarrassing.
Consider the following two scenarios. The first one is completely true. The second is typical of countless, undoubtedly numbering in the billions, of encounters that have occurred throughout the history of Christendom.
Scenario 1: Na’aman (not his real name) came into our ministry tent at a festival in the UK. Na’aman was an atheist who was deeply troubled and hoped we could help. We told Na’aman that we would be calling on our Creator for wisdom so that we could help him. Though he was an atheist, he was ok with that. We did not suggest to him that he needed to acknowledge the Creator. He got some serious and very visible healing for some very painful emotional wounds. Over the course of the remainder of the festival, it was obvious he was experiencing a peace that he had not possessed previously.
Months later, I was at the Burning Man festival in the U.S. On a brilliant, hot morning, I was shocked and delighted to see Na’aman walking across the playa in my direction. He had found me! No easy feat at a festival of 70,000! We talked for a long time about a lot of things. Na’aman’s life had changed. His relationships with others had changed. He was at peace. I talked to him briefly about my Creator. I didn’t preach at him or push him to do anything. We had a big hug, and he went his way, promising to stay in touch.
Scenario two: A man is approached on the street by two others. Pleasant conversation occurs, but the man wonders what these two men want. Soon, the two begin talking about Jesus. The first man is polite, but on guard, because he knows from experience what is coming. Sure enough, the two men begin to press for some sort of acknowledgment about the things they are telling him. The first man politely thanks the two, says he will keep their suggestions in mind, extracts himself from the encounter, and goes his way. Or, in a variation of this scenario, the two become belligerent and the first man becomes angry.
In one of these scenarios, a seed was planted. In the other, a wall was built.
In his book, “The Celtic Way Of Evangelism”, George G. Hunter III writes: “Bluntly stated, the Roman model for reaching people…is this: (1) present the Christian message; (2) invite them to decide to believe in Christ and become Christians; (3) if they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship. The Roman model seems very logical to us because most American Christians are scripted by it! We explain the gospel, they accept Christ, and we welcome them into the church. Presentation, decision, assimilation —what could be more logical than that?”
Hunter goes on to contrast this with what he calls “the Celtic model”, which he attributes to the early Celtic saints beginning with St. Patrick: “(T)he…Celtic model for reaching people: (1) establish community with people or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith; (2) within fellowship, engage in conversation, ministry, and worship; and (3) in time, as they discover that they now believe, invite them to commit.”
I personally prefer and even more light handed approach than Hunter seems to describe. I try follow as closely as I know how the example set by Jesus himself, who was seemingly aloof and hands off (by Roman and evangelical standards – in other words, by those of Christendom), always leaving the choice to the individual. Operating under this model, it’s not unusual to see people doing Kingdom work alongside believers before they actually come forward to state that they, too, believe. I don’t ever want to be accused of “selling” Christianity, or of pushing anyone into making a decision. I just want to do the best I can, poor as that attempt may be, to be Jesus to others.
It’s frustrating and extremely difficult to explain to traditional church people that, by far, the biggest obstacle to people coming to Jesus is the way the church has behaved toward those on the outside, and this includes the way the Gospel, or Good News, is communicated, which seldom sounds like good news at all. I once had a witch tell me that, though the group I was part of (which was ministering in Salem, MA – witch city USA) was cool, we were not the church. He then pointed to a street preacher with a bullhorn about a block away who was yelling at people, and said, “THAT is the church!” It’s heartbreaking to have to try to overcome a lifetime of negative experiences in the heart of a non-Christian when you represent such a tiny minority of believers.
We are living in a post-Christian society, for a lot of reasons, perhaps, but one reason is that Christendom has made itself irrelevant. It’s troubling and embarrassing to me that for most of its history, the Church has not behaved like Jesus did. I used to think just like the Church I am now finding fault with, and I remember being troubled that Jesus was terrible at “closing the deal”; Why didn’t Jesus ever lead anyone to Christ?? He was a terrible evangelist! That is how I thought, because that is how I was taught. Hunter attributes this mindset to Western logical thinking.
It’s refreshing today to see so many believers moving toward a more Jesus-like approach to Kingdom living. Within the institutional hierarchy of the church, though some leaders are recognizing the rightness of this, most of them are finding it very hard to make the switch completely. That is because hierarchy, as we understand it, is contrary to any genuine expression of the Kingdom. But that’s a subject for another blog post.
I welcome all comments, especially those who may take issue with my remarks.
I just got home last night after two weeks in the UK where I took part in an outreach at Burning Nest, a Burning Man affiliated transformational festival. This was my third time at Nest and I’ve been overwhelmingly pleased by the fruit of each of those outreaches. Each year, anyone who happened to be on the team made many genuine friends and were able to provide deep insight and even healing to many of our fellow “Nesties”. Through social media, we’ve been able to continue those friendships throughout the year.
I can say with confidence that this year was the best so far. And the only credit I can take for that fact is for inviting Papy Fisher and his Desanka team to come with me. Papy and his team of (mostly) young people are veterans at festival ministry and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with them at several different outreaches. They are skilled at helping to build and run large festivals, then provide hospitality to festival goers, mostly, but not limited to, feeding them good food. After a few years of seeing this in action, I decided after last year’s Nest that I never want to do anther festival without providing some serious hospitality. So I mentioned it to Papy. I was intending to twist his arm if necessary, but I knew it wouldn’t be. So Papy, Jake, Micheal, Jordan and Alycia (Smurfette, since she was the only female on the team, plus she has blue skin. Ok, she doesn’t have blue skin) came to Nest!
Their plan was to serve a great breakfast for free to whoever wanted it. This was an ambitious plan. Think about it – how do you take the necessary equipment for such a thing on an overseas flight? Well, you don’t. We borrowed canopy tent and chairs , but other than that, we had to buy or build whatever equipment we needed, plus the food! We bought two table top gas burners and a gas grill, and the three propane tanks to fuel them. We bought pots, pans, buckets, washtubs, and utensils. We built four work surfaces totaling about 19 feet long. We bought peppers, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, fruit, coffee, milk sugar, bacon, ham and sausage by the van full (We had to rent a van and a passenger vehicle), and over 700 eggs!. We got up early and worked for hours feeding festival goers. Why? Because sharing food with people is a very intimate thing to do, and because it’s one of the most loving ways to serve others, which is probably why Jesus did it. Ok, we didn’t do it quite like he did. Maybe next year! But because of our efforts, folks hung out with us throughout the entire festival, which resulted in even deeper friendships. We had a lot of fun too.
But before we could serve in that way, the festival had to be built. A lot of work goes into setting up an event like that. In the previous two years, we worked hard with the build crew. Last year, Mr. Jeff and I worked long hours for 3+ days helping to set up. We got to know the others who were on the “build” team. This year, the Desanka folks worked so hard that those organizing the build came looking for us whenever any hard work was needed. We got to know and love the others on the build crew.
Unlike nearly every other such outreach, there was very little formal tent ministry going on. Instead, any personal ministry we did was spontaneous and intensely relational. I had been trying to move in that direction for a few years now, with limited success. I knew that focusing on hospitality could achieve what I wanted, because I had seen it happen at other events where Desanka was ministering. I was not disappointed at Nest. I heard from Alycia of a man who identifies as agnostic who encountered God in such a way that he had to acknowledge he had had a genuine spiritual experience. A group of people who were intentional cynics and doubters showered us with gratitude and respect and we returned the favor. Several people thanked us and said that the festival was far better than it would have been had we not been there. I personally (because Jesus was working through me) was able to alleviate not a little of the pressure for two people with painful anxiety. And several told me how their lives had changed in the last year, or two years, after being ministered to by us.
We are currently relying on the extreme generosity of several people to be able to continue ministering at Nest, but one in particular who is storing our equipment for us. His name is Will. He’s a great friend, but we will not be able to continue to impose on him year after year. I know that’s it’s imperative that we continue at Nest, more so now that we have the correct formula. It will be impossible without outside support, so I’m shamelessly putting in a plug for support here! We need to be able to rent storage space in the UK. I’d beg if I thought it would help, but ‘nuff said for now 😉
If you’d like to know more about festival ministry and why it matters, feel free to contact me. If your faith community would like to have someone come and speak about our experiences, or if you would like a workshop in prophetic ministry, including prophetic street ministry, we’d love to help you with that. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
My festival name, also known as my “Burner” name, is Vagabond Stillwater. I’ve moved 9 times in the last eight years. I’m about to move again, this time maybe more permanently.
My life, which never seems to be anchored anywhere, is changing again.”Again” doesn’t really properly describe what’s happening, as my life has been in a state of flux, maybe for its entirety, certainly for the last eight years.
Anyway, I’m moving to Alabama to live with my amazing wife, Yolanda! Yolanda works with children at risk as a mental health therapist. The situations she deals with are heartbreaking, and I feel that heartbreak every day as she tells me about her day. She is very good at what she does and has the strength and grace to deal with it all.
The poverty in Alabama is crushing. It goes deeper than economy. I have seen devastating poverty in Mexico, but there was not the poverty of hope or joy; the people there had both hope and joy. That is not the case in Alabama, which is sad and frustrating, because it is the “Bible Belt”. Where, then, is the hope and the joy? Anyway, I feel I must do something. But I have no idea what.
So my ministry is changing. I won’t be focusing on festivals in this season, though I still believe festival ministry is vitally important. But I’m being drawn to the poorest among us. I think I always suspected that that is where I would end up – among the very poor.
I’m leaving Sunday, March 5, for North Carolina, to work and make some money. I’ll probably be in NC for 2-3 weeks, after which I’ll go on down to AL. I do not know what will happen, ministry wise, at that point. I could use your prayers. I’m ecstatic, of course, about finally living with my wife, but I have no idea what ministry will look like at that point.
In addition, I hope to overcome my laziness about writing and begin to post blogs more regularly. I have a lot of things in my heart to share and address, but I really am lazy about writing.
Thanks for reading! Feedback is always very much appreciated.
Today, a Facebook friend shared about a friend of hers who is involved in some questionable spiritual practices. My friend is rightfully concerned about this person and said that she was praying for her. Someone commented on my friend’s post, urging her to “delete” this person, adding that “the enemy comes thru her to you”.
I know this attitude is rampant in the Body of Christ. It drives me crazy. Can you see Jesus, or Paul, or Peter, running and hiding from someone practicing divination? In fact, Paul had to bring deliverance to a demon possessed girl who was doing psychic readings, and Peter was confronted with Simon the sorcerer, who he rebuked, not for his sorcery (Simon had become a disciple) but for trying to buy the power of God. Of course they weren’t afraid of them, or anybody! Where did this fear that is rampant in the Body come from? I have my theories…
As for my friend’s concern, my own perspective is slightly different. Salem MA has been a second home to me for 10 years and I lived there for almost two. I have friends who are witches. I go to New Age and other festivals where I encounter people involved in questionable spiritual practices all the time. I haven’t become jaundiced to it. Of course it’s dangerous. Life is dangerous. I can’t speak to my friend’s state of mind on this, but in the Body of Christ there is a strong and irrational tendency to expect non-Christians to behave like Christians, or at least how we are supposed to behave. This is counterproductive to trying to present the kingdom to the world around us. I am not a moral referee (I don’t think my friend sees herself that way either). My responsibility is to be Jesus to people, and as I search and search the gospels, I consistently see Jesus leaving people to their choices. He never pushes. He insists on nothing. He presents moral specifics when asked, or when the people sit at his feet in anticipation. I try to do the same.
But this fear believers have! This fear that darkness will overwhelm their light! It’s not how it works. We have only one enemy and that enemy has been defeated. We are sent to serve, embrace, and love people. Well, except for witches and satanists and psychics. Um, no, them too.