Archive for May, 2016

What is revive? A blog about labels…

Posted: May 31, 2016 by reviveleeds in Learning, Opinion, revive
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Welcome phrase in different languages. Word clouds concept.

On Sunday night we continued our conversation about what God is saying to us about the future of revive and I (Simon) was called out for excessive theological jargon. Fair cop! I apologise. My only defense is that in the world of clergy these labels are used constantly.

Let me outline roughly what I said:

There are many LGBTQ people who would like to find a home in a church with an evangelical-charismatic emphasis, whereas at the moment most – if not all – of the churches in Leeds that publicly declare their inclusion of queer people are liberal Anglican.

I was invited to explain some of those words and of course a business meeting is not the ideal place to do that. Also, in revive there is a general resistance to labels, so there were also comments about whether any of these names is helpful.

I think it’s worth looking at these labels, if only because so many people still use them. Then I will try to answer the question, ‘What kind of church is revive?’

Firstly, a bit of history.
You’ve probably heard of ‘The Age of Enlightenment’. This was a period from the mid-seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth centuries in which scientific advances occurred rapidly and regularly and paved the way for the industrial revolution. Isaac Newton is the most important British figure in this time of intellectual revolution, and his most revolutionary idea was that the universe can be described as a gigantic machine. This meant two big things: firstly,  that God was not necessary to explain anything in the universe, and secondly, that it should be possible to explain everything in the universe through maths and science. As this intellectual movement matured it turned into what we now call modernity.

How should Christianity respond to this huge intellectual transformation? Here are three options:

1) One option is that of acceptance and integration. These new discoveries change our understanding of the cosmos and there is no going back. Our sacred texts were written in a different time in which weather and mental illness were thought to be the actions of angels and demons. It would be foolish of us to continue with these superstitions. Religion can only be saved if it accepts the new intellectual landscape.

At the time, this meant that many people claimed that they were deists, believing in a God that created the universe like a giant machine and after starting it up, is completely absent from it. Many of the ‘fathers’ of Leeds were prominent deists and this explains why there is a Unitarian Church in City Square rather than the more traditional Anglican cathedral.

By the beginning of the twentieth century the German theologian Rudolph Bultmann was advocating the ‘demythologisation’ of the Christian tradition, removing everything from faith that was counter to science and common sense. Bultmann is a towering figure in the movement known as theological liberalism.

In short, liberal Christianity is a way of trying to find truth using science, philosophy and logic, giving little or no authority to either the Bible or church tradition. That doesn’t mean the Bible and tradition are unimportant, just that they are studied with intellectual rigour.

2) Another option is what we would now call contextualisation. That is, how can a traditional Christian faith be reborn in this new world of ideas? With a scientific worldview on the rise, could Christianity present itself as a rational system of thought while maintaining its historic claims about God’s activity in the world?

It’s important to realise that describing this process as contextualisation is a retrospective judgement. Christian preachers and debaters of the time like George Whitefield saw themselves as defending the historic faith, it’s only looking back that we can see they were using the logic and methodology of science to create a ‘systematic theology’.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw many public debates in which more conservative Christians tried to work this out. Ultimately, the authority of the Bible became central to their case, so that anything that was stated in the scriptures was beyond questioning. The ongoing debate about evolution and how it relates to the early chapters of Genesis is probably the most famous example of this. William Wilberforce’s son Samuel famously debated evolution with the biologist T H Huxley in the middle of the 19th century. What’s important is that proponents of this new conservative Christianity sought to prove that belief in the events and declarations of the Bible was reasonable.

This movement became known as evangelicalism, from the Greek word for good news, euangelion. The historian David Bebbington has said that evangelicalism (and its extremist cousin fundamentalism) has four key tenets:

* Biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
* Crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
* Conversionism, the belief that human beings need to be converted
* Activism, the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in some kind of practical action

(You can explore this in more detail here)

While the early Baptists of the seventeenth century were not quite like this, they were caught up in the evangelical movement at the end of the eighteenth century and currently the Baptist Union of Great Britain is a member of the Evangelical Alliance.

3) Another option is creative rebellion. In the wider culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries artists and creatives who wanted to live outside the mechanistic and emotionless world of science started to make work that fought against this. While it was never a self-conscious movement, nowadays we call what they got up to romanticism. This was a movement motivated by experience, beauty and pleasure, phenomena that can not be described by science and which are not subject to laws or formulae. Lord Byron’s self-indulgent life and early death sum up the caricature of the Romantic period, but it was also an intellectual movement, frustrated at the coldness and rigidity of the new science. In the long run however, science brought wealth and empire, and in many ways seemed to have ‘won’.

At the same time that the Romantic movement flourished, so did Methodism, a form of Anglicanism that was evangelical in nature but also highly personal and emotional. John Wesley, its founding preacher, reports in his diary that there was plenty of fainting and crying during his sermons, and George Whitefield was considered to be the greatest ‘performer’ of his time, stirring up emotions in his audience that made famous actors of his day jealous.

What Methodism, Pentecostalism (which came out of Wesleyanism in California) and the charismatic movement (which was a middle class appropriation of the more working class Pentecostalism) have in common is a belief that The Enlightenment is a misstep, that belief in God is not meant to be reasonable, it is essentially supernatural. John Wimber, who founded the Vineyard movement and who was a huge influence on this writer, used to say that in order to experience God we need to get our minds back to before The Enlightenment in order to believe that God can work in our lives (For the record, I don’t think this is possible or helpful).

These different movements all have a focus on personal experience of God as another route that God can speak to us, which has historically caused some tension between them and evangelicals, who hold that the Bible is the ultimate authority. (For the record, Baptists – correctly, imho – hold that Jesus is the ultimate authority, and we study the scriptures and listen to the Spirit in order to know him).

So those are the three words that I used on Sunday night: liberal, evangelical and charismatic. Now I want to add another one: post.

Over the last fifty years, philosophers (particularly French ones) have started to dismantle the certainties of modernity. Their movement (if it can be called such, since it is primarily about deconstruction rather than creation) is now called postmodernism. The easiest way to sum up postmodernism as a philosophy is a definition by one of its proponents, Jean-Francois Lyotard: ‘Incredulity towards metanarratives’. Before you give up, let me explain that quickly! It simply means that we should be sceptical about any system of thought that suggests it has the answers to every question (metanarrative means something like ‘overarching story’). And you might think Lyotard is having a go at religion, but that’s not the case. He is primarily focusing his displeasure towards the scientific worldview we call modernism. Hence the name post-modernism, where post means after.

So now we are living in a world in which the all-encompassing certainties of the modern era are starting to undo. When a scientist says she believes one day she will be able to explain love or art with an equation, lots of us laugh at her arrogance. When a Christian sect claims to be the ‘one true church’, we find it all rather loopy since we wouldn’t think of saying that about our own church or denomination. That’s a very post-modern attitude: this is my truth, tell me yours.

Christianity is responding to these changes. So now we have postliberal and postevangelical theologies. The charismatic movement is  probably the most influential Christian movement in the UK in our time, reaching a growing proportion of younger people and therefore cementing its influence on the future of the church in the UK. In many ways it is romantic/postmodern, with a very strong emphasis on personal experience, although parts of it are still tied to evangelical ideas of truth and certainty.

So what does this make revive? Whatever we are, we are definitely post. By that I mean we don’t want to be defined and constrained by any of these definitions. This ability to refuse boundaries means that we can cross boundaries and borrow from Christian traditions that might have once been the ‘enemies’ of our spiritual parents or grandparents. That’s why I like the subtitle of Brian McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy: ‘Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.’

Maybe that’s what we are – not nothing, but everything. I prefer this to just being ‘post’ something. In reality, I personally consider myself an evangelical and a charismatic more than a liberal, because I give both the scriptures and my experience of God more influence in my life than is reasonable.  And because that is the Christian family that raised me.

Why is this important (and well done for getting this far!)? My main answer would be that while most of us have a time of enjoying the certainty of either evangelicalism or liberalism (and believe me, liberals can be just as bigoted and judgmental as evangelicals), many then find that the obsession with truth turns out not to be true to the messiness of human existence. Our lives doesn’t work out the way they’re supposed to, or the system of belief we subscribed to turns out to be held together not by reason but by peer pressure and denial.

It’s my conviction that there are a bunch of people in Leeds who would be blessed by encountering God through what we would call charismatic faith, but perhaps need to be intellectually honest and exploratory at the same time. Getting these two things together is really hard to do, but it’s something we try really hard to do in revive.

This is not just about LGBTQ people by any stretch of the imagination, but since they are one of the few groups of people in which the church colludes in their marginalisation, perhaps we have a particular call to swim against the tide on their behalf. Like lots of other people, some LGBTQ folk find life in charismatic-evangelical churches, it’s just that they have to hide who they are to participate in them. That is why it matters that a church like revive, which is part of that family, comes out and says, ‘All welcome.’ That’s why I’m happy to use words like evangelical and charismatic to describe revive, even if I’m mentally adding all kinds of footnotes and quotation marks when I say them.

Let me know what you think.

Simon

P.S. The absolute best way to get a feel for the premodern, modern and romantic/postmodern worldviews is to read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. The three central characters represent the strengths and weaknesses of each perspective brilliantly…

Is Revive Queer?

Posted: May 16, 2016 by reviveleeds in Decision Making, Leeds, News, Opinion, Prayer, revive, Uncategorized

‘Seriously, this is the queerest church I’ve ever known!’

Queer Church Welcome

This was undoubtedly an unreserved compliment, coming as it did from an LGBTQ+ activist. It was said last night at revive. It was also a challenge that we do more than accept our queerness; that we embrace it, celebrate it, publicly declare it.

Queerness here is not exclusively about sexuality or gender identity; it is, as they say, a state of mind. Last night we were reflecting on what God has been saying to us over the 24 weeks since we decided to pray together about our future. One of the queerest things about revive is how allergic we are to success, fame and power. As we started to talk about what we felt God was asking us to do collectively, it seemed so important that whatever we do, it be independent of revive and have not even a whiff of empire about it.

Queer.

And not queer as in weird (although it’s that too). Queer as in a self-conscious swimming against the flow of normality, fully embracing the conflict, ostracisation and adventure that this entails. Jesus was so, so queer.

The gospel is queer: the religious find themselves judged and the unclean ones are welcomed to the party. No one gets what they ‘deserve’. As Bono puts it,

…at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

It’s queer.

Now this isn’t exactly what we were talking about last night, but it’s relevant, because really what we were circling around most of the evening but scared to say out loud is this, ‘Is God calling us to be publicly queer? To offer that upside-down welcome that celebrates the returning scoundrel son and leaves the faithful son feeling resentful and indignant?

Queerness invites scapegoating. To be different is to draw unnecessary attention to oneself. ‘Why are you being different? Why are you causing trouble? Do you think you’re special? Well take it from us, you’re not so special, you’re heading for a fall. And if you don’t fall, we will try to trip you.’

Steampunk SimonHaving been to a few Steampunk Markets in my time, I know how uncomfortable queerness can be when you’re straight. Here is the best Edwardian getup I could muster, but I was without goggles so even when I tried to be weird, I just couldn’t quite fit in. However, my steampunk friends welcomed my efforts at welcome/acclimatisation, and I got an amazing insight into the powerful sense of community that is generated when the freaks and geeks come together in safe space. The outsiders become insiders…

Is God calling us to be queer? I believe so. And not just in our disavowal of so many of the accoutrements of church: power, structure, ‘leadership’, unity through rational assent of approved doctrine. Many of us feel excluded from mainstream church because of these values and others. But can we go the next step and find ways to welcome those who feel excluded by the church because of their sexuality or gender identity? Those who are in effect doubly queer? Can we use our experience of finding ‘home’ in revive to offer ‘home’ to those who have the experience of the church door shutting in their face? Sometimes literally.

I believe we can. As was made very clear last night, this is not about a project, about an individual or a group being sent off to ‘do church for the gays.’ This is about our whole community embracing a call to radical hospitality. It means moving on from being a recovery community for ex-Christian followers of Jesus in order to make space for those who need the gospel just as much as us but hear only that they are not included.

It feels appropriate to finish by quoting Pink Floyd, through whom God spoke to me a couple of years ago. This is our gospel:

Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!

Chapters

Posted: May 5, 2016 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

In all the busyness of my final few days before maternity leave, I didn’t manage to write anything last week, and as the blog may go a bit quiet for the next few months while I try to get to grips with motherhood, I wanted to get in at least one more post.

Revive marked the start of my maternity leave on Sunday by making me the subject of our regular sentness, taking the opportunity to ask me a few questions and pray for me. It was a real blessing and a wonderful way to be sent out to begin this new chapter (plus I first met Revive at the May sentness last year, so it seemed a particularly appropriate time to stop and reflect on this last chapter) so I’ve thought some more about the questions from Sunday and answered them again here. 

How has the last year been?

It has been the most incredible adventure. September was particularly eventful, as in the space of two weeks Mike and I moved house and discovered we were expecting our first baby, and I started my training with Revive and St Barnabas, setting us up for a very exciting year.

We have both felt so at home in Revive right from the start that being here feels less like working for a placement and more like having the great honour of serving our church. That is such a great blessing, and we can’t thank you enough for accepting us and our unexpected interruption with such open hearts and making this first year such a joy.

What have been the highlights?

At the risk of it sounding like things have gone downhill from there (which they haven’t!) the weekend away back in October was great. It was perfect timing for us, coming just a month after we joined Revive, as it gave us time to spend getting to know people, which was wonderful. We really enjoyed having a houseful for pancake day too, and we hope to open up our house even more as we settle into life with baby and get on a more even keel.

More generally, having come from a fairly traditional church set up, Mike and I have both loved discovering a more informal way of doing things, especially drawing on the wisdom of the community in prayer and worship and discussion. I think we’re already dreading the prospect of returning to a world of hymn books and flower rotas!

What’s next?

The plan is for me to take an extended summer break, and be back training and studying in September. I know it’s not long to take off, but it took a good eight years of God nagging to get me here, and I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time, so it feels like we need to give it a shot. Mike will tell you that I am normally a worrier, but I trust that God will walk with us as we work things out, and I feel confident that everything will fall into place.

There are a few ideas for things I may do when I come back, one of which is something like Cafe Theologique for teenagers. I know that as a teenager I had loads of questions that there never seemed to be a good time or place to ask, and so this would be about trying to create that time and place. I will likely be wanting to pick a few teenage brains over the summer, so young people of Revive be warned!

How has pregnancy changed how you see God?

Psalm 139:13 and Jeremiah 1:5 have taken on new meaning, as this new person is being knit together in my womb. I don’t believe that God controls every little detail of our lives, and I know that baby will be a glorious accident of mine and Mike’s genes, but I trust that just as God has held us so he already holds our child.

I am also gaining a new understanding of what it means to love unconditionally. I don’t know what our baby will be or do, but I still feel this overwhelming sense of love for them, a love which depends on nothing except the fact that they are my child, and I think that is a reflection of how God feels about us. I’ve always known that God loves us simply because we are his children, but I think I am beginning to feel it in the very depths of me.

What is the DNA of Revive you would like to keep?

I love the openness of Revive, both its open-heartedness towards people and it’s open-mindedness towards ideas. I would like to carry that with me wherever I go, and to try to model and encourage it in whatever church I find myself.

I have also discovered a love for decaf Earl Grey, which is surely the fuel if not the DNA of Revive!

Anything else to say before goodbye?

Just that this isn’t really goodbye. Maternity leave doesn’t mean that Mike and I will be disappearing completely, only that I’ll be stepping back from the more official side of things for a little while. Revive feels very much like our church family and so we will be around as much as we can be, and we can’t wait to introduce baby to all of you.

Please hold us in prayer as we prepare for life to be turned upside down.

With great love and every blessing,

Leigh

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