Manifold Witness – Part 1

To attempt to get myself into a better rhythm of blogging, I’ve decided to work my way through a new and intriguing book by John Franke, entitled Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth.Manifold Witness I discovered this book last week when I attended the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Jurgen Moltmann. Professor Franke gave a brief introduction to the book on the opening night of the event, which significantly whetted my appetite to delve deeper into what he had to say. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to walk through each chapter, explicating Prof. Franke’s overall argument, offering my own critique and assessment, and hopefully even chart some potential benefits for the church were we to take Franke’s proposal seriously. As such, I hope this is a constructive endeavor. To begin, let’s consider Franke’s basic thesis.

In his own words, Franke puts it like this:

The expression of biblical and orthodox Christian faith is inherently and irreducibly pluralist. The diversity of Christian faith if not, as some approaches to church and theology might seem to suggest, a problem that needs to be overcome. Instead, this diversity is part of the divine design and intention for the church as the image of God and the body of Christ in the world. Christian plurality is a good thing, not something that needs to be struggled against and overturned (pp. 7-8, emphasis added).

Franke’s concern is to theologically account for the multiplicity of perspectives, positions, beliefs, and practice-shaping theologies within the church catholic. Three guiding principles shape his approach: 1) Scripture is inspired by God so that the teachings and promises therein are trustworthy (2 Tim. 3:16-17); 2) God is generous and liberal with God’s wisdom and guidance of the church as she makes her way in the world (James 1:5); and 3) the Holy Spirit is at work guiding the church into all truth (John 16:13-14). Given the reality of plurality in Christian theology, an either/or presents itself. Either one of these principles is wrong, or one of the particular voices is correct. However, not satisfied with either of these answers, Franke wonders whether plurality is actually what God intends, hence his thesis above.

This is a provocative proposal, and for that reason, I’m drawn to it. In my own manner of thinking, I see Franke shifting the question of the truthfulness of theology to its faithfulness in bearing witness to God in Christ through God’s Spirit. This opens up the plurality of truth, while at the same time mitigating an anything goes approach. This means, it seems to me, that we are dealing here with an ecumenical (in the best sense of the word) theology rooted in a generous orthodoxy.

As a youth worker, I’m intrigued to see how this proposal will unfold, specifically because so many young people (including the young adults with whom I work) struggle to make sense of the multiple voices of Christianity. I see confusion, retreat, in-fighting and abandonment as the predominant responses to this reality. My hope is that this proposal can offer an alternative way, one that opens up the village green, so to speak, where we can gather together in the name of Jesus, and pursue truth jointly, in all its manifold greatness.

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A Long Hiatus Has Hopefully Passed

To those that occasionally check this blog you probably assumed that I have departed the world of blogging. Alas, though, I have not. When May hit, life became quite crazy for the Leafblad family, as camp preparations intensified and then the camping season hit full steam. I churned out material for our summer staff the whole summer, which left my creative juices depleted for any contributions here. As August gives way to September, though, I hope to start posting more regularly here.

I want to try and develop a rhythm that involves some regular rhythms to blogging. I have found that using this as an outlet for idea generation has been quite useful in the past, so I hope it will continue to be so in the future. Though I have attempted a few series here in the past, my real and genuine hope is to truly sustain one this fall. I have a few ideas floating around in my head, so once I land on one, I’ll hopefully make at least a weekly post on that given topic. If anyone is still reading, maybe you could join the conversation, once it starts.

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The Leafblad Family Spring 2009 Tour

Sorry for my absence from this blog. We’ve been, in a way, on tour.

I began as a solo act, spending five days at the end of March in Charlotte, NC. Every year I gather with a group of five friends from seminary. These gatherings are generally a highlight in my year. From there, I spent about 3 days in Kansas City before taking the Leafblad Family on the road with me, as we ventured north for my sister, Joanna’s wedding, and some needed connections with good friends in Eau Claire, the Twin Cities, and Mankato. After that week and a half, it is good to be home in Kansas City, for a few weeks anyway. Then the tour makes its penultimate leg, heading east to Princeton for a week. We’ll visit some friends, I’ll attend a few seminars and we’ll be joined by a real musician, Micah Thomas, who works with me at Youthfront. Finally, our spring tour will conclude with a three month festival at camp from mid-May to early August. 

Though it has been a busy month, it has been fun seeing so many friends. Amy and I cannot believe we are a month away from camp season starting, and though a bit nervous about what’s in store for the summer, we are excited.

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New Prelude Blog Post

I just completed the introduction for a four-part series based on Eugene Peterson’s description of lectio divina over at the Prelude Blog. Over the next four weeks I’ll be posting over there on how lectio divina can be understood as reading Scripture missionally, and how it is a central practice in shaping who we are people called into God’s mission. My hope is that it can be a generative series for the conversations I’ll be helping to lead at our Prelude conference April 22-25 here in Kansas City. If you can join us, I’d encourage you to think about it. You can register here.

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In Big Ten Exile

There’s a few conferences in college hoops which garner significant attention regardless of their region. Examples include the Big East and ACC. Pretty much everyone is generally well-informed of the shape of these conferences (one could argue the SEC as well, but due to the lack of Kentucky prominence the last few years, I think that’s less so now). Everyone knows about the ACC because of Duke and UNC. Those two teams are national teams. Being that they are staples at the top of those conferences, the ACC is pretty much a national conference. The Big East — a misnomer by the way — gets national attention because it pretty much is a national conference. When a team from Milwaukee, WI is in the Big East (Marquette) you can be pretty sure that East has become essentially relative. East in what sense? As in, east of the Mississippi? The point being, besides the fact the Big East is loaded this year, they almost have to get national attention simply because their teams stretch across half the country. Okay enough about that.

Then there are these other conferences, that are consistently strong and always have a couple of teams in the national discussion, but for whatever reason, don’t have the same national spotlight on their entire conference. I’m thinking here of the Big 10, Big 12 (though its not even close this year in terms of strength), Pac-10, SEC (lately, see above), I’d even add the Atlantic 10 some years. As you move into one of these conferences regions, you enter a type of exile from the other conferences, which sucks for me as a Big 10 fan. Basically my argument is this: because these other conferences don’t have the national attention as much as the Big East and ACC, but are generally strong, their fans clamor about how good their conference is and how they should likewise be in the discussion with the Big East and ACC. I did it with the Big 10. The Big 12 fans do it here in Kansas City. The problem with this, though, is that then the important comparative analysis come March doesn’t have the kind of attention it should have in these regions. For instance, Texas A&M is a good, solid college basketball team. Not great, but solid. So are my Badgers. I think both teams are firmly on the bubble. But nobody is talking about these two conferences in comparison (I could make a different argument that the Big 10 is way stronger than the Big 12 this year, but I won’t). What happens because of this is the really interesting and, to my mind, important discussions are not happening because every conference wants to compare themselves to the Big East or ACC. In effect, then, all other conferences are exiled as each regional conference tries to make their case to being as strong as the Big East or ACC.

Here’s why this sucks. I have absolutely no idea what Wisconsin needs to do in order to get a bid now because I’ve heard no discussion about the Big 10. Its all Big 12 and how they could compete in the Big East or ACC. But, I’d love to know their RPI compared to A&M. In effect, as each regional conference clamors for the national attention of the Big East and ACC they perpetuate the problem they are screaming about, instead of simply ignoring the national bias (if there is one) and doing the comparative work between these other good, solid regional conferences. Then, I might not be in Big 10 exile, and I could actually know where my Badgers fit in the national scheme of things. 

Can you tell its March? I’ve given way too much thought to this.

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Rich and Rewarding Day

Certain days stand out among others. Not that I have terribly many mundane days, but certain days are just more rich and rewarding than others. Today was one such day.

I began my day at Homer’s Coffee House at 7:30AM to meet with about 6 others to discuss the book Reading in Communion by Stephen Fowl and L. Gregory Jones. This is a book discussion I put together about 3 weeks ago to help me think through what it means to read Scripture in community. As I’ve been thinking more about the spiritual formation of our summer staff, I’m convinced that one of the best notions we can help them engage with is seeing formation as a communal reality. In other words, how do community form us for the mission of God? This book is fantastic in pushing us toward this end, and the conversation was robust and engaging. That lasted until about 9:30AM.

From there, I headed to the Blue Valley Youth Worker network meeting where, thanks to Jim Newberry, I had the chance to float some ideas that I’ve been thinking through to a bunch of stellar youth workers. I discussed the way in which youth ministry is living theology. I began by discussing the way in which youth ministry ought to be about helping our students develop a language for their faith (theology), a language that is broad enough to also inspire action (living). Using some material that I ripped off from my former professor, Richard Osmer, in his book The Teaching Ministry of Congregations I highlighted how good ministry is like a system comprised of (at least) four parts: a descriptive, interpretive, normative, and pragmatic moment. Each of these is a type of door into the world of ministry, and they are each mutually informative. Expanding on these ideas, I talked about formation as generative moments of connection between student’s lives and these varying aspects of ministry. This led to some really quality discussion about the youth pastor as environmentalist, that is, someone who helps create, sustain, and mobilize these types of contexts. I loved it!

This is the kind of stuff that really makes me tick. I love helping youth workers think more intentionally about what they do and who they are in youth ministry, and I love the way I learn from these youth workers every time I get the chance to converse with them. Like I said, rich and rewarding.

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A Covert Scientism?

Today on my way to work I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition, as I often do. Briefly they discussed President Obama’s plans to reverse the former administration’s blockage of embryonic stem cell research. Obama is doing so under the guise of restoring science to its rightful place, because, so it is argued, stem cell research is a scientific matter and not an ideological issue. I bristled.

Let me say, up-front, I’m not sure where I rest on the issue of stem cell research. It is a complex issue, rife with complicated realities on all sides. But, it is decidedly not a purely scientific issue. To say that it is a non-ideological issue, and simply scientific, is to ignore the enormous ethical implications that are at stake in the discussion. In fact, to make such a pronouncement is, ironically, largely ideological. 

Obama seems to assume that in allowing for stem cell research to advance he is allowing science to be science. But, because he seems to be ignoring the ethical, religious, and social implications of stem cell research in favor of science, he is implicitly assuming a scientistic perspective. Scientism basically says that scientific findings and outlooks are those that matter most. So, by advocating in the stem cell debate that science needs to assume its rightful place in this discussion, is to essentially state that science is the determining locus of authority on this issue. This itself is an ideological statement, scientism in covert form. It precludes the religious and ethical claims by ruling them mute in the matter.

This kind of sloppy thinking worries me. It shouldn’t, I suppose. Its just politics as usual. But, what worries me is that this is supposed to be the new political day, and many in my generation are hailing it as such. I was hopeful for more reasoned discourse, and if, alongside the scientific data, Obama will allow ethical discussions in terms of policy-making regarding stem cell research, then perhaps my concerns will be unfounded. The problem is, I think my concerns are, actually, quite founded. Read this.

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