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Displaying all posts by Michael Gulker.
Local Leaders Forum
August 12, 2013 | Michael Gulker
Local Leaders Forum
I remember my first phone call with Rob Barrett, exploring the possibility of his leaving Germany to join TCF.  I was busy introducing the general project of The Colossian Forum and the possibility of using a forum on a divisive topic as an opportunity for Christian formation.  Rob, ever tactful, said to me, “You realize, Michael, that this project is completely incoherent.”  I think I replied to the effect that, “Of course it is, but you’ve got to start somewhere.” From the beginning, we’ve realized that TCF’s one-off forums are only a first step toward transforming Christians into the kinds of people who can engage the toughest cultural topics well. And by well, I mean in ways that not only build up the body of Christ but also make significant cognitive progress on the topic itself.  But change takes time. Habits are formed through practice. Virtues are attained through a long obedience in the same direction. This past spring, we were challenged to begin acting on this commitment by our meeting with TCF Advisory Board Member Greg Jones at Duke Divinity School, where he gave us some useful language: We are engaging “wicked problems” and this requires “sustaining communities of practice.” So in April 2013, we began putting together a plan for an experimental, sustained group of Grand Rapids-area pastors and scholars who would pursue a wicked problem together as a sustained community of practice. This past week, we hosted a kick-off event with 10 local pastors and theologians familiar with TCF and interested enough to commit 4 hours out of their busy schedules each month, over the course of six months, to pursue the following goals: Build a model community of local church leaders who are pursuing the capacity for engagement with the broad range of challenging and divisive issues facing the church; Make substantial progress on understanding and navigating the complexity of one chosen issue at the intersection of faith, science, and culture, both because of its own particular significance and as a model for addressing a wide range of other issues; Gain the ability to lead others in the church’s work on the pressing issues of faith, science, and culture; and Critique, develop, and extend the ideas, methods, and practices of TCF. Rob and I began the event giving an argument for the project itself and were a little nervous at the initially passive response of our guests.  Was the project uninteresting?  Unnecessary?  Ridiculous?  But as the afternoon went on and as conversations after the event made clear, it wasn’t so much that people didn’t buy into the project, as they didn’t even need to hear the argument – they wanted to dive right in!  There is a hunger for a space to think together about the shape of faithfulness in the face of the hardest cultural challenges, making even the choice of topic secondary to the need for space and friendship. We don’t exactly know what the next six months will bring, but we trust that God will honor the faithfulness of our friends!
TCF partners with Union University
August 10, 2013 | Michael Gulker
TCF partners with Union University
TCF staff members Michael Gulker and Rob Barrett were recently invited to participate in a forum hosted by Union University and co-sponsored by TCF at a retreat center in Memphis, Tennessee. This event was part of an ongoing project at Union and continues a two-year old partnership with TCF. The Union faculty group regularly convenes scholars from a variety of disciplines in order to explore questions related to faith and science. This particular gathering focused on issues of origins (of the universe, of the earth, and of human beings) in light of three questions: 1. What are the main difficulties and sources of tension in faith-science questions? 2. What might a resolution look like? 3. What would it take to change your mind? The event was characterized by the sorts of relationships that can flourish only in the context of ongoing interactions. In this sense, TCF was grateful to observe and participate in the development of relationships which have withstood – and continue to withstand – moments of significant misunderstanding and differences in positions and perspectives.  As the faculty group continues to fold in new members, these scholars “catch” the approach from the longstanding members and contribute their own unique perspectives and passions. The group is diverse and willing to probe controversial topics, so participants regularly encounter difficulties in their exchanges. But controversy is contextualized, finding its place within the group’s common commitment to one another in Christ, and to the common pursuit of truth in love. An important instance of this came at a juncture when one member called attention to the Apostles Creed as a unifying confession held in common by the entire group. Another recurring theme was the necessity of relying upon expert knowledge in these discussions. Participants acknowledged 1) the vast amount of knowledge we simply don’t yet possess and 2) the particular challenge of expertise. This last consideration reveals significant humility, as participants frankly discussed the narrowness of any field to which a scholar might actually claim mastery. The increasing range of knowledge available necessarily requires intense specialization, leading to experts with quite precise limitations on their fields of proficiency. This, in turn, highlights the need for communal discernment, as only in the interaction of experts will truth fully come to light. Union University has worked to foster charitable faith/science conversations for longer than TCF has been in existence. We are grateful for partners like Union who work to build strong networks of scholars who are willing to enter into discussions in the midst of sometimes difficult differences. We are privileged to support their work, and to learn from their ongoing efforts to foster relationships for the purpose of discerning the truth together.
Hard Problems, Wicked Problems, and Easter....
April 10, 2013 | Michael Gulker
Hard Problems, Wicked Problems, and Easter....
During Holy Week, I spent a day with Dr. L. Gregory Jones, a member of The Colossian Forum's Advisory Board. Dr. Jones is an accomplished theologian, the former Dean of Duke Divinity School, and currently serves as a Senior Strategist for Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. During our visit, one key distinction Dr. Jones made stuck in my head - the difference between "hard problems" and "wicked problems." Hard problems are like difficult calculus equations. Given enough time we'll eventually wrestle them to the ground- and boy does that feel good! But wicked problems are so complex, multifaceted and fluid that they resist even our most skillful and persistent attempts to solve them - and boy is that frustrating! Yet wicked problems offer us the chance to recognize that we are not in control, that the world does not submit to our will, and that we simply do not know the way. Because we hate not being in control, we are often tempted to misconstrue wicked problems as hard problems so that we have something to do, so we can attack the problem and wrestle it to the ground. For example, existing tensions between faith and science are often attributed to a simple lack of knowledge or misinterpretation of data, be it scientific or theological. This is a hard problem - but one we can solve! With this overly-simple diagnosis in hand, we feel empowered to wrestle it to the ground with an education campaign! While a lack of education certainly names a real dilemma of the faith/science conversation, reducing it to merely a lack of information is analogous to treating a fever accompanying an infected wound but ignoring the wound itself! We have just come through Holy Week - the week Christians follow Jesus into the teeth of the most wicked problem of all - our rejection of God and our slavery to sin and death. Stories of the Bible tells us of lots of folks who responded to this wicked problem by treating it as a hard problem. Zealots blamed the Romans and their collaborators and attacked them. The Pharisees blamed the morally impure and attacked them. The "realist" Sanhedrin blamed the "idealist" Pharisees and Zealots and attacked them. Judas blamed Jesus and betrayed him. Peter attacked the temple guard to defend Jesus, but when Peter's mode of action failed, he denied him. They all attacked the problem and tried to wrestle it to the ground. What does Jesus do to prepare himself and his disciples to face the wicked problem of sin and death? He washes their feet, prays for them and tells them that he is the way, the truth and the life. And what is his way? Entrusting himself and his friends to the goodness of his Father as he willingly goes into the ground! What would it mean for us as Christians to witness to the goodness of the Father not only in times of joy but also in the face of today's most wicked problems? Whose feet do we need to wash? For whom do we need to pray? What would it mean for us to become a community so capable of "trusting God that rather than vilifying those who disagree with us we welcome" them as brothers and sisters in Christ and trust God together? What kind of people would dare to do this? Only an Easter people! Alleluia - He is Risen!   This piece was originally written for TCF’s April prayer e-letter. If you’d like to receive our prayer letter directly, please send your email address to admin@colossianforum.org to subscribe. Thank you for your partnership!  
TCF & "Emerging Adults"
March 5, 2013 | Michael Gulker
TCF & "Emerging Adults"
Last week, Rob Barrett, Brian Cole and I had the pleasure of meeting with a number of Chief Academic Officers and Senior Student Development Officers from Christian colleges across the country at a leadership conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The conference speaker was a highly respected sociologist by the name of Christian Smith. Smith has been studying a new but very real phase of American life called “emerging adulthood.” Emerging adults are individuals between the ages 18-29 who are not yet fully “adult” (i.e. married with children and a stable career). There are many reasons for the emergence of this new life-phase (expansion of higher education, delayed marriage, extended parental support, postmodern suspicion of commitment and stability), but one thing is clear – becoming an adult today is a more complex, disjointed, confused and unstable process than it was for previous generations. In his book Lost in Transition, Smith names five disturbing characteristics common to this new life-phase: 1. Morally adrift: moral commitments in a highly pluralistic world are more vulnerable to challenge than ever before. 2. Captive to consumerism: in a highly fluid and unpredictable world, emerging adults tend to highly value prosperity and security. 3. Intoxication’s “False Feeling of Happiness”: emerging adults sense the hollowness of the party culture, yet participation in it seems inescapable. 4. The shadow side of sexual liberation: “hooking-up” is perceived as an acceptable the norm despite awareness of its devastating consequences. 5. Civil and political disengagement: suspicion of institutional power, cynicism toward public life and pre-occupation with individual goals leads to disengagement with public institutions, including the church. Emerging adults lack the tools they need to navigate a morally pluralist society. They associate moral conflict of any kind with religious fundamentalism and violence – violence we have often embodied. Yet emerging adults sense that the lives they are being caught up into are painfully shallow and unfulfilling. Consumption of entertainment, alcohol and drugs are among their primary coping mechanisms. Despite these significant challenges, I was deeply encouraged to hear Smith’s proposed response. He argues that believers must work to redefine a strong Christian faith not as violent and close-minded but rather as: 1. Convicted, but charitable, capable of good and constructive arguments. 2. Committed, but interested in reasonable, rigorous, fun conversations. 3. Serious, but not rigid or reactionary. 4. Evangelistic, but interested in other people not just as souls to save but as real people to learn from, as gifts for us to receive. 5. Caring about the right ideas, about truth, but interested in reciprocity. 6. Critical of the world, yet appreciative of the good in it as God’s good creation. As I listened to Smith’s call to action, I couldn’t help but hear a stunning summary of the mission and vision of The Colossian Forum, urging a confident return to the heart of the Christian faith as the means by which we become the kinds of people that can engage culture’s most difficult questions in ways that increase love of God and love of neighbor. As TCF focuses on the intersection of faith, science and culture, we seek to do so by redefining a strong Christian faith precisely along the lines Smith outlines.   This piece was originally written for TCF’s March prayer e-letter. If you’d like to receive our prayer letter directly, please send your email address to admin@colossianforum.org to subscribe. Thank you for your partnership!
Hope: the end and the beginning
February 7, 2013 | Michael Gulker
Hope: the end and the beginning
This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to hear a terrific sermon on hope, drawing from 1 Peter 1:13-16.  The pastor quoted the recent movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in which the comically terrible circumstances of the protagonists are constantly put into perspective by the hotel manager who continues to proclaim “Everything will be ok in the end.  If things aren’t ok, then we aren’t at the end!” This simple message of hope struck a deep chord in me – hope is what TCF is all about – hope that we can become a kind of people that enter the most difficult conversations such that the beauty of Christ is revealed to the world.  We have hope in the end because of our beginning:  “In the beginning was the Word.”  Christ - not the big bang, not survival of the fittest - is our origin and our destination, our Alpha and Omega.  We have our origin in the love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which God freely shares with us through creation. If our beginning is in the love of God in Christ, then we must not conform to the evil desires of this world but to our end in Christ who is true.  Yet living between the beginning and the end and in the brokenness of sin requires obedience; it requires practice.  Despite our sin, Christ invites us to participate in his life of self-giving love, confession, forgiveness, common worship and prayer.  To quote the Sunday sermon again, these practices are like a plaster cast, forming our broken bodies into the image of Christ.   The Colossian Forum practices these disciplines of worship, prayer, confession and forgiveness precisely at the points of brokenness and division between Christians that so badly damage our witness of Christ to the world.  In doing so we hope to show the beauty of Christ’s reconciling power in places where the world can only imagine ugliness and conflict.  We invite you to hope with us and pray this hope into reality! [div id="blockquote"]Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy.  1 Peter 1:13-16[end-div]   This piece was originally written for TCF's February prayer e-letter.  If you'd like to receive our prayer letter directly, please send your email address to admin@colossianforum.org  to subscribe.  Thank you for your partnership!
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