Thursday, January 19, 2006

church and spirituality

more discussion...



Lian said...

Hey Phil, where was this picture taken? What's the story?


elnellis said...

it's a church in louisiana- after katrina. sad, but a powerful theological visual.

Chris said...

church is individual people. not a building.

joy said...

True the church is made up of individual people. And yet church is also a community, a sacred space. This sacred space was almost destroyed.
I like how this picture exemplifies the power destruction of nature in the bottom half with the graceful arching roof still intact.

elnellis said...

good thought joy, sacred spaces are so important for communities of faith. chris- i was thinking about how this image of a church building is representative of individuals and communities that make up the church- for better or for worse...

Chris said...

i looked at chad's blog and all the comments people wrote. some i agree with and others i don't at all.

i agree that being a christian is much more than saying the right mantra (a.k.a--the sinners prayer) and getting your butt into is more than worrying about yourself only. this false view of reality is the product of our desire to have all things in life broken into 'six easy steps.'yes phil, it is narcissistic.

what i disagree with (and maybe we're saying the same thing in different ways) is an over emphasis on community. this is something our generation tends towards.

i say this because i do see in scripture that God holds individuals accountable. we'll be judged as such when we meet Him.
and there is much to be said for maintaining a 'personal walk'with Christ.

the most important thing that sets Christianity apart from other world religions is that God has revealed himself to us intimately and invites us to seek to know Him. buddhism doesn't, hinduism doesn't and islam certainly does not. within these worldviews
god(s) are distant, often vindictive and anything but knoweable.

just look at the Psalms and there you'll find David's prayer journal of sorts. you can vividly see his personal walk with God therin.

all that to say, God wants us to seek to know him as individuals.

the other side of the coin is that God has also called us into community. He's given us His Word, His Spirit and His people. if you leave out any of the three you sell yourself and more importantly, God short.

i really believe that there are lessons that God wants to teach us that can't be learned anywhere but within Christian community.

anyway, i've rambled on long enough.

pedro said...


I agree with you wholeheartedly. There are important components of both individual and community (really, when you think about it, the I/Thou dynamic can't exist without both the I and the Thou) in the gospel. This dynamic is evident in the paradox of the trinity (hooray for systematic theology).

I sometimes overemphasize the individual, myself, because our culture (both sacred and secular) is so radically individualistic.

I agree with the comments about sacred space, which I think has been to radically de-emphasized in the scientific and pragmatic West. (Remove your shoes, for thou are on holy ground). I think that sacred space is far more than a building that houses a church service; it is a space where holiness is present (e.g., the holy of holies, Mt. Sinai). Granted, christ's death dispersed the priesthood and presence of the Spirit on earth, but I think we have lost a profound sense of the mystery and terror of the holiness of a holy God.zbvvq

joy said...

I think the major reason we've lost a profound sense of mystery has to do with our disconnection with nature. We are so caught up in our busy industralized lives that we don't think to muse at the wonders of the natural world. We forget we are part of the world around us and in doing so loss both a sense of appreciation of nature and an obligation to nature.

For me, the sense of individualism within Chrisitianity does not resolve with saying "we are the body of Christ." To look beyond the individualism of Christianity means to be a steward of nature and a servant to the world. We are individuals in a church community part of the larger world community. To make a difference by our lives, we need to impact the world for the better. That means more than evangelism and a focus on a personal relationship with Christ.

pedro said...


I think that there's a lot of sense in what you say about being disconnected from nature and a subsequent loss of appreciation for nature. When our culture still felt threatened by the inknowns of nature, holiness and mystery were tangible, but now that technology and science have virtually solved (?) the unknowns of existence, we do not feel much respect for, obligation to, or fear of nature.

nathan Barrett said...

Pedro, Joy and Chris,

I am liking this discussion. Chris, you definitely see things boldly. In all the talk about community I lost my sense of appreciation for individualism. In my thoughts on this in the past, I have come to realize that individualism is incredible as far as the West is concerned. In the Native American culture that I grew up in, community was central to them, but they also struggled to break free of the detrimental aspects of their community.

Individualism allows the individual to choose. One thing I have learned from my travels and talking to people in Europe, South America and Africa is that America has more choice than any other nation on earth. People are astounded when they arrive here at the choices that are available with everything. Some see this as negative. Though it may be at some point, I believe that personal choice also has the ability to dignify the individual and to mature her/his ability to choose more wisely (there is also many adverse affects). Providing dignity to individuals is the act of hospitality and respect which are two characteristics that provide for channels of evangelism and sharing truth. It seems to also carry on the ministry of reconciliation. When the gospel is contextualized and offered with dignity, it shows the receiver that you are sharing with them in love and respect - receiving radical truths is hard enough without making it more difficult - I believe this was a cenral aspect of Christ's incarnation.

Another aspect that hits me is the reality of "worshipping in spirit and truth" and the focus that God puts on the heart from Genesis to Revelation. God's sacred presence moved from Heaven to Earth, to a mountain tops, to a movable tabernacle, to a sitauted temple and then into destination it was meant for, our hearts in a bodily temple, from a community-oriented central mount/tent/building into a nomadic individual heart. I believe like Chris that God esteems the individual and then the community but the individual seems to receive the initial attention based on the movement the destination of God's presence to complete the work that Joy was talking about in her second statement - along with the community at home and at large (global). Is the community secondary then to the individual even though both should be in tension to be obedient to God?

pedro said...


GREAT comments. Concerning whether the individual or the community is primary, I believe that like in many things, neither is. Both the community and the individual are foremost in God's mind when he proffers redemption. The difficulty in lies in, as you stated it, allowing both to exist together in tension.

A similar tension exists in many aspects of redemption (sovereignty vs. free will; faith vs. works, etc.) I believe that the ruling principle in most cases should be both/and not either/or.

The concept of remnant, I believe, has captured elements of both individual and community. Early in its conceptual development, remnant was either an individual or a group that was much less than the original whole that was preserved from annihilation. In this, the qualitativeness rather than the quantitativeness of the preservation was preserved. That is, even though the remnant was often a miniscule number, the fact is that the remnant was the seed of continuance of the tribe or people. Noah is an obvious example of this qualitativeness of preservation that is present within the individual/group survival. God saved one family from perishing in a world-wide disaster, but that preservation (as shown through God's covenant) was for the sake of all people, demonstrating that God's concern is concurrently for individuals and groups.

If anyone is interested in a more in-depth look at the concept of remnant in the Ancient Near East and in the Old Testament, check out the writings of biblical theologian Gerhard Hasel.

nathan Barrett said...


I guess that I agree mostly, except I was hinting more at the question of progression. The Church as we know it today is made up of individuals who were individuals apart from God's redemption and they didn't get saved as a corporate entity, although this has happened but I believe is not the norm. So is God first concerned with the individual and then moves that individual (progression) into a community and continues to mature their vision of what He sees the Church as instead of the truncated view of and early disciple of Christ (more self-focused generally - but not always) I also have questions about what we call sacred beyond what God sets apart as sacred. I can only thing of one thing in Scripture that is set apart as sacred, us! The Church - we are called to be holy as He is holy. So should we regard sanctuaries as sacred apart from our hearts? Will this take away from wrestling with the sacredness of His presence within us?

By the way Pete, I got your number from Dan Keeport because I was just in Jersey City and was talking to Dan and he mentioned that you were very close to where we were staying near Newark airport. I didn't get around to calling you but now that I have your number, I will.

pedro said...


I still maintain that both the individual and the coroprate are simultaneously the focus of redemption. I base this on both the fact that the triune God is at once corporate and individual/personal (another concept laden with paradoxical tension) and that the creation account is more about the continuation of the human race through the preserved remnant (i.e., Adam and Eve) than it is about the modus operandi of creation. The evangelical emphasis on the first two chapters of Genesis being about how God literally created the world misses the mark. It is about how God sustains those for whom he cares amid the chaotic destruction that lurks perpetually over the horizon. Notice how the emphasis in both the creation account and on the preservation of
Noah is on "be fruitful and multiply" (implying that God's porpose is the survival of the race). Yes, individuals are often the loci and vehicles of God's Grace, and God, being a personal God, always extends his grace to individuals, but he SIMULTANEOUSLY extends his grace to the community, and indeed to all of creation (e.g., Gen. 9:9). After all, creation is groaning in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed, because then the lion will lay with the lamb.

Nate I would love to see you sometime as well. However, I don't think that it was my (Peter Janelle's) number that Dan gave you (was it Pete Druck's?). I'm currently in Colorado, and I'll be in a graduate program for the next two years in Minneapolis. Much love.

pedro said...

Sorry, Nate,

I was misunderstanding your use of "progression" because I did not read your post very carefully. I do think that the progression of how God encountered his people is very important. However, I think that this progression is less due to the fact that his presence was always meant to dwell in a nomadic heart and more to the conceptual cosmological progression of the human race. This is not to say that redemption is relative in the sense that we dictate the terms of right relatoinship, nor is this to say that the nature of God has changed but that God has always miraculously met his people in a way that they can conceptualize from within their worldview (the concept of the redemptive analogy, if you will), while at the same time calling them to a radically new worldview (this is, how I interpret "being in the world but not of the world"). This is the essence of what it means to embrace the radical life of the kingdom of God.

The longand the short of it for me is that because God has continued to meet his people from within their context, we should never believe that "we have arrived," that we are sitting at the ultimate pinnacle of theological understanding or of doctrinal understanding or of worship style.

I do appreciate your emphasis on the "heart" of worship. In every era, love that propells us by faith to live in hope that we will again live in perfect relationship with God is the foundation of our calling to follow our great God.