Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Theology of Interior Design

What is the relationship between a church's theology and its interior design. (I wonder if that sentence was as weird to read as it was to type!) Stick with me for a while while I explain. I believe that such things as the arrangement of a church's worship space make statements about the way that church views worship itself.

Most churches that I have been in have the typical arrangement of a podium on a stage with a Lord's supper in front of it, usually a step or two down from the podium. There is a comfortable distance between the stage and the pews. The pews themselves are simply in rows.

I believe that such an arrangement makes the following statements about our worship:
  1. The preaching has the central place in worship, for the preaching area is placed in the most visible, prestigious place.
  2. The Lord's Supper has slightly less importance since the communion table is usually placed at a lower level from the podium.
  3. Congregational worship is more about a bunch of individuals coming together to offer individual worship than it is about a family to come together to offer praise to god as one voice and one mind. It is difficult to interact with those with whom you worship when looking at the backs of their heads. While others are present, the individual, in many ways, worships alone.
Perhaps the congregations with these arrangements don't hold these views. Nevertheless, these views are communicated by the arrangement of their worship space. Furthermore, I believe that this communication will, with time, influence the way worshipers view their own worship.

On the other hand, consider an arrangement like the one that I enjoyed when worshiping with the Dayspring Church of Christ in Edmond, Oklahoma. In the center of their worship space was the Lord's Supper table. A comfortable space separated the table from the seats on each side. The seats were on all four sides of the table, no more than four rows deep. A small podium was in one corner for the use of the speaker.

In contrast to the traditional arrangement, consider what this arrangement communicates about worship:
  1. The Lord's Supper is the focal point of the gathering, since the table is at the most visible, prestigious place in the room. The congregation, like a family, is gathered around the table together to remember.
  2. The worship and praise that is offered is done while the congregation's members are looking each other in the eye, seeing the expressions on one another's faces, etc. This fosters a view of congregational worship which is not based on individual, but joint praise.
I don't believe that building architecture, interior design, and decoration are theologically neutral. To be sure, they are not the most theologically significant parts of a congregation's life. But neither are they unworthy of consideration. After all, church facilities often provide the first communication from a congregation to its community.

Imagine a situation thousands of years in the future. Archaeologists discover your community, which was destroyed along with all historical records and literature when global warming virtually wiped out all forms of human civilization. (Remember, this scenario, much like the hype surrounding global warming, is fiction being used to make a point! But that's for another post!) When these archaeologists discover your church building, what conclusions will they come to about your congregation's theology based solely on the facilities that they investigate? Would their conclusions be consistent with biblical teachings of who we are supposed to be and what our worship is supposed to be about?

Food for thought.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Gender Roles

One subject on my "issues I desperately want to re-examine" list is gender roles in the church.

I was taught that, in mixed assemblies, women are allowed to sing, but nothing else. I remember as a child a church deciding that it was inappropriate for women to speak up during the announcements to give an update on a sick family member! I was also taught that a woman can teach children and other women, but not men. More specifically, not baptized males, even if they are 12 years old. There was considerable controversy in the circle in which I was raised over whether this extended to a woman teaching a non-Christian male. I was taught that, in Bible classes, women can be called on to read Scriptures and answer questions, but they cannot lead a discussion or a prayer.

As my thinking and my approach to the Scriptures have changed, I have come to see the blindingly obvious -- that these arbitrary rules developed my men. With much clarity, I see the spirit of the Pharisees in this thinking. Rules were created to enforce what was believed to be a biblical teaching. These rules are are then made into spiritual law. Violations of the law put one's soul in jeopardy and will certainly bring condemnation without repentance.

While I have at this point rejected my previous APPROACH to the issue, I have not entirely rejected my CONCLUSIONS. To be sure, I have also not endorsed my previous conclusions. At this point in my spiritual journey, I am unsure of where I stand. (Hence, my desire to re-examine the issue in more detail.)

Here are the pertinent questions as I see them:
  1. Does the Bible teach male spiritual leadership in the church? I believe it does. The question is whether this teaching is simply factual or if it is normative. That brings me to the next question:
  2. Is that teaching to be viewed as normative teaching for the church in all ages, or is it to be seen as a cultural expedient in the biblical times? Clearly, the 1st century was a patriarchal time. In fact, the biblical teaching on women, while considered by modern American culture to be unfairly limiting to women, was actually quite liberating for women in that time. It was within this male-dominated culture that the passages dealing with male leadership were written. So do we view the male leadership that is endorsed in the Biblical passages as normative in a culture that is much more gender inclusive? Or, should we see these passages as illustrations of a different binding principle altogether -- namely, that cultural norms and expectations can be accommodated in Christian ministry when those norms and expectations don't violate any other clear principles of God? I really don't know the answer to this! What do you think?
  3. If male spiritual leadership is the biblical norm for today's church, how is that leadership maintained while allowing women the greatest possible opportunity to use their spiritual gifts? Would it simply mean that those in the pastoral roles are to be men, and they can delegate responsibility to anyone? More simply put, if a woman is asked by a male elder to lead a prayer in the assembly, would male spiritual leadership be sacrificed by her doing so?
  4. What light is shed on the issue by the great leadership shown by the women heroes of the Bible: Esther, Ruth, Deborah, Phoebe, etc.? I think we have been guilty of much eisegesis in our treatment of these stories (i.e. we read into the passages what we've already determined is the answer).
  5. Once the biblical teaching is discovered, what is the most expedient way to implement it into church life? There are problems with either position. With the traditional position of male leadership, one has to seriously grapple with the question of how to reach the culture which is increasingly gender inclusive. If the traditional position is rejected in favor of one allowing expanded roles for women, one must wrestle with how to allow women the freedom that God allows them while being sensitive to the sincere objections of many in the church.
As you can see, I have a lot of questions and not many answers. But the first step to discovery is asking the right questions! What do you think? Am I asking the right questions? Have I missed any? What conclusions have you reached on this issue?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Sorry for the infrequent posts lately. Life seems to have gotten in the way of my all-important blogging duties.

Until I get back on track, I figured everyone could benefit from some good music! So enjoy my latest discovery -- Finetune. This is my playlist of a bunch of songs/artists that I like. Some of the songs will be familiar to you; others wont. Let me know what you think! Or put together your own playlist.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Valentine

Most of you may want to just skip this post, because it just might make you gag. I know guys aren't supposed to talk about feelings and stuff, but today is Valentines day and I didn't get my wife anything. (Don't worry, she told me not to and meant it -- yet another cool thing about her.) So I thought I'd be very un-guy-like in my blog. So if you want to see me as a man's man of the most macho variety, then just stop reading now.

I dont' think she believes me when I tell her this, but I am still amazed by Alissa's beauty. You know how fire is so fascinating that you can just get lost staring at it. Her eyes are the same way to me. But after over 11 years with this woman, including almost 8 years of wedded bliss, I have grown to love her in ways that I couldn't possibly have imagined back on December 26, 1995 when I asked her out for the first time. (Yes, I know the date without even having to ask. If ever competing for a best husband award, that's going to be the first thing I bring up!)

I never could have imagined that my love for someone would increase because of someone else's love for that same person. But when I see how much my little girl loves her Mommy, I can't help but fall in love with her a little bit more.

I never could have imagined how much I would NEED her in my life. When my frustrations with ministry and my changing views on theology start to wreak havoc on my emotional peace, she can unfailingly calm. Sometimes its just by listening to a bunch of incredibly boring (to her) things that I need to get off of my chest. Sometimes its by joining me on the journey to discovery. Sometimes its by forcing me to go play with my daughter so that I'll regain my perspective. (Yes, sometimes I have to be forced, I'm ashamed to say.) Whichever tactic she chooses, I don't think I could get through some of my frustrations while maintaining my sanity without her.

I love how she loves her family.

I love how she has learned to embrace being a minister's wife, even though it has always been more my calling than hers. It hasn't been fair to her, but she has never wavered in her support of me. I can't possibly tell you how touching that is to me.

I love watching TV with her. Shows are SO much better when she's watching them with me.

I love how she will be brutally honest with me. When I've preached a sermon and everyone else is shaking my hand and complimenting me and she walks by and just says "Eh," I know the truth. And I love it that she does that! It just makes me better!

I love to hear her sing. She reminds me why the human voice is the greatest instrument on earth.

I love to hear her laugh, especially that adoring laugh that comes when Abbie does something cute.

So there you go. I'm still in love.

My next post will be of a more manly variety. I promise.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Toad Sky-High

In some of my thesis research, I cam across this funny story about Walter Scott, one of the fathers of the Stone-Campbell Movement. It comes from an article by D. Newell Williams out of Discipliana (Vol. 56, No. 3; Fall 1996)entitled "Bringing A Vision to Life: Walter Scott and the Restored Church."
... though never an extemporaneous preacher, Scott was attentive to his audience, and could respond to particular circumstances. The story has often been told how once, when preaching on the atonement, Scott noticed that his audience was going to sleep. thus, he abruptly addressed himself to the young boys on the front row. Discovering that they were familiar with a game called "toad sky-high" (a game in which one leans a plank on a stone, places a toad on the lower end of the plank, then pounds the elevated end of the plank with a stick), he proceeded to happily tell the children about playing this game when he was a boy in Scotland. The boys laughed. Changing his demeanor, Scott informed the boys that toad sky-high was really a bad game, since the toad often died. He continued with a description of a toad's death so vivid that some to [sic] the boys began to cry. Turning to their parents he declared, your children are weeping over the death of a toad, while you have been sleeping through the story of the death of your Lord!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

An Analogy

The most frustrating part of writing a thesis is choosing a topic. At least, I think that's the most frustrating part. My last attempt at a thesis ended out of frustration with that step, so I really don't know about the frustrations that follow. At any rate, I am currently at that frustrating point in my thesis work.

Today, I spent about four hours researching a possible topic before deciding that it was not going to be possible to do. So I went on to another possible topic and spent the next four hours researching it. While I realize that those first four hours were progress because, without them, I would not have been able to narrow my topic. But it still felt like four wasted hours.

As I reflect on my life's spiritual journey, I see the same dynamic playing out on a larger scale. I spent the first 25 or so years of my life aggressively pursuing a spiritual path that was increasingly restrictive, judgmental, and legalistic. I mistook an increasing tendency to condemn others with a stronger faith. I went to school so that I could more effectively teach others this poor theology. I pursued a career in converting people to this invalid way of thinking. I am now growing in my understanding of God's grace and its implications for Christian liberty. I am connecting in greater ways with the unity emphasis of my denomination's heritage. I see my former path as unfruitful and in conflict with Christ at its very core. So I have abandoned it.

While I understand that many positive lessons were learned during the first 25 years of my life, and that those years were used by God in my spiritual formation. In spite of this realization, I can't help from time to time but feel like I have wasted time and energy on false theology.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Rich Young Ruler by Derek Webb

Have you ever listened to a song that you have heard many times before and suddenly realize the meaning behind it? That happened to me today as I was driving and listening to the Mockingbird album by Derek Webb. The song "Rich Young Ruler" struck me deeply as I listened to it. Read the lyrics below:

(vs. 1)
poverty is so hard to see
when it’s only on your tv and twenty miles across town
where we’re all living so good
that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood
where he’s hungry and not feeling so good
from going through our trash
he says, more than just your cash and coin
i want your time, i want your voice
i want the things you just can’t give me

(vs. 2)
so what must we do
here in the west we want to follow you
we speak the language and we keep all the rules
even a few we made up
come on and follow me
but sell your house, sell your suv
sell your stocks, sell your security
and give it to the poor
what is this, hey what’s the deal
i don’t sleep around and i don’t steal
i want the things you just can’t give me

because what you do to the least of these
my brother’s, you have done it to me
because i want the things you just can’t give me

Now give it a listen:

I don't know about you, but THAT is what I consider Christian music. It communicates the message of Jesus in such a way as to teach us His way, remind us of our duty to Him, and motivate us to action.

My friend Dana has been introducing me to some Christian artists. One thing I've noticed is that the songs are overwhelmingly praise songs. Very few of them deal with life issues. Even fewer of them deal with social issues.

While I enjoy and appreciate a good praise song as much as the next guy, I want my music library to resemble the Scriptures in its make-up. A healthy dose of praise combined with reflections on church, society, morality, personal struggles, and even politics -- all from the perspective of faith.

That's why I so appreciate this album by Derek Webb. I think that's why I've always been drawn to groups like U2 more than CCM, too. U2's catalog exhibits an honest struggle with the issues of life from the perspective of faith. Even artists like Sarah McLachlan have impressed me with their ability to express honesty in their struggles with faith.

I guess I find much of CCM to resemble much of Christianity. It tries to use praise to avoid dealing with the difficult aspects of living as light in a dark world. Many Christians, rather than seeking ways to bring peace, feed the hungry, help the needy, care for the homeless, and reach the lost are content to "worship with the saints."

So we raise our hands in praise, we lift our eyes to the heavens, we lift our voices to Him. Good for us! But do you think that God would be disappointed if, from time to time, we lowered our hands so that we could reach out to assist someone in need? Do you think He would be hurt if we occasionally lowered our gaze so that we could see the reality of suffering around us that we are called to ease? Do you think He would be offended if we periodically lowered the direction our voices toward our fellow man with a word of encouragement or a shout of advocacy?

What am I saying? That Christians should focus LESS on praise? If our definition of Christian service is limited to or dominated by corporate praise, then absolutely! Honestly, I believe that these acts of service ARE acts of praise of the holiest nature!