A Review-Reflection on Brian McLaren’s new book Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In 12 Simple Words

I am currently reading Brian McLaren’s latest book Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words. I’ve had three weeks to read it finding myself reading only a couple of chapters so far. I am encouraged by the direction that Brian has taken with this recent work. I’ve noticed a progression with Brian’s writings. There is this continual theme of deconstructing/reconstructing Christian faith. If you’ve been tracking his writings over the years you’ll notice the progression from deconstruction to reconstruction.

However, as you’ll see with Brian, it’s not enough to deconstruct our faith (Deconstructionist Jacques Derrida does say that deconstruction is justice). Deconstruction, it seems, is a necessary step towards a healthy vital spirituality. Deconstruction alerts us to the idolatrous beliefs and practices we stake our lives on even at the expense of others, our own souls, and the rest of creation. Without deconstruction or what I like to describe as calling-down-fire-from-heaven-to-burn-up-my conceptual idols is necessary to be able to name, discern, and learn to live in a more just direction than unjust living. But once fire has come down from heaven and I’ve landed on something more just and confident I can begin the journey of reconstruction. I can breath again. And Brian’s book begins this journey. I wish I had this book 10 years ago. I had to settle for St. John of the Cross at the time. But once one has deconstructed the next question is this: now what? What does life with God look now that Jesus is no longer, for me, a white Republican or a Genie in a Bottle, a human pyschological projection?

In this book Brian is talking about something simple: our life with God. It’s not enough to deconstruct our cherished beliefs and practices. We must reimagine our life with God in the wake of deconstruction. How do I tend to the fire of God in my soul without reverting to individualism or engaging the world without the flame of Pentecost? I believe Brian is accomplishing this in this latest book.

In the beginning of the book Brian shares with us his own journey through spiritual experience and experiences. He sets the narrative of his own spiritual journey within the larger context of tectonic shifts in spiritual, religious, and cultural beliefs and practices taking place in our time. This section is very dense. Oftentimes too much bio with too much cultural exegesis. Of course, if you are unfamiliar with Brian’s writings these portions are necessary. However, I suspect he is setting us up with a thick personal and social narrative that will have payoff in later chapters.

Next up…Chapter 1 “Spiritual Experiences and Spiritual Experience”

Hopes for Big Tent Christianity

September 8-9 is Big Tent Christianity right up the road from us in Raleigh, NC. There will be some great panel discussions and I’m sure challening/inspiring side conversations. Friends connecting again that haven’t seen each other in a while. There will be a wide array of Christian bodies and traditions represented. Everything from Storefront Pentecostals (like myself) to Mainline Protestants to Catholics. This will be an opportunity for us to practice the hospitality we see exemplified by Jesus. I’m pretty sure popular issues of the day will be debated, discussed, and side-lined (e.g. sexuality, race, poverty, et al.).

I’m schedule to be a panelist on the discussion about Justice. Not sure what I’ll say yet. I’m sure I’ll be throwing racial justice into the mix along with justice issues related to doing ministry in the margins. We’ll see. I grow weary of talking about race. The only cure I’ve managed to see for racism is friendship. Everything else is coerced diversity and tokenism.

My passion these days is doing ministry in the margins. I’m learning how to see Jesus at work in the forgotten places in my community. Here is where I’m finding my calling to live justly. I’ll talk more about that at Big Tent Christianity.

My hopes?

1. Big Tent Christianity will be one more prophetic catalyst in bringing about North American Christianity’s shift from an absolutist religion to an embodiedment of the life of God we find in Jesus. What does that look like? I hope that Big Tent Christianity will help give us some starting clues.

2. Big Tent Christianity will help Christians find friendships of virtue centered around a more minimalist understanding of Christianity (Love God, Love Neighbor). A Christian minimalism set within the context of a wider range of issues than the normal left-right issues that carry the day.

3. Big Tent Christianity will challenge, deconstruct, and provide theological/ecclesial re-toolings to reconstruct my (our?) understanding of God, how God works in the world, and how God expects us to participate in this redemptive work.

Here are the hopes/expectations of others (synchroblog) for Big Tent Christianity.

TransFORM this week!

This week I’ll be hanging out with some interesting folks at the Transform East Coast Gathering in D.C.. I’m anticipating great conversation and missional imaginings taking place with missional practioners from around the country.

Peter Rollins has an interesting thought on the expense of this gathering

I’ll be speaking at the gathering on Saturday morning. My talk will be introductory thoughts on being missional, kingdom, and being born ‘again’/above/anew.


Scot McKnight recently spoke at the Westminster Theological Seminary Student Association Conference An Eternal Word in an ‘Emerging World’? His talk, entitled “What is the Emerging Church?”, is available in its entirety in PDF format for download here.

Recently gave a talk with my good friend Rod Garvin @ Davidson College in Davidson, NC on October 26th.  Titled: Living in a White World.  In it we discuss part of our faith testimony; how we became “racially conscious”; the way in which black music has captured the African-American experience; and the on-going challenges of being black in today’s society.  Listen here.

Last week.  Got a chance to see Brian McLaren deliver a sermon @ Wake Forest University.  Briefly dialogued with Brian afterwards.  Talked about some of the exciting things happening globally in the church.   

I will be contributing to the Church and Postmodern Culture Series Site

Join the conversation.  I’ll be engaging James K. A. Smith‘s recent book, “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Focault to Church.”  Specifically, I’ll be contributing a mini-essay titled “The Panopticon of Ecclesial Whiteness: Taking Foucault to a Church Divided.”

Here’s a snippet:

Ignoring white-ness as norm and its disciplinary power within the church frustrates Christians seeking racial-ethnic reconciliation or harmony. Granted, much work has been done in the area, and much of it is to be commended, but it is clear that white-ness remains in the church even as race-ism and the assertion of white privilege operates more subtly.  However, Foucault illumines for us that ignoring race as a disciplinary power blinds us to the realities that continue to hinder the church from moving beyond our racial impasse.  We can look at our discursive practices in our respective churches and see how we, consciously and unconsciously, give credence to the universal code of beauty that is presumed to be white.

I hope to see some of my blogfriends there engaging the text.  Pax. 




…and this too

  1. We believe that the triune God is the origin and the ultimate goal of all things; and that, through Jesus Christ, we are called to give our allegiance to God and to make the Church our true dwelling place. We believe that the claims of Christ have priority over those of the state, the market, race, class, gender, and other functional idolatries. “You shall have no other Gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). 
  2. We believe that communal worship is the heart of the Christian life. We seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to bring our everyday practices into greater conformity with our worship, such that our entire lives may be lived to glorify God. Similarly, we pledge to give and receive counsel about how we might better embody the Gospel in its individual and communal expressions. “Praise the Lord; praise the name of the Lord; give praise, O servants of the Lord” (Psalm 135: 1). 
  3. We believe that the church undercuts its own vocation when it compromises with the institutions, allegiances and assumptions that undergird the “culture of death” in our world. We remind all Christians that, in rejecting the sword and other lethal means to advance His goals, Jesus set an example for all of us who seek to follow Him. While accepting rather than imposing death may still be foolish and scandalous in the eyes of non-Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23), it remains central to what it means to follow a crucified and risen Messiah. We believe that the process of renewing the church in our day requires Christians to rethink all those values and practices that presume a smooth fit between killing and discipleship no matter how disturbing or divisive this reappraisal may be (cf. Matt. 10:34-8). Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). 
  4. We do not accept the ultimacy of divisions imposed on the Body of Christ — whether they be national borders, denominational divides, cultural and social stereotypes, or class divisions. We seek to restore the bonds of ecclesial unity and solidarity that are always under threat from the powers and principalities of the present age. “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). 

From Ekklesia Project 

An Emergent “Statement of Faith”…not to be

I was recently asked in a conversation with a friend about the beliefs of those in the emerging church conversation/movement.  He wanted to know what exactly emerging church type folks believed.  A difficult question given that many in this conversation hail from different Christian traditions.  If there was a statement of faith, I told him, it would have to be one that is 'catholic' and 'creedal'.  Meaning that it looks to the creeds, traditions, and practices of the catholic body of Christ over the past 2,000 years.  A statement of faith would be as long and as diverse as the various Christian bodies represented in this movement. 

On the Emergent-US blog a 'statement of faith' has been side-stepped in order to keep the conversation going.  I believe this to be a good move.  As I told a friend I don't want people of different Christian stripes to stop being faithful to their particular tradition.  If you come to this conversation as an Anabaptist or as a Pentecostal you should feel compelled to stay true to your ecclesial home. 

LeRon Shults offers his thoughts as to why a 'statement of faith' would be an unwise move.  

There is also a great conversation surrounding this issue taking place at Generous Orthodoxy ThinkTank.  Especially comments by James K. A. Smith.

Racial Constantinianism and why Andre is post-Emergent (Part I)

My friend Andre Daley has blogged about why he is post-Emergent.  Here are his basic five points:

  1. The conversation still looks to much like the old conversation, white, male and academic. The dominant culture still dominates.
  2. The values behind the conversation aren’t readily expressed in actions. No generous orthopraxis to go with the generous orthodoxy. (see my previous post)
  3. The lexicon of the white European theological framework which still dominates. There is very little inclusion of black theologians and the theological framework of people of color. People of color seem to be included in the conversation only if they are willing to use this language and framework. It seems we all need to read NT Wright in order to have any credibility.
  4. Talk, talk and more talk. My experience is we love to talk about this stuff but other than retro worship stuff we don’t get around to acting on it. Even so talk about diversity has never come to the fore. I want to be the church and act like the church not just talk like the church.
  5. Ultimately its about relationships and I have made some good ones which go beyond the whole emergent (non movement) thing. So I’ll go about the spiritual practice of reconciliation through relationships with my brothers and sisters and leave emergent tag to others.

I have been slow to respond to this because I wanted to give some thought on this particular issue.  When I went to the Emergent Theological Conversation with Miroslav Volf at Yale Divinity School last month I was not suprised by the dominance of white faces in the crowd.  This is pretty typical of these kinds of conversations, in my experience at least.  During the conference I was blessed to talk with a brother from Atlanta named Tony Bronsink.  Tony just recently attended a conference where Darrell Guder of Our Gospel and Culture Network was giving his thoughts on the emerging church.  In his recounting of Guder’s thoughts he mentioned that there is a danger in the emerging church in not  thoroughly discerning its sharing in the American experience.  This has been one of the valid criticisms, I believe, of the emerging church conversation.  That somehow we have moved on from modernity and have found (and still finding) a faithful way to follow Jesus in postmodernity.  I believe this to be a dangerous temptation.  The temptation being that we have faithfully (possibly completely) named our capitulation to the bad habits of modernity.  The emerging church, in many ways, has the resources to ‘name’ these bad habits.  But one bad habit has gone typically unscathed in the broader conversation: the racial Constantinianism of North American Christianity.

I believe this is at least one reason why Andre is post-Emergent.  Andre, like he says, sees that “the dominant culture still dominates”.  Why call this racial Constantinianism?  Because I hope to get the attention of those in the conversation I believe have the resources to counter-act this bad habit before Emergent and the emerging church conversation create more conjeeled structures and communities that reflect the politics (eccelsial bodies) of Constantinian Christianity…albeit a more posh version of it.

I must confess.  I am part-way a member of the Hauerwasian mafia.  I am coming out of the closet.  My imagination has been captured by theologians Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder in how they have named American Christianity’s theo-sociopolitical captivity to what they describe as Constantinianism.  What these two theologians have taught us is that the church has been profoundly shaped in its theological and ecclesial habits by the sociopolitical order of the Western political order:

“The decline of the old, Constantinian synthesis between the church and the world means that we American Christians are at last free to be faithful in a way that makes being a Christian today an exciting adventure.”- p. 16 Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Theologian Michael Cartwright expounds on Hauerwas’ project:

Hauerwas’s theological project also involves questioning the institutions, practices, dispositions, and habits that have been formed under the conditions of Christendom, which imaged the unity of church and world under the (official or unofficial) sponsorship of so-called Christian governments from Constantine to so-called Christian America.  The name of the first Christian emperior has come to be associated with the complex of institutional changes and alliances that led Christians in the West to see churches and nation-states to be aligned within a God-given order within which Christians would exercise leadership.  The vestiges of this ‘Constantinian synthesis,’ while obviously weakened and unstable, continue to tempt contemporary Christians to believe that they don’t have to take responsibility for the church’s own discourse and practices because the powers that be (whether the Emperor Constantine or the latest incumbent of the White House) are “Christian” and Christianity is on the side of Western “progress”.- p. 629, The Hauerwas Reader

Cartwright then quotes Hauerwas:

“Constantinianism is a hard habit to break.  It is particularly hard when it seems that we can do so much good by remaining ‘in power.’  It is hard to break because all our categories have been set by the church’s establishment as a necessary part of Western civilization”- Hauerwas, After Christendom

The synthesis that I see that goes largely unscathed in these kinds of conversations is the way much of the discourse named emergent, emerging church or missional is tied to a racial order that we have inherited from Christendom’s capitulation to the principality and power of ‘race’.  Or more specifically what I like to the call the dominance of the symbolic universe of whiteness.  It is racial Constantinianism.  A form of Constantinianism that created a racial order whereby whites were at the top and blacks at the bottom. 

We see vestiges of this racial Constantinianism when Christians engage in theological conversation and praxis that exclude non-white voices.  This exclusionary practice is difficult to name because of our captivity to individualism…the the reducing of racial Constantinianism to purely personal prejudice (“I don’t hate non-whites…or have ill-feelings toward them”).  Such thoughts reflect the politics of America.  More later… 






2006 Emergent Theological Conversation (Question to Volf)

On the third day of the conversation I (along with Tim Keel of Jacob’s Well and Emergent National Coordinator Tony Jones) was given the opportunity to engage Dr. Volf on his latest book Free of Charge.  Me and Tim both had questions for Dr. Volf.  Here’s the question I put forward to him.  This is an issue I am becoming more passionate about as I engage in this kind of ministry on the local level.  His thoughts were most helpful.  I am very much anticipating his next book that will be dealing with ‘memory’ or as he put it ‘remembering rightly’.  A very large part in the work of reconciliation is about dealing with the history.  Anyways….here is the question I put forward to Dr. Volf:

As someone engaged in the work of reconciliation along racial/ethnic lines in the church I was intrigued by your thoughts on the Forgiver’s Memory.   Specifically this notion that in our emulation of God as ‘forgetter of sin’ that we in turn ‘forget the particular sin’ of our offender.  And I want to quote a passage from the text:
Why should we let it slip into oblivion, someone may protest?  When offenses are forgotten, it looks as if they never happened at all!   But they have happened, and honesty demands that we acknowledge them.  For that reason, we should remember, the argument concludes

The next passages give us more nuance by reminding of us what you said previously about the work prior to actual forgiving.   You say:

So what happens to the obligation to remember when we let the forgiven offense slip into oblivion?  Notice that “forgetting” follows condemnation of sin and release from penalties and guild, it doesn’t happen apart from it….

Does this way of seeing and practicing forgiveness overly-individualize sin (giving too much to the narrative of Western individualism) and downplaying the systemic nature of sin. Let me give a concrete example (the scholar who offended me recently or the various instances in which I as a black man in America (in the Church) experience what I name as sinful racialized patterns of thinking and being in the world (or what the apostle Paul referred to as the ‘course of the world’ in connection to the dis-ordering work of the principalities and powers).  In going about the work of racial reconciliation I am encountering speech, ways of relating, and images that reflect the systemic reality of particular racialized patterns of thinking that bring harm and exclusion. We are not talking about isolated individual events of offense but continued racialized systemic patterns of thinking and being in the world.    

When I encounter my conversation partner who may have offended me with a particular racialized speech or way of relating in individualizing (isolating the offense to individuals) sin and not naming the systemic character of sin in our journey of racial reconciliation do I not leave him simply wrestling with flesh and blood and not (as the apostle Paul would say) with spiritual forces of wickedness; principalities and powers that influence sinful racialized patterns of thinking and being? Other systemic issues seem to become invisible as well: white privilege, what Cornel West refers to as black nihilism, etc..

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