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What Would Jason Clark Say? WWJCS

Written by: on April 22, 2015

jcTanya M. Luhrmann writes about the nature of American evangelical spirituality in her book “WHEN GOD TALKS BACK Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God” with the nondenominational Vineyard evangelical church as the study sample space. Luhrmann an anthropologist, approaches are study from a scientific place which means she will be rational in her presentation and not pastoral. Yet as I read along, I wondered “what would Jason Clark say” about certain points Luhrmann makes?” since Dr. Clark is a Pastor of a Vineyard Church and even distinctively in the United Kingdom. Assuming Luhrmann studied the same Vineyard umbrella, I think it would make for a good chat! I’ll save it for Hong Kong.

In the mean time, while Luhrmann was embedded in a Vineyard Churches in Chicago and Palo Alto for her research, who is also from a mixed-faith background, she was fascinated by the idea of the Vineyard  members’ personal relationship with God. She was ultimately interested in both the psychological and cultural nature of Vineyard American evangelicalism.

The Stanford anthropologist focuses on Christians who claim to have an intimate relationship with God and writes of her experience with the believers in the Vineyard Church:

Once I noticed this personal, intimate connection, I began to listen to the music. Here in these songs, the remarkable God of this kind of church shines forth. Rarely do you hear of his judgment; always you are aware of his love; never, ever does a song suggest you fear his anger. He is a person: lover, father, of course, but more remarkably, friend. Best friend. One song begins with breathless amazement that God pays attention to the singer, that he hears the singer, thinks of the singer, loves him or her… This God is intensely human in this music, and the singer wants him so badly … but this God is also a supernatural substance”[1]

Luhrmann’s experience seems typical of the general modern evangelical ethos. How can a person be an evangelical without claiming a personal experience with God the father? Yet I was struck with how far removed the modern evangelical expression is from some of the points Jason raised in a presentation titled “Whats the point of Church?” in Cape Town.  Jason invoked history noting; “in the third century AD, Cyprian of Carthage was very clear on his understanding of the point of Church, that “outside the church there is no salvation.”  Extra Ecclesiam null salus”[2]  This goes to show how the church movement has evolved since the Cyprian times to various forms of evangelicalism, whose central signature language carries the modern motif of namely “a personal relationship with God”. It appears from Luhrmann’s reports and stories where churches goers talked about how “God showed up”, that the Chicago Vineyard Christians where making an argument for the fact that inside the church there is a personal experience with God, thus there is salvation inside the church.

The author caused me to ponder on when this shift happened. In step with the material recorded in Noll’s, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Lewis and Pierard’s Global Evangelicalism, Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age and Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori’s Global Pentecostalism; Luhrmann touched on the shift in American evangelical culture in 1960. The author writes, “The evangelical interest in the direct personal experience of God exploded in the 1960s.” [3]

Jason also observes: Much of the Church in history moved away from Cyprian’s self-understanding, its identity becoming too intertwined in the institutions of government and state.  The Church in large measure ended up controlling salvation – Christendom.

The Christendom era also underwent its subsequent transformations and continues to as Jason ably put it:

Protestants and then Evangelicals reacted against this control of salvation by the Church.  They developed new understandings of the Church where the Church became a vehicle to support the processes of salvation. Yet this response continued on an untended trajectory, where salvation became something non-ecclesial i.e. outside of the church. The measure of church for Christians became how helpful it was in in helping people with their private salvation. Jesus ultimately became a private savior accessed through believing the correct things about him, to meet personal needs. Church became about the ‘dispensing of religious goods and services’ for the construction of private salvation.[4]

Picture1

Luhrmann too locates and links the Vineyard’s blooming environment within the past waves of the great awakenings then to the Azusa revival, the hippie -Jesus People of the 1960. The author is captured by how some Vineyard members’ prayer interaction with God even involves what to shop and to wear.  Luhrmann reflects about the Vineyard and traditional Christian prayer approach where say the Roman Catholic Church prays “to know more from the inside what Jesus had felt and tried to teach,” while the Vineyard’s method is “to experience God directly”[5].

It seems to me that Luhrmann allowed herself to experience the Vineyard context even to points where she also cried and felt certain emotions and she notes, “In my own way I have come to know God, [but] I would not call myself a Christian”[6] How does she know God? Does God talk to her?

So what would Jason say? I am yet to find out more, but I am also left to reflect on Luhrmann’s testimony of knowing God without going by the title Christian. Another thought I’ll be processing is Jason’s take on salvation. His summaries:

Salvation (a good Evangelical might argue) is not something for the church to own and dispense to others, yet it is equally not something for individuals to possess and use for their own lifestyles. Instead, salvation is “a distinct form of social existence. To be saved is literally to be made part of a new people and a new social body – the body of Christ.”  Salvation is not a primarily guarantee of a way of life for individuals; rather it is a way of life with God’s people in the world, bringing a new way of living to the world.[7]

 

[1] Tanya M.Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 5.

[2] https://sites.google.com/a/georgefox.edu/lgp4-dmin-mod4/archive

[3] Tanya M.Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 14.

[4] https://sites.google.com/a/georgefox.edu/lgp4-dmin-mod4/archive

[5] Tanya M.Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 177.

[6] Tanya M.Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 325.

[7] https://sites.google.com/a/georgefox.edu/lgp4-dmin-mod4/archive

About the Author

Michael Badriaki

12 responses to “What Would Jason Clark Say? WWJCS”

  1. Michael,

    Excellent post! I love how you knit together other readings and Jason’s presentation with this week’s reading. Brilliant work!

    I will read your post again, since I needed some clarification after reading Luhrmann. This was a tough read for me as you will see in my post, due to my personal experience with the Vineyard movement. I will have to look at Luhrmann’s book again sometime, since I did not read it deeply. Personally, I felt that she had “drunk the Koolaid” from what I read. But I was surprised by your quote of the author when she says that she is not a Christian. I look forward to talking about this with you. Let’s set up another time to get together soon.

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Thank Bill. I can see how Tanya’s book can be a difficult read. I came away from reading Luhrmann’s book with the an appreciation for an outsider’s perspective. I think it helped that she was looking at the vineyarders with an eye of an anthropologist. I thought she was very skilled not to show how mentioned how exactly she felt about all the strange things an outsider like herself saw in the vineyard church. She must have mastered the art of being reflexive.

      I look forward to meeting and chatting after this crazy week.

      Have great week Bill!!

  2. mm John Woodward says:

    Michael, you have written one of the best post I have read. What a fantastic synthesis of the book, of modern evangelicalism, of Jason Clark-ism (if that is really a “thing”). What you bring up I think are so many important questions about what the church is. You statement states so well what I often see in the churches I am involved in: “The measure of church for Christians became how helpful it was in in helping people with their private salvation. Jesus ultimately became a private savior accessed through believing the correct things about him, to meet personal needs.” So much of Luhrmann’s book seemed to be this very personal, self-focused (God talking to me) form of Christianity that seemed to miss the larger story of what God and the Church are really all about! It brings to my mind the question, “What would God really say ‘when God speaks’?” As I look at the people in Scripture for whom God actually did showed up, these people weren’t often very happy with what God had say to them (pack up and move, go, lead, repent, etc.). What do you think God would have to say to the church today?

    Thanks for your wonderful and insightful post! Brilliant job, Michael.

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Thanks John. This week’s read was a fascinating one. I was like watching a soap opera script on one of the phase of American evangelicalism’s evolution. I was impressed by how Luhrmann as a scientific outsider was able to remain most reflexive. Had she not revealed that she was a not a christian at the end, I would I remained curious about where she stood spiritually. You are right, she present the Vineyarder as very needy and even sensual with God. Perhaps she meant to show the over familiarity with God in church talk? I don’t quite know.

      What do I think God would say to the church today? I think of that part in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,

      “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

      That more like it to me, John. Have a great weekend!

  3. Great job here Michael, well done. It is amazing that the very stregth of the modern evangelical movment, that of a personal relationship with Jesus is the very thing that has caused the movement to question the church. Yet, it is not that God has a church with a mission but, rather, as Beavens puts it, God’s mission has a church. And it is therfore this prespective that ought to help the church realize that it is not in existance for itself nor for even the socializing of church people dispensing goods and services, but to complete the mission of God! In that we see what the church is for – truly a collective force in the earth bringing a new way of living to the world. Amen!!

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Thanks Mitch. You are right. The church would be best served to member her call to be mission centered. But we moved so far away from that and as John put it, one of the loudest call is for the church to repent.

      May God have mercy on us.

      Have a great weekend Mitch!

  4. mm Deve Persad says:

    Great summary Michael. Your synthesis with other material and discernment with regard to Jason’s teachings were very well done. I appreciate your concluding comment: “Salvation is not a primarily guarantee of a way of life for individuals; rather it is a way of life with God’s people in the world, bringing a new way of living to the world.” – So important for us to be intentional in helping people understand the significance of being on mission with others in the Power and for the Glory of God.

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Thanks Deve. Your post certainly lays the necessary emphasis on the need of community and I sing off the sheet!!

  5. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Michael –

    As I told you yesterday, I loved your post. And the title. 😉

    Here is my favorite quote that you included from Jason: “Salvation (a good Evangelical might argue) is not something for the church to own and dispense to others, yet it is equally not something for individuals to possess and use for their own lifestyles. Instead, salvation is “a distinct form of social existence. To be saved is literally to be made part of a new people and a new social body – the body of Christ.”

    Salvation does not belong to the church but to God. Though he freely shares it with us, it’s about Him and not us. I appreciate that you did additional research into some guy we know who happens to be associated with the Vineyard churches, and brought balance to the discussion.

    Peace to you my friend.

  6. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    Thanks, Michael.
    You write, “Salvation (a good Evangelical might argue) is not something for the church to own and dispense to others…” I agree. But isn’t it sad that it seems that many people experience the exact opposite of this? Many people see Evangelicals exactly attempting to own salvation and dispense it according to their whimsy. I don’t think this is the deepest sense of Evangelicalism and I don’t think this happens everywhere, but it does seem to be a concern.
    You mentioned music as well in your post. One of the weaker points of the text I felt was the author’s simplistic differentiation between mainline use of hymnals and Vineyard use of slides and some weak stereotyping that proceeded from this initial variability. Thanks for engaging a bit further with music in your post.
    Overall, really appreciated the integration of so many perspectives and sources in your post.

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