Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Todd Hunter, Spiritual Practices in Costa Mesa

I came across a very interesting piece via the Christianity Today newsletter, a fine piece of email that typically sidetracks me from my oh-so-important-tasks a couple times a week. This interview with Todd Hunter tracks his journey from Calvary Chapel to head of Vineyard to emerging church guru to head of Alpha USA to Anglican priest and now (incredibly!) Bishop.

I've had a few opportunities to interact with Todd over the years as he was on the board of the church and ministries of Soul Survivor USA when Bekah and I served there 2001-2005. I have always been impressed with his rare combination of humility and intellect, and his comments in this article bear that out. I also appreciate his continuing and unwavering emphasis on evangelism (something that get lost in the search for a Bigger and More Holistic and Truthful Gospel). Here, Hunter argues for a return to spiritual practices as an engine for evangelism. He specifically mentions non-confrontive approach to sexual morality and saying the Apostles Creed in the same breath, which I find both startling and somewhat intiruguing.

Hunter also argues for a renewal of spiritual practices as a Christianity that's actually lived as oppossed to simply believed.

He states, "I have a vision of liturgy as a tool for evangelism and discipleship, a tool that is grounded in Scripture."

Much of what Hunter advocates resonates with me, a late 20's pastor with roots in Pentecostal holiness and a predilection for reading post-Evangelical literature and a promixity to emergent theology. I suppose you could call me, Emergent-adjacent. Also being an Anglican-ophile (four years in the tradition) I will certainly be cheering on Hunter's and (my close friend and former pastor Paul Martin's) Holy Trinity Costa Mesa church plant as it launches on Sept. 27th.

Two key thoughts I had to add after reading:

1. I'm not so sure that emerging church theology and leadership development are as mutually exclusive as Hunter (abeit hesitantly) inferred when he said,

"Second, after 10 or 12 years of the emerging church, you have to ask where anything has been built. Evangelism has been so muted and the normal building of structures and processes hasn't moved forward because there's no positive, godly imagination for doing either evangelism or leadership. Such things are by definition utilitarian, and so they were made especially difficult."

I do think that we need to find a new ways to enact church leadership that bypasses utilitarianism for a more communal, justice-centered approach but I think we have a model for that in Christ and the disciples. My interactions with other young pastors reveals a tendency to be wary of authoritarian structures but not necessarily a desire to deconstruct the notion of leadership altogether. I also believe that volunteer or bivocational leadership is the future of the church and in trying to spend my time and resources accordingly, am uncovering a deep resevoir of diverse leaders. Many of whom may/or may not subscribe to foundationalism or fundamentalism in any formal way but who are nonetheless committed to the forgiveness pf sins by grace, who are determined to make a difference in the world and who follow the teachings of Jesus in an orthodox and literal sense.

In some ways, I think Hunter's criticism of the emerging movement is in some ways deserved, but I believe that we will see a real renewal in the church that will come from the very same people who are still finding their way through the matrix and shaking off the shackles of modernism and American Evangelicalism. All that to say, we in the 16 to 29 demo, are still enroute. This same weakness, is also an opportunity for God to demonstrate his sovereignty and power.

2. I have been giving a lot of thought to the spritual disciplines, to the spiritual practices that accompany Anglicanism and have been so glaringly absent from many of our Protestant, Charismatic churches. In our own community of faith, we have recently been fasting, and personally, I have really been wrestling with how to integrate silence, solitude and liturgy into my own life.

Our admittedly limited experiences and experiments with liturgy in The Five at Northpark lead me to echo Hunter when he stresses that spiritual practices and participatory Christianity are not impediments to evangelism but rather an engine for it. Someone participating in the local church first and believing second can be a beautiful process and I am seeing it happen.

Another reason that I love the spiritual practices is because I believe that if we practice them biblically, they inevitably put us on a crash course with injustice. Separated from political fads and popular, trendy Christianity, spiritual disciplines can and should lead us in the direction of serving the poor. I am convinced and have written in this blog several times that we will never see transformation in our culture or in our nation, as long as we continue to oppress and marginalize entire populations, and turn a blind eye to issues of injustice.

Isaiah 58:6-9 (TNIV)

6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness a]">[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

So, practicing spirituality that is traditional and orthodox can naturally lead to evangelism and transformation but even more, those practices should lead us to social/personal action that contextualizes the gospel and reveals this Gospel of Reconciliation to actually be the Good News that we know it to be. Then, when people are exposed to a salvation that resonates loudly (ALL CREATION RETURNING TO RIGHT RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD), evangelism should occur almost automatically. There's no secret agenda in sharing that with people. Of course, as I'm reminded all the time, Evangelism does actually require that we actually TELL people the reasons behind our efforts to eliminate extreme poverty and to bring freedom to those in captivity. Otherwise we are just doing good work like everyone else.

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