Friday, December 26, 2008

Book Review: Reimagining Church

I knew the topic of the book before I picked it up to read. I expected to be informed, inspired, and affirmed. I am not disappointed after the reading.

Reimagining Church is readable, well organized, and thorough on the topic of the Body of Christ experiencing itself as an organic gathering in communion with the Holy Spirit. Divided into two parts, "Community Gatherings" and "Leadership and Accountability," Frank Viola discusses the spiritual and practical aspects of church as organism versus organization.

This morning I woke knowing among my projects for today was writing this review. Two words popped into my thinking as I reflected over my thoughts and inclinations from the reading of Reimagining Church: wholesome and holistic. Allow me to clarify those terms as applied here.

By wholesome I mean healthy and sound. The words of the book are beneficial for the spiritual health of a body of believers. Even those who strongly identify with an institutional church but recognize the validity of a small group gathering will profit from thinking through what Viola discusses in the chapters on the "Family of God" and "Church Unity." Those of us who no longer seek out fellowship in the IC also will find ourselves guided in healthy ways to a fuller understanding of the relational way our Father both initiated and supports the growth of koinonia among believers.

By holistic, I depart from the original coinage of the word in 1926 within psychology and choose it here more in line with a broader meaning currently of emphasizing the organic or functional relation between parts and the whole. This is, in fact, the nature and thrust of the book: a discussion of the mystery of the Body of Christ as an entity built on communion between individuals who grow in a corporate communion with the Holy Spirit; in other words, the church as the dwelling place of God and vehicle whereby believers pass through this life as aliens on our way home. The discussion is supported by a plethora of scriptural references in fair hermeneutic interpretation, a breadth of quotes from Christians revealing a consensus of thought among brethren, and substantive documentation verifying the book is not merely conjecture.

I recommend the book for anyone who desires a greater depth of love between believers than is currently experienced but is unsure of how or where to search. The book is also highly recommended for those who have launched into a such a journey already but need a refining of purpose and direction. I have received just that by my time spent in the pages of Reimagining Church.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Soul's Angst.

The soul is both meaning and end of the whole of our human experience without the Cross. Search art, literature, music, philosophy, politics, economics, the sciences and you can find those who never mention God. Yet, all these areas of humanity's collective soul will also reference God. Depending on the time period and the speaker, such references may be reverential, blasphemous, religious as in worshiping false gods or reflect agnosticism. To understand the collective human soul, one must simply analyze human expression in all its variations.

On an individual level, our soul is shaped by nature and nurture in ways we may partially understand, but my observations are that most of us understand very little. We live an uneasy peace with our own soul. One thing I have noticed among Americans, the condition of the soul and discussions both from and about the soul's phenomena are often reduced to basic recounting of what it is we think motivates us. Our relationships are tied around labeling love of something outside of self and are thus built from an identified mutuality: "You love sardines!! I do, too!" Finding others who like what we like and joining together to share in that soulish experience would appear to be the chief end of humans. Sometimes, this mutuality takes on high-stakes consequences and appears to be of substantial importance, patriotism or its next of kin, nationalism, for example. In the course of history, I would guess there has rarely been a time when so many defined life simply as a function of the desires known within the soul and the corollary of building relationships on such.

From a secular perspective, life can be seen as centuries of development wherein humanity works first to gain security from and against nature,
then to increase wealth and all the while experience love. I think the driving rationale is a mixing of the exercise of intellect for material ends and simultaneously seeking the longings of our hearts in the process. Art has long been the place where humanity is analyzed and articulated juxtaposed with the progress of man materially. Artistic expression expresses the state of the soul, both individually and communally, within the ever progressive cultural framework of intellectually achieving what the world has to offer of wealth, fame, and glory.

Consider the implications of the two following examples:

Dan Fogelberg wrote a song which was released on his 1985 album, High Country Snows, entitled "The Higher You Climb."

The higher you climb,
The more that you see.
The more that you see,
The less that you know.
The less that you know,
The more that you yearn.
The more that you yearn,
The higher you climb.

The farther you reach,
The more that you touch.
The more that you touch,
The fuller you feel.
The fuller you feel,
The less that you need.
The less that you need,
The farther you reach.

How succinctly he captures the human experience. In the first stanza, he describes our soul's yearning and the impossibility of ever being fully satisfied. This quest for satisfaction is a common human experience of the soul. The second stanza appears to answer the endless yearnings. When one's reach, reaches to others, therein lies the source of the only true satisfaction known in this life. Such connection and its fulfillment reduces our need and its yearning, which extends our reach.
I interpret Fogelberg as intending his words express a nobility which may be found within said quest for satisfaction when one reaches out to others.

Emmilou Harris's "Deeper Well" from her 1995 album, Wrecking Ball, also explores the yearnings idea with an opposite metaphor, a search within the soul sought through personal life experiences.

the sun burned hot, it burned my eyes
burned so hot I thought I'd died
thought I'd died and gone to hell
lookin' for the water from a deeper well

I went to the river but the river was dry
I fell to my knees an I looked to the sky
I looked to the sky and the spring rain fell
I saw the water from a deeper well

well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well

I was ready for love I was ready for the money
ready for the blood and ready for the honey
ready for the winnin', ready for the bell
lookin' for the water from a deeper well

I found some love and I found some money
found that blood would drip from the honey
found I had a thirst that I could not quell
lookin'for the water from a deeper well

well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well

well I did it for kicks and I did it for faith
I did it for lust and I did it for hate
I did it for need and I did it for love
addiction stayed on tight like a glove
so I ran with the moon and I ran with the night
and the three of us were a terrible sight
nipple to the bottle, to the gun, to the cell
to the bottom of a hole of a deeper well

well lookin for the water from a deeper well
well lookin for the water from a deeper well

I rocked with the cradle and I rolled with the rage
I shook those walls and I rattled that cage
I took my trouble down a deadend trail
reachin' out a hand for a holier grail
hey there mama did you carry that load
did you tell your baby 'bout the bend in the road
'bout the rebel yell 'bout the one that fell

lookin' for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well

In the end, we must express a truth that is evident throughout the ages:

The human soul is filled with an unanswerable angst.

The quest to satisfy has been at the root of productivity, philanthropy, altruism, war, and crime. All that is good or bad has been explored. The answer is in the spirit known only through the second birth Jesus describes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Soul and Spirit II

The soul/spirit dichotomy is a discussion ripe for disagreement. I think discussion, however, can prove fruitful for growth and maturity in Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13 instructs us on the purpose of the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to the Body of Christ are for the equipping of the saints "
until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

Here in the Bible-belt, one might infer from attendance at many, if not most Sunday morning services that this scripture is expanded to say, "and of the knowledge of salvation through the Son of God." Certainly, I agree that salvation of the souls of humans is a main thrust of the NT writings. Further it is clear, such is a commonly held belief among Christians and as such is a part of the "unity of the faith." I wholeheartedly agree it is an important component of the message of reconciliation we bring to those who perish spiritually. Yet, in and of itself, salvation of souls as the core meaning of the work of the Anointed One on the cross and the supernatural consequences of the resurrection is at best limited in its articulation of the supernatural intent for humans in the Father's heart; and at worst, it is incorrect and artificially binds those so taught in less than the full power of the knowledge of the Son of God.

The focus of teaching on the salvation of souls is, in my estimation, a product of the focus of humans on their soul existence. I observe we are largely concerned with our "body" experience throughout our lives, and thus, we focus our contextual understandings and development of our mind and hearts around the natural reality of our physical existence. Our intellectual constructs are highly developed but limited to knowledge of life as the soul within the body. Without the illumination of the Spirit of God, humans are trapped in the soul, build all understandings from that limited vantage point, and cannot see Jesus as the Christ.

There are differing semantics for the soul. Some are concerned with psyche, and an entire branch of knowledge called psychology has become a science (science as a term rooted in a word meaning "to know") in which one may be credentialed. This knowledge seeks to understand and provide therapy for the mind/body connection which is estimated to be at the root of human behavior.

My concern for searching out the topic in discussion is intended to push the envelope a bit. Is there a lack of unity in our traditions of faith? Is this lack a function of soulish constructs which result in disagreement and division? Is it possible that a supernatural experience of spirit, in and through the living Christ, is the unifying feature of Christian perspective?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

Thought this was worth sharing.

(I had wanted to be all tech savvy and put the video on display here. Sigh. I should have asked my wife how to do it! My readers just get the link.)

More on soul and spirit over the weekend.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Soul and Spirit

These two words are vital, literally. That is the word vital is a part of the Greek definitions of both words. These two words are at the core of what we know as life beyond are biological existence.

I accept these words as distinct but inseparable by human understanding. I base this on the word of the Lord Jesus. We must be born a second time of spirit, hence the phrase "born again." I think that being born of the spirit marks the beginning of our intimate relationship in spirit with God. I cannot argue effectively from the scripture there was no spirit in a person before being born of the spirit, but I think that is the case. Even if that is not true, being born of the spirit must mark the start of something new based on spirit. This event marks the divide between soul and spirit.

I accept the soul is the vital force that is our eternal being. It is known by us as we experience our thoughts and feelings. These two, mind and heart, are a function of the soul. The soul is tied to the body. The body holds the soul temporarily during this life. The soul embraces spirit to draw upon the life therein.

The Holy Spirit is a like a wind. The soul is so structured that it needs "spirit" to be full of life. The soul is born of the Spirit of God or it remains attached to the only other spirit-like entity that exists, the spirit of the anti-Christ. These two opposed spirits are all there is to animate the soul fully.

Your thoughts?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Help Explore the Next Line of Thought

There are two words I find valuable in articulating the state of being in-dwelt by the Living God:

Soul and Spirit.

How do you think about these two words in relation to faith?
Are they synonymous?
Are they related but inseparable?
Are they distinct from one another?

I hope you will comment.