“When it comes to walking in the city, a smartphone is now almost as important as a good pair of shoes. Our phones provide us with pedestrian sat-nav, reviews of the best places to visit and even measure how many calories we’re burning, while we walk. In fact, recent research suggests that our phones are encouraging us to walk further in the city and explore more places.”—Adam Davies on smartphones and walkable cities
“Boomers and millennials, the two largest demographic groups in the country, are converging in a time-of-life moment where what they want is smaller homes on smaller lots in walkable, service-rich, transit-oriented communities.”—
Patrick Doherty of the New America Foundation on the demand for walkable cities.
Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell vs the World
If you ask the average person walking down the street who they think is more biblical and Christ-centered, Rob Bell or Mark Driscoll, they’d say, “What the hell are you talking about?” Some might use more polite language.
But the average Evangelical might have an opinion. Mars Hill vs Mars Hill Bible Church. Who will win in this epic struggle of rockstar pastors? Who cares? Maybe too many.
If you’re someone with an opinion on this, I’m ‘boutsta blow ya mind.
On one side, people accuse Mark Driscoll of being insensitive (unbiblically so), promulgating over-simplified gender roles, and being overly opinionated on other “pastors.”
On the other, Bell gets accused of just being a good old heretic or at least opening up the door for heresy for less experienced and knowledgeable believers.
Personally I can appreciate both mens’ teaching on some level, but I do see where the critiques come from. There is actually an unnamed force at work in all this debate: technology. Rob clearly embraces just about every fancy technological medium out there and I’ve heard Mark actually say embracing technology is a major principal of Mars Hill. A couple months ago I heard a rumor that someone swore Mark was beaming his image in holographically to their service. That’s a whole other post.
Even to just hold a service for several thousand people every week is primarily enabled by technology. Microphones aren’t necessary but they assist and their services draw, not from the local neighborhood, but from many areas that have to be driven from.
Lets explore the biblical and philosophical grounds on rock star preaching. Jesus did preach to 5,000 once and 4,000 another time. Peter preached his Pentecost sermon to 3,000+. And that’s it. Actually, Jesus was often trying to get away from the crowds. He had compassion for them but his main focus was on his close disciples. Almost all his attention was on the three (Peter, James and John) and the rest of the twelve. Then the 72, the 120, and lastly he occasionally spoke to huge crowds. Jesus - the founder of the faith and the person we claim, those of us who believe, to be Yahweh incarnate - he focused on twelve.
Jesus addressed this tension with his disciples saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2) He saw the crowds coming from all the villages, but he was wise (as always) to know that the only way to make disciples was relationally, intensely focusing on a handful and them in turn doing the same thing. This is why he sent out the 72 to go into villages and stay with the people, demonstrating the Kingdom by acts of healing and then explaining that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near to them. He even instructs them, “…remain in the same house… do not go from house to house.” (vs 7)
We are called to make disciples. Mathew 28 is the text used to justify the existence of mega churches and the over-dependence on technology for accomplishing ministerial goals. But the text says to go and make disciples, not consumerist, Sunday-morning service attendees. The mode Jesus demonstrated for us, if we’re serious about being Christ-like, is small communities of disciples, working together daily toward God’s Kingdom-come purposes. Jesus lived with the guys 24/7. The early church adopted this as small communities living together in roughly square-mile areas, embodying Kingdom-come.
They got it. They knew if God thought it best and most affective he could megaphone-blast every person on earth with a disembodied voice, telling them the “truth.” But God’s truth, his word, became flesh and lived among a small, obscure group of people and, when word got out (you can’t keep that kind of thing secret for too long), still sought to focus most of its energies on just a handful of people.
Rockstar preachers love the apostle Paul and some really seem to liken their own ministry to Paul’s. Trouble is, Paul didn’t preach to massive crowds. He spent years at a time living with small churches in their small, square-mile cities. He preached and taught almost exclusively in small synagogues or house church gatherings to people he would have to face the next day in daily life.
There simply is no biblical basis for the open embrace of these kinds of mega models. At best the justification for these ideas is born out of a philosophically-based experiment. In other words, those of us who employ the use of these kinds of church models are either not doing any serious thinking about what it is that we’re doing and the possible, even probable, negative impacts or finding our justification in philosophizing.
I love philosophy so lets explore the philosophical implications. Read this statement: “I love little boys.” Out of context that can mean a lot of things. Obviously if I precede the statement with, “To be honest I’m not attracted to women…” or “Look how he turned that coffee table into a fort…” there are big differences in meaning on my original statement.
We’re all familiar with this idea of context but we often don’t realize that context isn’t limited to paragraphs, but is the whole of our lives. Essentially your context is every person, thing, atom, chair, thought and experience there is, has been or ever will be, but to the degree of separation from you and any of those things, either by time or space, the relationship grows weaker. Specifically, for anyone that’s not omniscient, our ability to understand and know those things, people, events with our conscious minds becomes severely limited the farther in space and/or time we are from them. I don’t know anything about Catalina in Bogota Columbia or Ali in Sadi Arabia except maybe some sweeping generalizations of hispanic or arabic culture, humanity and their genders. But I would never want to beam a message into their homes and tell them what they need to do with their lives. How could I with certainty know that what I was saying was right and true for their lives?
And the reverse is true. Even if I did know them well and something that would be good for their lives, Catalina and Ali are much less likely to understand what I mean through mere words. They would understand much more through living life with me and seeing the truth in action. The words could be used to explain the actions very powerfully but words by themselves are much less likely to lead to action. Jesus often demonstrated first and then explained through words when asked.
When I say something to a friend, that friend processes it through all their interactions with and impressions of me. From the funny gift I gave them for their birthday to that time they saw me not give a homeless person change. In that relationship, every action and word adds up to influence the interpretation of every other action and word.
To the degree that I relationally know a person and vice versa, I will have much greater success in communicating through mere words. If Ali and I kicked it tough for 3 years and then I later sent him a letter encouraging or exhorting him, he’d have a much greater chance of understanding and receiving it.
Most of the new testament is letters just like that. According to Acts, Paul, except when passing through on the way to another place, didn’t spend less than 1 1/2 years in any given place and spent many years in places like Antioch. Most of his letters were to those people he lived life with every day.
The West has idealized Greek philosophers to the point of holding disembodied words and abstract thinking as the way of change and understanding. These things have their place, but consider that these things are limited to the power of our conscious minds to understand and process them. Our conscious minds can process 7 bits of information per second but our subconscious minds can process millions. When we can’t put something into words we are experiencing our subconscious mind understanding something much more than our conscious. And really our whole bodies and being are necessary in understanding something.
Experiencing something is the most powerful way to learn. Secondly it is storytelling because we can subconsciously process the context of the story through our own whole-body, real life experiences. The least powerful is words abstracted from physical context (like this blog post). Though along with stories, they’re useful for explaining and understanding our experiences.
In John 8, Jesus essentially said, “If you stick to my ways that I’ve taught you, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” It’s important to remember that he’s talking about knowledge in the biblical sense. Ya, like, “and then he knew [had sex with] her.” It’s a full-body knowledge. It’s a relational knowledge. It’s, “If you stick to the ways I’ve taught you, you will experience and come into relationship with the truth and through knowing it like you know a friend, you will learn how to be free.”
On a sidenote, the only reason I or anyone even can try to understand the Bible is because communities of faith have attempted to live it for thousands of years and the reader has experienced its truth through some of those groups. To a lesser degree, general life experience also helps to interpret the scriptures. In other words, if I just came across the Bible and had never heard of it and especially if I grew up in a sterile room in isolation from anything or anyone else, I would have a very hard time understanding it. How would I even know what marriage or murder was (or language at all) in the isolation example? In the same way there are always calls in the scriptures that can not be understood through intellectual analysis but only through observing and practicing them personally and communally.
If the most important thing is words, being said and heard, about the way of Jesus then it’d be easy to see how we’d build huge “churches” with rockstar “pastors.” But our commission is to make disciples and discipleship, as demonstrated by Jesus, is a whole-life thing. Central to that way of life is relationally knowing the Father. How are we suppose to communicate a relational message over a podcast? Jesus told His disciples they knew the Father because they knew him in daily, physical relationship. “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7) Jesus and Paul say we live that (or are suppose to live that) same relationship out together as Jesus’ physical body on earth. It’s when the Spirit and when the Truth (the Word) takes on flesh that we can know it in a strong, relational way (Mathew 18’s “Where two or more are gathered…”, 1 Cor 12, Ephesians 4; any language about “the body of Christ”).
Speaking from the New Testament context, churches are a group of people who live and work together daily in the same walkable community and pastors are one type of leader that help to relationally and spiritually minister to the believers within a church. A teacher helps explain things of the scriptures and the way of Jesus.
Mark and Rob, to most of us, are teachers. They couldn’t pastor 100,000+ people every day (the reach of their podcasts alone). But they are limited teachers to us because they don’t have the power of demonstration and daily relational life. Their messages are beamed out of close relational proximity not known well by the hearer and to a context not known well by the speaker. John, Mark’s hypothetical friend, may struggle with being a lazy, passive guy, but Anthony who attends Mark’s several-thousand-person services might actually struggle with idolizing work and having his identity caught up in his maleness, rather than Christ. So Mark railing on men may affect some well and others it may be the wrong thing completely. Rob asking questions may be the right thing for some friends he knows that haven’t understood the truth by just being told it in pat answers but it may not be the right thing for Jane in Austin who doesn’t have a daily community around her - acting as an anchor through affirming the love and wisdom of God in their actions. There’s no way to know when we forgo the relational knowledge of daily life for a mega church model and especially when technology beams our words across the world.
It’s only by the Spirit that complete chaos doesn’t ensue from this but, because the Spirit is laboring, it doesn’t mean that this is the Spirit’s preferred and most affective way of bringing change, conversion and conviction. Paul says that the Corinthians, together as the body of Christ in Corinth, were the temple of the Holy Spirit in Corinth. The “your” in “don’t you know that your body is a temple…” is plural in Greek. In other words, in their physical lives together, every day, is where the Spirit dwelled and interacted with them (and their walkable, square-mile town). This ought to be the focus of our discipleship.
Though making technology is part of what it seems God meant for humanity, we must not be too quick to use technology to transcend the natural limits God has given us. Often we can extend our actions beyond our ability to understand their consequences. We need to remind ourselves that Jesus had all the power in the universe and limited himself to the cross and washed his disciples’ feet, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands… began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3-5) In light of his power he did not to want to escape the doldrums of life but to humble himself to remain as a simple, faithful servant.
To be sure, teaching, even beamed out of relational context, can be used by the Spirit. But when it becomes the locus of our spiritual discipleship, we knock on the door of, if not enter into, great, insidious dangers. Not only for their acontextual ability to hurt or confuse but also for their distraction from the relational way of life we are called into by taking its place. For me these kinds of teachings are not necessary and are only useful if we are firstly putting our energy into the New Testament pattern of daily community.
I’m thankful for all the work of the Spirit. I just pray we may enter more deeply, more centrally into the way Jesus taught us so that we may taste the sweet fruit of abundant life that he said he came to give us.
For more on locality and biblical, as well as philosophical, thoughts on technology, check back to this blog.
the other night while i was patiently waiting for sleepiness to creep in, i came across this documentary measuring how walkable manila is. Surprisingly, it brought me to the ascertainment of why i love cities like:
and of course;
I can imagine how lovely life would be as it is leisurely pacing in these cities! I once learned a part of the Parisian culture which believes that Parisians should always settle down, chill out, simply enjoy the view around them and never to hurry! I just admire everything about Paris!