Rubbing noses with a mountain

If you've ever looked at a picture of the mountains, you can't help but gain a sense of awe for their beauty. And if your like me, often times thinking you're more special than you really are, you look at those mountains and say, "I could summit that." But, as the host of one of my favorite TV shows, Bear Grylls of Man vs. Wild, often says, "You can never tell how big a mountain is until you rub noses with it." A few days ago, I had the pleasure of rubbing noses with a quaint mountain in Colorado, Mt. Humboldt, and my perspective not only of that mountain, seen only in a picture before, but also of God was adjusted a bit.
My friend and I arrived at the trailhead to begin our hike up the 14,064 ft. peak, elated and full of pride. The peak looked much less daunting 7 miles away on the road to the wilderness area, but now it seemed to be looming over us, tempering our elation a bit. Onward we went. The further up the trail we ascended, the more and more I began to appreciate the power this peak possessed. It was only about 2 miles to the summit from our start point, and stopping had become an all too frequent part of the trek. We arrived at the summit nearly 4 1/2 hours after our initial elation, and once on top the reality of how small I really am hit me. It was as if that mountain could have swallowed me with no effort, but it didn't, it allowed me to stand there seeing the world from its perspective and I was thankful. Thankful that I could stand, thankful that I could see, thankful that I could feel so small.
After coming back down that peak and arriving home a couple of days later, I laid in bed thinking how much my perspective was changed that afternoon. Not only was I able to stand atop a 14,000 foot mountain, but I am able to stand before the Triune God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. Able to stand before Him because He stood below with me. He took my perspective by becoming a man, all the while remaining fully God, so that I might have the privilege of "rubbing noses" with Him.


Agonistic Preaching

I recently read an essay by Lee A. Wyatt from Confident Witness-Changing World: Rediscovering the Gospel in North America, in which he describes a model for preaching in a postmodern context. The model he terms, "agonistic preaching." The word 'agonistic' is derived from the Greek word agon meaning to struggle, fight, or compete. He claims that the Grand Story (metanarrative), that is, God's workings in past, present, and future, must encounter a culture that rejects the idea of a metanarrative but instead embraces the idea of micronarratives or individual stories (notice the plural), i.e., a postmodern culture. In other words,Wyatt says, the purpose of preaching is "to proclaim the gospel in such a way that it 'frames' the entirety of our ministry in light of the context we live in....Preachers live the questions of our time, as it were, questioning the text from where we are, and then reshaping or counter-questioning those questions in response to God's word. Out of such an 'encounter with the culture,' a sermon is born."
He divides this model of preaching into three parts: re-telling, forth-telling, and fore-telling. He understands "re-telling" as the telling of the Grand Story. The function of this stage is "a reframing of all of life within the horizon of the will and work of the Triune God," and essentially answers the question: "Who are we?" (161). It then moves to "forth-telling," defining where such moments of that Grand Story are being played out in the lives of the church. Here the function is to refine the Grand Story's insights and implications in a specific situation, thus answering the question: "Where we are?" (161-2). The last stage, "fore-telling", being dependent on the former two stages, helps people to envision the future based on the recognition of their significance and current place in the Grand Story. Its function is to "retool" or prepare people for what is to come and answers the question: "What are we to do?" (162).
As ambassadors for the mission or Grand Story of redemption through Jesus Christ, we need to carefully consider the implications of the growing presuppositions of postmodernity, specifically the rejection of metanarrative.
I believe Wyatt's model to be helpful in three ways. First, in formulating our proclamation of the Grand Story it forces us to begin with an initial "reframing" of one's concept of existence/creation, namely, that there is a purpose, a beginning, a middle, and an end, to life. Secondly, it intentionally seeks to draw people into that Grand Story, by revealing the reality that they are being sought by the Redeemer to be made complete and active in the Narrative. Thirdly, with this integration of the Grand Story into people's lives, it spurs people forward to willfully give themselves more fully to their present and future role in it.
Of course, the preacher or proclaimer must not see his/her role in the Grand Story cease as he steps from the pulpit. Instead, he/she/we/I must also integrate our lives into that story and then most importantly, into the lives of other people's stories. It is here where the "agonistic" aspect of Wyatt's model really begins to manifest itself, while the pulpit serves as a stepping stone into the redeeming plot of the Grand Story.


Bashed by Benedict

Recently, Pope Benedict has made public his feelings toward Protestant communities of faith: they are not Christian. It has long been the stance of the Roman Catholic Church that she and she alone is the true church, the Mother Church. One only needs to view St. Peter's Square (see picture at left) to interpret the Catholic understanding of the Church (take note of the curved colonnades extending from the basilica and opened to the east, the "mother arms of the church"). Benedict has simply made it clear and made it public what the RCC has long held to: salvation comes only by means of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not clear why Benedict made the statement public when he did, as he made similar statements in 2000 while he was prefect, statements claiming that "Protestant and Lutheran denominations were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities" and thus offer no means of salvation (see AP article). What I find interesting is that Benedict claims that Orthodox churches are considered true churches because "they have apostolic succession and that they enjoyed many elements of sanctification and of truth." This gives me cause to wonder: First, is the local church exhibiting a biblical element of "sanctification and truth," and what does this element look like? And second, is the RCC a biblical representation of such?
I asked the first question in a class I took on Roman Catholicism at Dallas Theological Seminary taught by Lanier Burns. I posed the question a bit differently during a discussion on the sacraments. In the class, a comment was made that sacraments have the ability to incarnate or make grace tangible, something the Roman Catholic Church does well during the mass, specifically in the Eucharist. This prompted my question, "How does the non-denominational church (of which I am associated) make grace tangible?" Dr. Burns' response was, "Love." He referred specifically to John 17, that as the Church embodies love leading to unity, the world may believe the mission of Jesus Christ. If this is the element that Benedict was bashing concerning Protestant and non-denominational communities, then perhaps his indictment has some validity. However, if this is the standard which warrants a guilty indictment, then Benedict should take a long look in the mirror (for the record, I do not believe this is what Benedict means in his statement).
This leads to the second question, "Is the RCC a biblical representation of such? I'll be evaluating this question in a later post when I have a bit more time.