Living for and by the GOSPEL

It rained last night. I absolutely love the smell of raindrops... I even love the smell of almost-raindrops, when the sky is busy in all its natural rain-making splendor. Last night the storm hovered and hesitated with bold, bright streaks first painting the sky. I used to watch storms in Iowa and we could see the storm churning for miles over the soft, rolling hills. Every once in a while my fright reminded me of the strength of the wind and rain - how the unwieldy power of nature is held together on the fingertips of the Most Powerful. I've been thinking a lot about the Most Powerful lately, as well I should be - can I really say something else is more worthy of my thoughts?

Just over a week ago, I attended a conference in Chicago. I'm still dumbfounded in trying to process, explain, or express the blessing of even attending. My mentor tipped me off and encouraged me to go, but it was only days before the conference started. By the time I mustered the financial faith to register, it had already closed. God (in all His grace) provided a way for me to get there, so I quickly emailed the coordinators with my best "college student-desperate-to-learn-and-grow" plea and a wonderful man named Matthew assured me a spot! In a cozy room of only about 500, I listened to pastors and theologians expound on what is and has always been the main thing: the GOSPEL. Yes, I know. It seems cumbersome and almost redundant to go back to the 'assumed' central claim of the Christian faith. But, oh how critical and completely necessary it is!

I listened to some very wise men speaking not from their own wisdom, but pointing directly to the only True wisdom, unfettered by culture or norms or comfort or relevance. Is it a stretch to say that this Wisdom (of God, in Scripture) need not be manipulated, changed, adapted, or morphed into something this generation can understand and declare as easily as ordering grilled instead of fried chicken? Lord help us if we begin to survey our spirituality as a menu, picking and choosing what best suits our desires for 'growth' and 'development.' My stomach just churns at the deception that so many of my peers have fallen into... even more unsettling are the churches signing on by the thousands to ministries that use the Gospel only peripherally. Some pastors/churches manipulate the Scripture and emphasize only the Word incarnate - Jesus' life. But, how much are we missing when we forget Jesus was there in the very beginning? Eternally before the foundations of the world, Father, Son and Holy Spirit existed beautifully in the Trinity and will exist eternally in the new heavens and new earth.

While I was at the conference I picked up "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church," by D.A. Carson. Though the book arguably strays from simply conversation, I think what I'm realizing is most important is becoming familiar with terminology. Language is such an incredibly powerful thing. Foucault (as I understand him..?) argued that language begets power and power then begets what is acceptable in language... that we are limited in what we know by what those in power allow us to say. Now, I once got lost in all that this implies (I actually think I was near-crazy), but in this situation it makes complete sense.

Everyone's seen it done before. You're in a conversation and this person (or maybe a speaker, or maybe even your parents) starts stringing multiple, impressive words together. Not just words, though. They employ the art of persuasion by pulling things from history, present day politics, and beautiful verses to sing harmoniously in support of their argument. Unless you are well-versed yourself, you may start to assume they have a commendable grasp on the subject and, although you do not know exactly why you start to believe them, you do. You give them credit for their vocabulary and finesse and before the discourse is over, they've sold you the idea in such a way that you'll try your hardest to articulate it to the next person who will listen.

Back in the day (5th century BC), these people were called Sophists. These masters manipulated the language to woo their audiences into agreement and submission. Dissected, their speeches seem incoherent and absurd at best, but in front of a crowd they received multiple standing ovations (this is a sweeping generalization, some Sophists are rightly commended for their impact on the intricate and intellectual study of rhetoric!). I'm not forcing a parallel, but merely using history to remind us of the oft disregarded deception that sneaks it way into our worldviews. I'll give one example from Carson's book (though I am still in the middle and really recommend you read it to grasp its entirety!). One of the leaders of the emerging church movement is Brian McLaren, whose book "A New Kind of Christian" sparked many debates and many more followers. Carson quotes McLaren when he described postmoderns (the present age) being, "postconquest, postmechanistic, postanalytical, postsecular, postobjective, postcritical, postorganizational, postindividualistic, post-Prostestant, and postconsumerist."

Imagine if you were listening to McLaren, or reading these words for the first time. I could easily see myself nodding in agreement, an occasional "hmm" escaping my lips. Though I consider myself severely grounded, I like to think I'm "open-minded" in that I listen to philosophies and ideas, even those contrary to my own opinion. I can tell you that after graduating from a liberal arts institution, hindsight tells me I still succumbed to words artfully formed and presented. McLaren's words especially hit home with my cohorts, who say "Nay! Not us!" to every label - refusing to be confined to any certain box of philosophical or theological thought. So, where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us very susceptible to McLaren's words and argument that we postmoderns are postlabel. BUT, as Carson points out, this string of what we are 'beyond' is in itself a contradiction. The problem again arises with definition. Are we really postconsumerist? Carson calls to mind the credit card debt and I would add the materialism that drips out of media and culture. Are we really postmechanical? Carson sites the digital advances, if mechanical, are more than a small part of our 'postmodern' lives. McLaren's list needs more than clarification - how is he defining these terms and still grouping all of them together when they seem to contradict? I pray that people don't believe we are postobjective - that's a statement that is beyond absolutism. Postobjective drops us right in the middle of relativism. And postindividualistic? Really?

I realize I just jumped into 'postmodern' terminology and I had to start using an unseemly amount of " in my definitions. But this really just further explicates the necessity of examining both epistemology and terminology when it comes to understanding what postmodernism is, with special attention to where the definition is coming from, and using this understanding to inform how the Gospel (yes, the historical, redemptive, central and unchanged Gospel) might be preached and heard today.

I feel terrible that this is my attempt at such an enormous subject. I fully encourage anyone who reads this to look into Carson, Piper, Taylor, and any number of other solid theologians who have a heart for the Truth (and access to publishing!). The conference was exciting because it was a gathering of these types of folks - folks that are about the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ. There indeed ARE churches out there with a vision for the TRUTH. My sister, a fellow blogger, has found ample audio material (she's now a self-proclaimed web-sermon addict) on this subject and her insight has been refreshing - the momentum and urgency indeed gains strength as more of God's children understand that it is the Gospel, not the children, that is central to our place, our praise, and our joy.

All the lectures from the conference will be available for free download from www.thegospelcoalition.org in the second or third week of June as well as the foundational documents of the organization. This is a movement I can fully and energetically jump into! This isn't the kind of new-age, feel-good, acceptance movement, but a movement founded solely and completely on the GOSPEL and its aim is to make central the beautiful picture of grace (in light of the weight of sin) of the GOSPEL.


I am spent.