You mean I can actually call myself an evangelical?

8 05 2008

Evangelical Manifesto.





A Strange Trend for Seminary Students

16 04 2008

I find that more students in Seminary (at least at Truett) are finding themselves in a strange situation – we don’t really want to work in a church.  What is more, we don’t really know exactly what it is that we want to do.  And so the big question is: What in the world are we going to do with an MDiv degree?

The common theme is that we all feel called to do the work of God.  We want to participate in the ministry of the Kingdom, and we feel that Seminary is one of the best places to learn about that ministry.  And at the same time so many of us are frustrated with the traditional/institutional way of doing things – so much so that it leaves a bad taste in our mouths.  And so much so that it makes us dread working in a church.

But we certainly can’t support our families and make any kind of income with an MDiv degree outside of the church.  So what are we to do?  I feel that I would be doing a disservice to the church if I were to work in one right now, namely because my attitude would not be right.  At the same time, I need income, and I don’t want to work at Target.

It seems that there are a couple of possibilities to pursue.   Church plants are an appropriate option.  Establishing a community of believers who are committed to a similar purpose outside of the institution seems like a good option.  Another option might be volunteer ministry.  One might work full time for a business or teach at a public school and get involved in organizations like Mission Waco.  An MDiv would  certainly be an asset for this kind of ministry.  Then there’s the more difficult road of doing PhD work, which involves more school and more money spent.

But that’s all the ideas I have for now as far as long term plans.  I know that there are more of you out there with this problem – I’ve talked to you.  Any other ideas?  How can we use our MDiv outside of the institutional church?





Struggles

7 04 2008

I am losing faith.

Not faith in God. Not faith in Christ. I have as much faith in the way of Jesus as I ever have. It’s probably safe to say that I have more faith in the way of Jesus than ever.

I am losing faith in church. I am losing faith in Christians.

I know, I know: Christians are imperfect people. They’re no better than anyone. But Jesus said that the way that the world knows who we are is by our love for one another.

And churches split. Christians kill. Christians advocate for war. Christians ignore poverty. Christians ignore the environmental crisis. Christians lead the way in hatred of homosexuals… You get the picture.

At the same time I know that this isn’t the whole picture. I know that there are wonderful people doing the work of God in the world.

So what are we to make of the church?

My experience with the church is a mixed bag.  On the one hand, I have developed life long relationships based on truth, forgiveness, love, and hope.  My wife and I have enriched our relationship through the church.  We have seen many examples of what it looks like to live in a loving, self-sacrificial kind of marriage.  Many people in the church have invested in my life – from my youth minister, to my high school buddies, to my college minister, to people who volunteered with me in the youth ministry at WHBC.

But then there’s that other hand.   One of the basic problems in my experience is that church is entirely focused on the sustainment of the institution.  From tithing to programs – everything rests on “growing” our particular “family of faith.”  There has been little to no focus on impacting the surrounding community.  Sure, we want people to come, only so long as they come to our church and “get saved” in our church so we can grow.  And I have met the meanest people in church.  There are people in the church who hate.  You know, the ones who never have anything good to say.  Everything is negative criticism.  Not to mention the deep political divides within the church.  The church is more divided in terms of right and left than the American political sphere – you have fundamentalists, mainline liberals, emergent, reformed, catholicism, etc., and virtually none of them work together.  Blah.

I could keep going, but you get the idea.

In all of this, I have been struggling over the past few months about what it looks like to actually be the people of God, to actually participate in the life of the Kingdom.  And I can’t get over the feeling that the Kingdom of God does not exist in the traditional, institutional church of America.  Maybe I’m wrong.  I hope that I am wrong.  It’s just a feeling that I have.  And I certainly don’t have any answers.  I just have questions (and sometimes I don’t even have questions, just illegible inward emotions that drive me crazy).

And in all of this, I have been struggling with my place in the church.  I used to think that I was going to be a youth minister for 10 years or so, and then possibly do something else in the ministry.  I can’t go back to that.  I can’t bring myself to work for a system that is so fundamentally flawed.  But I’m still called.  I know that God has called me to “ministry,” as cliche as that sounds.  So I have no idea where to go from here.

I have a feeling of disgust towards church.  I can’t put my finger on it.  I don’t have any answers.  I just know that I can no longer live in the status quo.





Resignation Letter

4 11 2007

Dear Western Heights Baptist Church,

My wife and I have served at this congregation for almost five years now – 2 ½ years as volunteers in the youth ministry and 2 ½ years I have served on staff. I was thinking about it the other day, and I discovered that I have spent more than one-fifth of my life at Western Heights. Needless to say, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity that I have had to serve you. I have learned so much in regards to life, faith, ministry, and community, and I will always remember the wonderful times that I have had with this community of believers.

That being said, there comes a time when we must make a choice. My wife and I are at a critical point in life where we must make important decisions that will affect the future of our family. We have put in much prayer, thought, deliberation, and conversation over the last few weeks and months about where it is that God wants us to go, and we have come to the conclusion that we are called elsewhere. So, as of Sunday, November 18, two weeks from today, I hereby resign my position as Minister to Students at Western Heights Baptist Church.

I want to encourage you, my brothers and sisters in the faith, to keep struggling, to keep wrestling with God, to keep seeking change, to keep on discovering what it means for you to follow Jesus here at Western Heights.

The only regret we have in following God’s calling is that we must part with you, whom we love so dearly. You are good people with hearts to serve and follow our Lord. You have been so supportive and good to us, and we are eternally grateful for the opportunity we have had to serve our Lord Jesus at Western Heights Baptist Church.

Grace and peace be with all of you,

Marc Halpin





Remedy

4 10 2007

Remedy

 

 

 

 

 

DC*B’s new CD, Remedy, has me smitten. And now that I’ve listened to it sufficiently, I feel that I can at least attempt to describe it in words, which is really a difficult task in dealing with great art. I can talk about it until I’m blue in the face, but you really have to experience it for yourself to do it justice.

And to be certain, Remedy is great art.

Let me begin with what I don’t like about Remedy.

One, it’s only ten tracks. Now, ten tracks is pretty standard in most cases, but DC*B spoiled me with A Collision (which, by the way is the best Christian album of all time. Go ahead, try and think of a better one). True, many of the 20 tracks on Collision are simply interludes, but these interludes add to the listening experience. Remedy, when I compare it to the last CD, is a let-down in this regard: it just feels short-lived, even though it’s really not. But again, this is only a negative because I’ve been spoiled, and in reality, this critique is surface-level and unimportant. I’m just trying to find things I don’t like about the CD, which was difficult to do.

Two, there are a couple of tracks on the CD that are, in my opinion, average (average in Crowder terms, which is still pretty good). “We Won’t Be Quiet,” the song that Ted Nugent plays on, is quick, and in comparison with the rest of the CD I felt that the lyrics are a bit cliche. The melody seems jerky in the chorus. Even performed live at the CD release party, I didn’t enjoy this one as much. “Rain Down” is a re-release from an earlier CD, and I was kind of disappointed here, as well. “Can You Feel It?” feels like David Crowder Dance Party more than anything. I’m not sure that this is a negative, though. I’m still not quite sure what I think about this track.

But that’s about all I don’t like about it. There is much more to love!

The thing that strikes me the most about this CD is its call to action. Never have I encountered a worship CD that inspired me to get off my duff and actually take part in the service of God’s kingdom in the way that Remedy does. If A Collision was a masterpiece musically, then Remedy is a masterpiece lyrically. Usually when I listen to music, it takes me a few repetitions to really grasp the lyrics because I tend to pay more attention to the instrumental aspect of the song. Not this CD. I was immediately captured by what Crowder was saying.

Lyrically, the focus of the CD emphasizes God’s action, but more than this, it is a call to respond to God’s workings in our lives and in history. And the theme flows nicely, almost perfectly, from beginning to end, culminating in the final two tracks, “Remedy” and “Surely We Can Change.”

We begin with “The Glory of it All,” which proclaims the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Oh the glory of it all is he came here
For the rescue of us all
That we may live…

Each song seems to have subtle hints at the movement of God’s work into the lives of his people. Crowder is really emphasizing all throughout the CD that God has worked, and he is now calling us to be his instruments in the world. “Can You Feel It” moves further in this direction as this song emphasizes that God surely resides in his people. This track is fun, and as I said above, has a dance party feel to it.

“Everything Glorious” is truly an outstanding song in every sense. It’s a great worship song, it’s catchy, and it emphasizes God’s glorious creation. Again, Crowder hints at our capability to do the work of God: “You make everything glorious, and I am yours… What does that make me?”

“Neverending” is reminiscent of “Forever and ever” off of the A Collision CD. Fun to listen to, and again, spiritually profound.

“Never Let Go” is the token slow song on the CD. It emphasizes God’s faithfulness, as you can see from the title.

“Oh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” Crowder is far and away the best at reworking the old hymns of the faith and making them relevant today. He adds his own chorus to the Wesley hymn…

So come on and sing out
Let our anthem grow loud
There is one great love

“Rain Down” is really the one track that I was disappointed in. I’ve heard it before, and I wish they had put something new here. Nonetheless, it works well with the flow of the CD.

“We Won’t Be Quiet” has some great guitar and cool voice effects. As far as the flow of the CD goes, it works well as we move more clearly from God’s action to our response.

Clearly, to my mind, the last two tracks are the best. They absolutely blew me away the first time I heard them. “Remedy” and “Surely We Can Change,” in keeping with the theme of the album, celebrate God’s action through Christ and call his people to respond. We move in “Remedy” from God acting as the Remedy to the final words of the song, “Let us be the remedy.” And “Surely we can Change” is really a heartfelt prayer/poem/song that calls upon God to aid the hurting, the suffering, those who lack courage, etc, and finally asks his people to be the agent that brings the relief, the remedy, if you will. If God has acted through Christ, “Surely we can change something.” And the CD ends with a powerful repetition of hope…

Oh the world’s about to change
The whole world’s about to change
The whole world’s about to change
The whole world’s about to change
The whole world’s about to change

In short, if you haven’t already, buy this CD. Don’t burn it from someone else, please. It’s really a wonderful work of art. It leads me into worship every time I listen. Even more, it inspires me like no other CD I’ve ever heard to live out my faith. Over the past week, “Remedy” is the first thing I listen to in my car, and I am immediately made aware of the presence of God, and I am immediately exhorted to walk in the way of Christ.





A Holistic Gospel

3 10 2007

All (or most) of us engaged with the emergent conversation are pretty much on the same page when it comes to the convert’em and drop’em mentality. That is, we are weary of those who want to focus on salvation as merely a means to the end of getting into heaven/escaping Hell. Clearly, the New Testament witness stresses much more when it comes to salvation. I think that most people who read this blog – even those of a more conservative persuasion – can fully agree with me on this. Salvation is both already and not yet. It is both future-oriented and present tense. As Paul says, we must continually work out our salvation, i.e., we can’t just say a prayer and be done with it.

Our interim pastor, Dr. Joe Loughlin touched on this topic last Sunday morning, and he said it well. One of the biggest failures of the last few decades in the evangelical tradition has been the overemphasis of salvation as being “salvation from Hell.” Now, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with salvation from Hell, but salvation from Hell is merely one of the many, many facets of the bigger picture of salvation that we find in the New Testament, let alone the Old Testament. Again, I am quite sure that everyone who reads this blog would agree with this argument.

Now, we in the new generation of Christianity in America have to learn from this mistake. I am convinced, that aside from a few dying circles, we are currently getting over this stage in our history. We are beginning to realize that Christianity, that salvation means nothing apart from discipleship. Christianity means nothing without actually following Jesus. We can see this trend from a growing influx of books over the past few years emphasizing discipleship, one of the most prominent being Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission.

What I have to be careful of, though, is to stay away from the pendulum swing mentality. It’s so easy for me to see the harm that has been done in the church because of an unhealthy over-emphasis on the future kingdom of God – Heaven. Clearly, we have seen that the church has misled so many to believe that they can say the sinner’s prayer and receive their fire-insurance without any form of discipleship. We cannot as a church, though, completely abandon our belief in the eschatological kingdom (final, last things, “end times” – not in the Left Behind sense). If we abandon such belief, we lose our future-oriented hope in the gospel.

I must confess, it has been easy for me to turn from the fundamentalist emphasis on salvation from Hell, and turn to an over-emphasis on the Kingdom of God as here and now.

I have come to realize that we must live in the tension between the already and not yet. Not merely because the tension between the already and not yet is doctrinally sound. But, because the tension between the already and not yet keeps our practice of Christianity in a healthy balance.

Dr Joe said it well: Anytime we over-emphasize anything, we risk endangering the message of the gospel. We should learn this from our recent mistake of over-emphasizing salvation from Hell.

On the other side of the coin, if we look back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we can learn from the mistakes of classical liberalism. Friedrich Schleiermacher was a leader in this movement who over-emphasized the kingdom as here and now, and he believed that humankind could bring about God’s kingdom on earth. This manifested itself in Socialism, and long story short – World War I happened. Moral of the story: neither an unhealthy focus on the here and now, nor an unhealthy focus on the not yet is helpful.

We must live in the tension, painful as it may be.

We must realize that we as humans are still humans. We cannot, aside from an act of God, bring about God’s kingdom on earth. Likewise, we cannot take an escapist attitude and simply ‘wait for Heaven.’

A healthy tension between already and not yet is important for Christian life and practice. To be sure, salvation effects our lives to the very core at this moment in time. It changes us now and forevermore. And to be sure, because of our salvation, we have a hope that God himself will redeem all things. Thus, we have a hope that we can work for change and that God is active in history. We also have a hope that someday all will be made right, and there will be no more tears, or crying, or pain.

May we live in the tension. May we live with hope for the future. May we live with conviction in the now. May we follow the Christ who is peace and justice and salvation!

PS
I apologize for the over-use of italics.





Let us be the church

28 09 2007

Sally Morgenthaler is challenging her own work.  If you’re from Western Heights, I challenge you to take some time and read this article.  It’s important!

Worship is not an event. It is not evangelism strategy. It is not music. It is not surface-level entertainment. It is not staged.

Worship is a way of life.

We can no longer use our snazzy and entertaining worship services as excuses for our “efforts at evangelism.” We can no longer use the worship service as an excuse to not get our hands dirty.

Let us worship both in spirit and in truth. Let our worship call us to service. Let our service call us to worship.

And let us act as the people of God, the people of peace, the people of justice, the people of righteousness, the people of grace, the people of Christ.

God, forgive us of our many failures, and lead us into new life.