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When is the Gospel "Fake News"?
February 15, 2018 | Michael Gulker
When is the Gospel "Fake News"?
We’re constantly bombarded by divisiveness within our daily news—the right calling the left “fake news,” the left dismissing the “news” of the right through quiet (or not so quiet) condescension. Whatever the case, neither hardly qualifies as news. It’s stale and unimaginative culture war posturing where everyone seems perennially angry. Yet underneath all the anger lays deep fear—fear that our world, our culture, our church, our family—everything—is tearing apart. But God calls his people to bring “Good News” of great joy. We are the euangélion of Jesus Christ—eu means “good” and ángelos means “messenger.” Believers are meant to be like angels bringing good news of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do in the world. We should be the least fearful of all people because we believe in Jesus, who was born to fulfill “the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:73-75) So, we must ask, “Is the story of our life in Christ good news or fake news?” Well, a couple of questions. First, are we doing and saying anything new? Second, does it embody the good? A quick glance at the way churches are mimicking the surrounding culture through bickering and partisanship, belies the notion that their posture in the world is either new or good. The church seems more a cliché of culture than a contrast to it. What makes this even more problematic is our claim to follow the Prince of Peace. If we are divisive and fearful then we’re not only cliché but hypocritically cliché. Doubly boring. Doubly bad. This sort of “gospel” is fake news, hardly worth the bits and bytes it’s communicated over. So, where’s the good news we long for and why are we having such a hard time embodying it in ways that are either new or good? Where is our confidence in our Risen Lord who has conquered division and death? What would it mean for you and I to have a renewed vision of the gospel as truly good news and to become confident messengers of its transforming power? So much of our imagination is now captured by the right or the left that it’s hard to think outside of these culturally prescribed categories. Perhaps that’s why it took a 500-year-old painting to jolt my imagination. I don’t remember where I ran across it, but there I was, confronted with DaVinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper. His masterpiece depicts a microcosm of God’s people past and present. And it struck me that all of the radical political and ideological differences (and inherent conflicts) of our own culture are represented by those gathered around that table. The disciples seated to the right and left of Jesus were as ideologically diverse and divided as we are today. A fractious bunch of infighters all vying for a slice of the new kingdom, whatever it might look like. Were the zealots arguing for insurrection against the damnable religious mainstream in cahoots with the deep state? Were the tax collectors and moderates more confident in the goods of compromise and stability in the market? Who knows? But it’s not hard to imagine them all claiming that God was on their side. Hardly news. It’s an old, stale story. So, who did Jesus side with? Right or left? Conservative or Liberal? Moderate or Revolutionary? Or did he opt for something more inclusive like a lowest-common-denominator faith where everyone should just get along? None of these options seem to fit. But when the pressure mounted, Christ died for each disciple while they were fleeing, cowering, or denying him—while they were “yet sinners.” I wonder how long they continued arguing with and blaming each other for the way things went wrong? Jesus doesn’t argue ideology with them. He doesn’t take up one political platform over against another. He interjects his own politics, the politics of the Trinity—a politics characterized by an eternal delightful self-giving love. This love can’t be stopped by any division, fearful darkness, or death. Jesus goes forward, not just telling the truth about God’s love, but embodying it. He does not win arguments. Rather, he lays down his life so the world will know the love of God. He displays the life he has with the Father and invites us into that life. I wonder, might Lent be the place for us to give up our well-reasoned and tightly-held ideologies for the sacrificial love of the other we so disdain? Wouldn’t that be good news?
The Magic of Entering Another's World
February 7, 2018 | Rob Barrett
The Magic of Entering Another's World
One prospective Colossian Forum participant put it this way: “What will we do after I say my piece, he says I’m wrong, then he says his piece and I say he’s wrong?” Nobody wants to repeat the same, tired arguments yet again. Or worse, what about when there is absolutely nothing to talk about? “Evolution is established reality so stop saying it isn’t.” “The Bible clearly says homosexual activity is evil so I’m not listening.” End of story. No more discussion. What then? Beyond deadlocked arguments, these are seemingly inescapable mires of incomprehensibility. But we serve the Lord who demolishes dividing walls (Ephesians 2:14). Crossing the rubble of the demolition begins by desiring to see things—if even for a moment—through the other’s eyes. Or even to feel the weight of what so convinces the other. This moves toward the truth. It is the way of Jesus, who walked alongside Pharisees, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He brought them life where they were without leaving them there. Jesus invited people into His world by painting pictures of His kingdom that made sense in their world. Entering another’s world demands firm rootedness in my own. “Open-mindedness” to others is not intellectual laziness or confusion but sets me aside for a moment to care for another. And so we imitate Christ: “Value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Talking in Colossian Forums isn’t just about transferring information. It’s about visiting strange, new worlds where we kindle shared desire for truth, shared yearning for friendship and shared devotion to Jesus. Since these things are far beyond our grasp, we ask for God’s help…together. “Please open my brother’s eyes…and my heart,” we sometimes beg. Only then can we voice our frustration: “How can you think the way you do?” An honest question seeking an honest answer. Now we’re talking. There’s no magic for entering another’s world. It’s like any new friendship. We ask each other’s story. “How did you come to faith? What kind of church shaped you? When have you doubted? How have you suffered?” We talk about what we fear will go wrong if the other side wins. We talk about why we think the other is damaging the church and what we admire about each other. We pray for each other. And, yes, we talk about the complex questions and challenges that divide us. After we talk, we need to return to prayer. We give thanks for being drawn closer to God and one another. We repent of how we’ve wronged God and one another. We voice our hope that He will continue to hold all things together (Colossians 1:17). It’s hardly rocket science, but that’s the kind of talking across difference that keeps drawing us back for more.
Our Desire for Hope
January 31, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Our Desire for Hope
Our new book, All Things Hold Together in Christ, is more than a collection of essays from leading scholars on the conversation between faith and science. This book gets at the essence of who we are at The Colossian Forum, and the bright hope that shines through even the toughest of conflict. TCF's president, Michael Gulker, shares in this video our desire for hope and helps outline the "more" that people keep asking for.  [embed]https://vimeo.com/245217328[/embed] Our Brand Problem We live in a time when the church, because of it’s endless bickering, has a serious brand problem. The rise of the nones, of those people who identify as spiritual but not religious, not tied to any particular body of believers or historical faith – these are the casualties of the culture wars, of establishment Christianity desperately trying to cling to power. At that brand of Christianity is fragile, fearful, and ugly. As one of my friends likes to say, “The church may be right, but it’s no longer beautiful.” And that’s what people want – they want beauty and not just any beauty, but the beauty of Christ, the beauty of the divine dance across difference that is the Trinity, into whose life we’re invited. So when a new, hopeful possibility comes along, one that confesses, from the outset, that we’ve already been given everything we need to be faithful, that within the Christian faith and tradition already have everything we need to extend that tradition faithfully and beautifully in the present and into the future, people want to dive more deeply into the ideas behind that hope. Our Desire for Hope It's that desire for hope that is really the origin of this anthology  – when you go around saying things like, “the culture conflict you’re most afraid of, or tired of, doesn’t have to be a threat, but it can actually be an opportunity for discipleship and witness, when you tell people that the things they’re most fearful of discussing with the people they most love – those are the places where the gospel shines most brightly” – folks want to know more. Well, this anthology – All Things Hold Together in Christ ­– it is that “more” people have been asking for. So this anthology was our attempt to remember and thank the friends and teachers who helped Jamie and me formulate what became The Colossian Forum. And The Colossian Forum is really just the application of their ideas in the face of the church’s brand problem. The anthology, then, lays out four critical pieces of our response to this dilemma. Creating a Community for the Conversation In part one, Creating a Community for the Conversation, we try to set out to remember who we, as Christians, are and what we’re after. As folks like Rodney Clapp reminds us, the Ekklesia of Christ, we’ve been called out and set aside for a certain kind of public work, and that public work is to practice the politics of Jesus together as his peculiar people – for the world to see. This is otherwise known as “worship.” Our job is not to grasp the strings of power but to testify, by our lives together, to a different form of power put on display at Calvary and remembered every holy week since. Our job is to display a corporate life more interesting than that of Apple or Google or The United States of America – which are all driven by the competing interests of individuals eternally alienated against each other in the contest to secure enough of the world’s resources to escape death and finitude. Well, that game’s played out. It’s not interesting. It’s not beautiful. And it’s been revealed for the sham it is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus’ life, in the life of the Trinity, there’s no competition, no scarcity, no fear – only the eternal self-giving delight and desire across difference. And when the church sets aside the world’s economy of scarcity and enters into worship, into the gift economy, we get a taste of heaven, a taste of eternity, and we want more. The world wants more. Putting on Christ But getting more, living this life eternal takes practice, or practices, which leads to the second part of the book, Putting on Christ. Following the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and some of his best interpreters, we remember that in the practices of the church we’ve been given everything we need to put on Christ. It takes time, it’s bumpy, messy, ugly, but the practices of the faith invite us to live into Christ’s life, a life of sacrificial love across difference, across distorted desire and damaged souls in ways that lead to healing and life by the refusal to perpetuating the pain and brokenness of the world but letting it end in our flesh, in the flesh of Christ’s body. This is hard and at times painful work, but something amazing happens when we “put on Christ” in these ways, we begin to see the Holy Spirit do new things in our midst, we begin to see new possibilities we couldn’t see before. Come Let Us Reason Together In short, practicing the faith, putting on Christ allows us to enter into and extend a tradition of rationality called Christianity, which leads us to the third part of the anthology, Come Let Us Reason Together. In this section, we get a glimpse of the exciting possibilities of how we might go embody a tradition-based rationality, how, as Robert Barron says it so well, the epistemic priority of Christ changes everything - how we see the world, how we see scripture, how we see tradition as the gift we’ve been waiting for to live faithfully into the future: a gift that calls us to become a gift in return, participating in and extending the faith in the face of our present difficulties in ways that smell like Jesus. All Things Hold Together in Christ Part four, All Things Hold Together in Christ, is an exploration of what a tradition based rationality might look like in one major conversation of our day, the conversation between faith and science. If all things hold together in Christ, faith and science can’t ultimately be competing forces but rather, as Mark Noll says, science is the embodiment of our human response to God’s invitation to come and see that he is good. Yet our modes of investigation, habits of objectification and commodification that easily abuse that gracious invitation need to be checked against the character of Christ. This can only be done by a people gathered together, putting on Christ, reasoning from Christ and for Christ and through Christ in the fearless confidence that all things already hold together in Christ. We of all people are freed to pursue the truth of the world without fear because that pursuit is the pursuit of our lover, our heart’s deepest desire. This anthology is an attempt to share just a bit of how we’ve been blessed by those who have gone before us in this same pursuit. I hope it’s a blessing to others as well. All Things Hold Together is published by Baker Academic, and is 40% off through the end of today. 
Forbearance: A Forgotten Virtue
January 24, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Forbearance: A Forgotten Virtue
As Christians, our toolbox for addressing conflict well is filled with Christian virtues--things like humility, patience, and kindness. These ancient practices of the church are the foundation of how we live out the incarnation and give us hope as we lean into messy situations and transform conflict into opportunity. One of the Christian virtues is forbearance, which is not one of the more well-known virtues. This book review, from our friends at Cardus, is a great introduction to this virtue and how it can be helpful in both addressing conflict productively and living in "productive discomfort". Dusting off a virtue we've forgotten, and need more than ever. by Marilyn McEntyre I don't much like the people I "put up" with, though, I piously tell myself, I'd like to like them. When I'm in the company of people whose views strike me as narrow, obnoxious, ill-informed, or dangerous, I struggle to hang onto some notion of neighbourly love that can quell my impatience and hasty judgments. Aware of how often I face that struggle, and how commonly political and social antagonisms divide churches full of people more or less like me—people with general goodwill and an assortment of strong opinions—I found James Calvin Davis's reflections on forbearance deeply refreshing. They offer exactly the reminders we need of what life in beloved community requires. I imagine it took a certain courage to title the book Forbearance. It's not one of the more celebrated virtues. Indeed, as Davis acknowledges, the word has a slightly dusty, antique ring and is easily confused with condescension, grudging acceptance, or veiled judgment. Or the self-satisfied "putting up with" that completely discredits the one who prides herself on suffering fools, if not gladly, at least without unseemly violence. (See above.) Escaping the centrifugal force of these oppositions requires a force more powerful. But forbearance, we learn as we read these rich reflections on biblical ethics, Christian history, and contemporary church conflicts, is a broad, generous, discerning, wise, complex virtue—arguably foundational for Christian life. "In the practice of forbearance," Davis writes, "Christians do not create unity; we confess it." I paused over that sentence. It offers a timely corrective to one of the more popular and persistent heresies: that somehow the church is a function of human planning and governance rather than a living body whose breath and being come from the one who breathed on the small group of followers he called friends, telling them to "receive the Holy Spirit." "We are one in the Spirit," we sing—not "May we one day become one in the Spirit," though that prayer has its place. The fact of unity and the hope of unity are both real experiences of Christians in community; like so many other truths about the life of faith, they coexist in paradox. But it may be that at this historical moment, we need to be called back to the fact in order to sustain the hope. What unites us is God's own infinitely merciful will. What divides us are digressions and misunderstandings, competing alliances, and political and theological arguments that can be resolved rightly only by a generous, patient, humble, wise, deliberative commitment to continue living with the quarrelsome, myopic lot who are our brothers and sisters, and among whom we must count ourselves. Exhibiting the patience that is the first of the virtues he identifies as facets of forbearance, Davis guides us unhurriedly through reflections on humility, hope, wisdom, faithfulness, and friendship. Forbearance requires and teaches humility; it fosters authentic hope rather than self-interested expectations; in practicing it we develop discernment, which "sees disagreement not as a problem to be solved but as an opportunity for maturation in the faith"; it encourages faithfulness not primarily to tenets or doctrinal specifics but to the pilgrim path we travel in relationship to those members of Christ's body among whom we happen to find ourselves. In that body—the beloved community we know as church—we find friendships that don't arise solely from our predilections and affections, but from deep recognition of what we hold closest and dearest, and in common. Davis's writing is striking in what I would call its pastoral clarity; he writes as to brothers and sisters in faith, acknowledging that he has been privy to and part of the pullings and tuggings as his own church has attempted to work out its salvation, and its positions on public issues, in anxiety and bumbling—which isn't quite the same as fear and trembling. He points the way to the grey area between the icy poles of argument where we are called find our way together, even in a fog of misinformation, misunderstanding, and media wars, reminding us that we need forbearance to "see past the binaries in which most of our ecclesial and civic debates are stuck" because a dismaying range of public media reduce social and moral differences to black and white, either/or alternatives. His wry list of current antagonisms that have run too often to extremes makes its own point about the need for more nuance, discernment, intelligent, gracious listening, and civility: You either hate women or like to kill babies. You are either a hawk or a peacenik. You are either homophobic or a fan of bestiality. You either prefer owls to people or condone raping the environment. You are either a socialist or a one-percent. You are either for law enforcement or for African-American rights. This is what most of our public debate looks like these days. Continue reading the post from Cardus.
Our New Book: All Things Hold Together in Christ
January 17, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Our New Book: All Things Hold Together in Christ
The Colossian Forum was founded (and our name is rooted) in Colossians 1:17, where Paul points out that "all things hold together in Christ." When we live into this truth and practice Christian virtues, we know that even in the midst of the most hopeless conflict, we can see in a new way how Christ truly holds all things together. This truth is the cornerstone of our new book, All Things Hold Together in Christ: A Conversation on Faith, Science, and Virtue. Conceived by TCF president Michael Gulker and TCF fellow Jamie Smith, this anthology includes foundational readings in theology, philosophy, and science that make our work possible.  It's a fantastic resource to help frame a distinctly Christological engagement with science and culture. Each essay comes from a scholar who exemplifies theology as a practice rooted in the worship of the church, shedding light on how our work at The Colossian Forum has managed to turn conflict into opportunity. These top Christian thinkers show how attending to the formation of virtue through the practices of worship creates the hospitable space we need to deal with difference and disagreement in the body of Christ. Contributors include Robert Barron, Timothy George, Stanley Hauerwas, Alasdair MacIntyre, Mark Noll, and N. T. Wright, among others. All of these essays are an invitation to find resources, inspiration, encouragement, and hope for faithful, creative thinking in the riches of the church's theological heritage and its worship traditions. This is the foundation and frame of The Colossian Way (which is set up as a worship service with a fight in the middle). All Things Hold Together in Christ is available from the publisher for a 40% discount through January 31, 2018.
Sharing the Light of Christ in the Darkness
January 11, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Sharing the Light of Christ in the Darkness
As I write this, the brilliant white Michigan snow reflects some rather unusual winter sunshine. It seems an appropriate reflection of Epiphany, the celebration of the "manifesting" of Christ's light to all the world. This light “shines forth” so that all the world can join us in singing, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her praise." The epiphany of God with us is always cause for praise and thanksgiving. Some days it seems easy to celebrate the light of Christ. But others, not so much. It seems that despite the brightness of winter, our world darkens. Wars and rumors of wars make the headlines every day. Wars between nations, political parties, news corporations, the sexes—to name a few. It seems a long way from the pastoral scene in Luke’s gospel of the Magi bringing their gifts from afar to bow at the feet of our infant Savior. The real-life context of this beautiful passage is filled with the political intrigue and brutal machinations that led to the slaughter of the innocents. The authors of the gospels were likely far less naïve than we are about the harsh realities of the world. That's a helpful reminder when my cynicism darkens my light. The disciples prayed the psalms, reminding us that while the nations rage, the Lord is King. But where is that kingdom made manifest? Where is praise breaking out? If the church is the body of Christ, then surely it ought to be the place where the light of Christ shines brightly in this dark age, right? But what if the church is as divided as the country and the world? What then? Is darkness overshadowing the light? A people walking in darkness have seen a great light. A light has dawned on those living in the shadow of death and has overcome the darkness. It's an odd thing, to be both the reflection of Christ's light AND an utter failure. Why doesn’t the light flicker? Why doesn’t our sin, the sin of God's chosen people, overwhelm the light? Perhaps it's because the light of Christ's victory shines brightest in his refusal to abandon us even when we refuse to receive him. In fact, it's through the utter rejection of Christ by the world and his people that God reveals the complete inability of anything in creation to alter his love for us. No authority, no power, no nuclear arsenal or conventional army will turn aside God's love for us. The light of Christ's love shines in our darkest places, our most profound divisions, and invites us to follow him in manifesting the love of God for the world in ways that lead the world to break out in praise. But what could this possibly mean today? Well, here's an idea. What if, as the body of Christ, we lived together across the differences and divides that the world can't seem to bridge? What if, in our shared life together, we could "manifest" the reconciliation of heaven and earth toward those opposite us on the left/right continuum? Right here, right now. What if all the strife and division and darkness were backdrops for the light of the gospel to shine brightly today? Ironically, most of us are already bridging divides. But we hardly acknowledge it, let alone, proclaim it. Just this Sunday, I received communion with folks well to the left and right of me; folks living in communion with each other in the name of Jesus. It was even on a day when the sermon was the first of four on immigration! Where else does that happen? We've lost our theological imagination, and we're missing the miracles right in front of our noses. While we're busy getting it wrong, God is in our midst getting it right. He is continually forgiving us and saving us, for which we can give thanks! One of the most delightful things that happens to us at TCF is that folks tell us that our mere existence is an encouragement. The simple reminder that "All things hold together in Christ" is enough to manifest just a little bit of epiphany light to the world. That's not a testament to us, but rather to the hope within believers—a hope that is often forgotten. So, this Epiphany, I want to thank you for making TCF a little reminder of hope in our world. Every prayer, every encouraging email, and every donation makes possible the manifestation of the hope and light of Christ in this dark, divided world. Thank you.