I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Not a Christian Church

So, a few months back, I scribbled down some ideas for the ragtag small group to which I belong....I was wondering what I might come up with if I jotted down some of the values that I think are important for our group. My original thought was to discuss it with our group and see if they wanted some points around which to rally---something to define us.

I scrapped the idea shortly after I jotted down my thoughts, not wanting to seem like we had any kind of creed or dogma. However, I scanned my handwritten thoughts (only two short pages) and saved it as a .pdf document, if you would like to take a peak. (Please pardon the poor handwriting!)

The three values I find important are:
Changing the world
Providing an environment of radical freedom

I call the whole thing "Not a Christian Church."



tamie said...

I really love that you posted those hand-written pages. I really love that.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Was any of it legible???

It's my attempt, I think, to try to develop something of a more positive perspective and vision for a community of faith in the 21st century.....rather than merely criticize traditional religion....I have found myself writing things out by hand more often in the last several months.

tamie said...

It's entirely legible. It's beautiful. I mean, the handwriting, just the fact that it's hand-written, the fact that things are crossed out.

As for content (which ought never to be divorced from form!)...I think you should explore the double entendre of "coming together"--the last words on the 2nd page--I think there's probably more there than it seems.


I mean, for one thing, both senses of "coming together" are embodied. They aren't cerebral, they aren't a bodiless mind. They demand engaging from our bodies, our hearts.

You should also consider, I do believe, how appropriate it is that you've found yourself writing this stuff out *by hand*. (You really really really need to read Wendell Berry.) Of course you've found yourself writing things out more by hand! You're coming nearer yourself. There's more to be said about this. It's phenomenology. It's the beauty and proximity in which we crave living.


ktismatics said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ktismatics said...

Erdman did you ever get to that part in The Stations where the Pilgrimage people start transcribing the Notebook by hand, crossed-out words and all, as a mystical praxis for getting outside of themselves? So if I copy out your hand-written notes will I be better able to see what you see, think what you think -- start becoming you?

Anonymous said...

So is this a fundamentally 'negative theology'? In other words, why 'not a church'? Why could you not equally be described as 'not a collective of ultramafic rocks.'?

It just sounds (from completely outward and dyscontextualized appearances) like it emphasizes the differentia well above the genus. In like fashion, it seems to me (in my general take on reality) that a well-defined genus makes the differentia a secondary description, a caveat and qualification.

I'm sure that you are sick of hearing about this, but how would your 'group' seek to identify with the Body of Christ through the people of God (think: the Thesolonikan view of the Corinthian or Laodicean churches as the Body of Christ)?

Sure, I can name a dozen ways in which I would not want to be identified with D. James Kennedy or D.L. Moody (as I'm sure they could have named more for me!), but it seems that the apostolic mission sought to unite those pied churches together.

You may have answered these already in another post as I haven't combed the comments. But, these just seemed like 'duh' questions for a casual reader of your blog.

Jonathan Erdman said...


Yes, I have read that portion of The Stations.....which I find incredible, by the way.....so, what have you found??? Have you been copying my notes, precisely as they appear??? I used a basic composition notebook, so, you know, if you want to get the fullness of the Erdman experience and portal yourself into my soul....or rather, portal me into your soul!

Jonathan Erdman said...


I think I understand your concerns, and I think I can appreciate them.

You said, "Sure, I can name a dozen ways in which I would not want to be identified with D. James Kennedy or D.L. Moody (as I'm sure they could have named more for me!), but it seems that the apostolic mission sought to unite those pied churches together."

I definitely feel that having an ecumenical, inclusive heart is very important. I was just yesterday evening discussing a few friends of mine that I met within the institutional church. It kind of dawned on me that I value many of the connections I made with people within the institution.

And yet.....there is a definite sense in which the institutions in which I was a part of had values that were misdirected and perverse. Relationships seemed to happen despite the commitment of the institution, not because of their values. Form, service, dogma, moral standards, and other peripheral issues had pride of place. Because of this, most of my relationships seemed to have a ceiling put on them. It's kind of bizarre, but people can get so busy with maintaining and promoting the institution that they turn radically inward, fail to have an external vision, and even lose track of relating with themselves as human beings.

So, perhaps what you are getting at is the question of revolution or reformation? If the church and/or other associated institutionalized forms of faith seem to be stagnant and/or counter productive, then what does one do? Rebuild from the rubble and try to reform? Or step away from the whole mess and try a more revolutionary approach? The latter has been my feeling--revolution....but a revolution that does not announce itself or seek any grandeur--a whisper, a still small voice.

Of late, my friends--good people like Tamie and Nicole--have talked to me about being less negative and also about whether of not to be a revolutionary or a reformer: what I am doing is trying to reach out and find a more "pure" version of Christianity, the heart of the matter. Is what I am discussing really so revolutionary? Or does it only feel revolutionary in the contemporary American religious lifestyle of fragmentation, meaningless ritual, mass marketed spirituality, and suburbian lattes of faith ordered to-go.

I feel love and affection to people within the institution, and have I have a heart and concern to be ecumenical and inclusive; yet the religious institutions seem to be so empty and irrelevant to me....so, my negative posts on the church grow out of trying to understand why I felt so stagnant and irrelevant while I was within the institutionalized church....it grows out of a very personal place of struggle, searching, and even of pain.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough.

Jonathan Erdman said...

One more thought......I think that I want to embody (in my life and in my theology and in my blog) the ambiguity present in the Christian/Non-Christian dichotomy....that to capture the heart of Christ in this 21st century means to undercut certain superiority complexes that can be present in religious insitutions, and equally to undercut inferiority complexes that may also be at work---seeking to bring people to a point of seeking equal footing on common ground and kind of seeing what happens from there.

Dru Johnson said...


For my part, I'm just interested in people's reaction to 'the church' in it's variegated forms. I became a follower of Jesus at 20, and so I didn't bring any 'church' baggage (not that you are). I was just so happy to feel salvation in my whole body and be with the people of God that most of the cantankerous aspect of church didn't bother me.

However, I wonder how we 'do church' in a way that reflects the genuineness of an institution (which I believe Jesus did found an institution called 'The Church', whatever it may actually be) without institutionalizing it. So I am particularly interested in your comments because I hear the sentiment so often in a more jaded tone from people who came up 'through the church'.

Having taught pastors in rural Kenya, who do not have all the trappings of modern American churches (although they still get tangled in some of our N.A. Evangelicalism), I see the church as more institutionalized and yet less hampered by the institution. So that the church is a place where parishioners can get financial help (as Paul was doing for the church in Jerusalem). The church is the only place where most people can learn about the Gospel of Jesus, as many cannot read nor have superfluous access to theological education.

I am wondering whether your 'not a church' church is more of a 'not-a-N.A.-Evangelically-typifiable-church-executive-pastorial' church. If that is the case, then maybe it is the environs of the church that cause the discomfort (i.e. the relative and excessive wealth of North Americaners) and not the heart of the churches themselves. I see what you are saying and I see churches that fall in line with the worst of what you describe.

There is a great post by an Australian NT professor in Scotland who waxes quite cleanly the difference between UK Evangelicals and US Evangelicals. The differences (although seemingly superficial) revolve around what many American Evangelicals would consider the nature outworking of their faith. Yet European Evangelicals are baffled about us on these exact issues (http://euangelizomai.blogspot.com/2008/12/evangelicals-and-reformed.html).

I'm still wondering if your feelings about the church , many of which I share as an institutional pastor, are actually regional and parochial issues of N.A. Evangelicanism rather than issue about 'The Church' itself (or probably both).

(I was formerly 'anonymous' because I was on a work computer).

Jonathan Erdman said...


That was a good post on the differences between North American evangelicalism and the rest of the world. Thanks for the link and the thoughts on that issue.

I thought I might copy and paste a bit of the post that I thought was interesting:

....there are also some things about North American evangelicals that Christians outside of North American cannot comprehend: 1. Only north american evangelicals oppose measures to stem global warming, 2. Only north american evangelicals oppose universal health care, and 3. Only north american evangelicals support the Iraq War. Now, to Christians in the rest of the world this is somewhere between strange, funny, and frightening. Why is it that only north american evangelicals support these things? Are the rest of us stupid? It makes many of us suspicious that our North American evangelical friends have merged their theology with GOP economic policy, raised patriotism to an almost idolatrous level, and have a naive belief in the divinely given right of American hegemony.

To turn to one of your specific questions to me....yes, my commentary IS definitely a North American thing. It is my embedded life context, and it is my primary blogging audience. Interestingly, of all of the global contexts, the U.S. is the place in which the culture of corporate advertising is most powerful.

The above listed charges from the blogger you linked to seem to reflect both a lack of global education (as to what evangelicals in other parts of the world think) and ALSO a polished mass media marketing machine that can quickly crank out committed followers in large quantities.....again, my point on this blog is not to suggest that mass media is "evil" in itself, but simply to discuss the consequences of such a marketing-based culture.

Also another issue you mentioned.....you discussed education levels, and how the church can spread the Gospel to those who might not otherwise have had access.

You might be interested to know that Luther (as I understand it) believed that house churches were the way to structure the reformation in his neck 'o the woods. However, what made him reconsider (and eventually turn to a more hierarchical, institutional and service-based approach) was that literacy was so low. In other words, he was concerned that not all house churches would have someone who could read the Bible.

I think this might be an important issue to discuss; namely, in a culture (like the States) where education levels are generally very high and illiteracy is relatively rare, then why do we maintain tight institutional structures?

Do we really need paid pastors and teachers to tell us how to think?....I realize, Dru, that you ARE a paid pastor....so, I'll add a winky smile and look forward to your thoughts ;)