Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Journey Has a Map

I have been reading Ancient-Future Evangelism by Robert Webber lately and wanted to share some thoughts.

First, I have been amazed and pleased to see him use the phrase "belong, believe, behave" to describe what the church needs to provide for and help postmodern people do. These are three of the five "be" words we have used in the Vintage vision statement (along with "because" and "become") to describe we are all about.

Second, I have been encouraged and comforted to see someone talk about how even postmoderns need a set process for spiritual growth and development. Rick Warren's baseball diamond is a wonderful too to illustrate how people need to grow and develop, but we have been afraid that it is too cliche and fool-proof to connect well with messy postmoderns. Webber actually uses Warren's baseball diamond as a postive example and suggests using "rites of passage" in conjunction with the ancient Christian calendar to help people see the path they are walking on the journey of faith. (Dr. Carter called these "rites of passages" milestones in redemptive history, and I like that phrase best of all.)

I am far from done, but I am encouraged once again that we are on the right path with our vision for Vintage. I am hoping that we can find a "scout" or a "guide" who can map the journey for us at Vintage and champion the cause of people walking it. Maybe Robert Webber wants to give it all up and come help us. Now that would be cool.


ness said...

I love the "rites of passage" terminology. Our culture has so few of them, but we know it and want them. I also love "milestones."

Anonymous said...

Robb, a quick question - with the baseball diamond, or the method that Webber uses to describe the process of spiritual growth.

Do we have any biblical support for seeing that kind of an approach to spiritual growth? Do we see the apostles giving Christians these milestones or rites of passage (except Baptism, of course)?

What if we are preoccupied with measuring spiritual growth in ways that the NT isn't as preoccupied about?

I'm not arguing with the validity of the rites of passage in themselves, only with our obsession with labeling them and making sure that we know where people are in their spiritual development.

I'm not trying to be difficult - it's just a question that I've been wrestling with lately.

Thanks for the post - I like your site a lot.

Toby Locke (we went to BBC together for a couple of years - I'm class of '98 and a friend of Steve Lawrence)

Robb said...


Good question. I think there are a couple of ways to look at it.

First, Webber suggests that the lack of process in the modern church is actually different from the practice of the early church, which had a set series of steps for people to take. He suggests that the conversion of Constantine, the rise of infant baptism, and eventually the individualized nature of faith caused them to be lost by the modern church. He makes his case with history and examples from the church in the first three centuries.

Second, there are a number of indications in the NT itself that churches expected people to grow in faith in an orderly and processed way. I don't want to be a proof-texter, but Paul talks about going from faith to faith and from glory to glory. He also speaks fo "elementary" aspects of the faith. Priscilla in Hebrews does the same, wanting them to move on from "elementary" elements of the Christian life.

There are also "rites of passage" in Acts, such as being received into membership, laying on of hands, reception of the Holy Spirit, baptism, and others. Since we use these so sparingly, they seem like awkward cultural practices to us in the modern church. But maybe they weren't supposed to be.

Just a few thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments, Robb. I definitely agree that we should not avoid "rites of passage" just because they are culturally awkward. The culture of secular modernism (and postmodernism, I guess) must bow at the foot of Christ and the expression of Christianity that He would expect from His children.

Where I'm still wrestling is whether or not those rites of passage are laid out for us in some kind of a prescriptive way in the New Testament as a model for us to follow today. Or, even does the NT suggest that we should create rites of passage in subsequent generations that help us to determine where people are spiritually? If that is what we ought to be doing as leaders in the Church, then so be it. I guess I'm still struggling with seeing either or those options in the NT.

There obviously are evidences that we ought to grow in our faith - no doubt about that, and move from glory to glory and faith to faith, but again, those are pretty vague statements (which, maybe, they should be).

I guess part of what I'm concerned about is whether or not our desire to quantify people's spiritual growth (using Warren's model or others) is itself evidence that we are still stuck in modernity.

I am far from settled on this issue, though - maybe I'm just being over-reactive to excesses by some. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.


A said...

Maybe I can throw another monkey wrench into this discussion.

Hello Toby, by the way, from Aaron Marshall. BBC seems so looong ago.

As I am reading "The Present Future" by Reggie McNeal which emphasizes the Mission of the Church (by church he means the people of the church universal not the local church institution in North America of the last 100 years) I have been challenged with the emphasis being misplaced. Maybe we're too self centered in the whole framework of the discussion. If the mission is to change the world, take the gospel to the streets where the unwashed masses are, serve them, love them, help them, give them a cup of cold water, then couldn't the believer's spiritual development be mapped in the context of how intensely they've adopted the mission and in what ways it is manifesting itself in their life as opposed to an institutional structure of "member of the club rites with all the secret handshakes to go along with it"?

I am by no means saying that we shouldn't encourage spiritual development, or that we should have have some means of measuring it in order to promote progress in individual spiritual maturity. But maybe it shouldn't be so focused on "me in relation to the church" as it should be on "Jesus changing the world through me".

Robb said...


While certainly not an exhaustive list, I think that many (most? all?) of the rites of passage should be properly viewed as missional in nature. Baptism is a faith community activity that communicates ones faith commitment, not just to a small room of Wednesday nighters, but to the general community. This is why I have suggested that baptism - to be true to their effect in NT times, ought today to be accompanied by a printed testimony and picture in the newspaper.

Laying on of hands - was an early rite of passage for new believers which symbolized (and/or accompanied) their reception of the Holy Spirit, which enabled and empowered them to have a missional impact.

I am sure I will have more to comment as a proceeed through Webber's book, but my guess is that all of the rites of passage he suggests can and should be used as missional devices, not just for the individual but for all.

To paraphrase Rob Bell, If it's good news for one person, it needs to be good news for every person.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Aaron - nice to hear from you again...

Anyway, I have a question about the "laying on of hands" rite of passage that you refer to, Robb.

Do you see that as a normative example of what happened to all believers or only to a few groups of believers in the book of Acts? Was that an apostolic thing or should we be doing it today?

Also, the laying on of hands seems to have had a bit of a broader purpose (and at the same time, more specific) than merely symbolizing the reception of the Holy Spirit. The community in Acts laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas as they went off on their mission for God to Asia Minor. Also, in 1 Timothy (or maybe 2 Timothy), Paul reminds Timothy to stir up the gift that had been given to him by the laying on of hands.

Those "laying on of hands" rites of passage seem related to setting people aside for specific acts of service and not geared towards all believers everywhere.

Maybe they should be considered two separate rites of passage, one for salvation, another for service, but again, the NT is a bit vague at this point, and that's my quandary.

Are we meant to extrapolate from what we see happening in the book of Acts (and the epistles) for common practice in the 21st century or are we to limit ourselves to what the NT prescribes for us to do (baptism, Lord's supper, one-anothers, and missional involvement spring to mind)? I'd love to hear you guys' opinions on that matter...

Thanks for the input - it's fun (certainly more input than I get from my own blog on xanga - smile).


Sandy Mc said...

Toby said he'd love to hear "you guys' opinion" hope I am welcome too:) As a person who has never been a paid ministry professional, I feel the "pain" of these discussions perhaps from a bit of a different perspective. I am with Brian McLaren (and Robb, think you are in here too) that no matter what we must do the "belong" thing first...and with sincerity. My concern about any focus on rites of passage comes from the fact that I personally have been discouraged in many ways (first while seeking, later by leaders because of my calling) by people who have sort of "checked off" the rites of passage you mention and actually aren't sincere (mature?) enough to let them be selfless acts done in true worship of God and for his purpose (which one would assume includes the missional thing.)
BTW, I am a total fan of Reggie McNeal's message in The Present Future. I read it back in late April, and was so taken I e-mailed Reggie.
Here's what he said:
Wow, I feel your pain and passion! I wish I had more opportunity for dialogue but my travel and volume of email doesn't allow email coaching. My only advice is to keep sharing to uncover those who get it, but protect yourself By not casting your pearl before swine! Eventtually you can not survive in a culture thjat does not share your values! I know your ambivalence since I deal with it everyday. We all have to decide for ourselves our tolerance level. I'm thankful you are on the team!

A said...

Sandy, thanks for your affirmation of the missional thoughts in Reggie's book. I am working through it and have a post with some quotes and thoughts at my blog:
Feel free to check it out. You might also be interested in the "Rediscovering Church" post at the bottom. I wrote those thoughts this past weekend before I started Reggie's book, partly as a result of thoughts provoked from reading Velvet Elvis as well as some other discussions I've been having with folks who still don't "get it".

Sandy Mc said...

Thanks A

I have popped over to your site once from this one...I will go back