Written on March 06th, 2007 by Shawn Anthony
I imagine Christian formation was much, much simpler in ages gone by wherein one did not have unrestricted access to the world’s evolving cache of raw information … Bunyan’s Christian has got nothing on me, I’ll tell you that much (Christian is the main character and journeyer in John Bunyan’s spiritual classic The Pilgrim’s Progress). Journey? I have been on a journey!
So, that is where I begin my story. This story is my personal manifesto. It is my testimony. It is a story ten years in the making. It is a story dedicated to Jesus Christ, Gospel, and my God-blessed call to faithfully and humbly proclaim it from deep within my own place and context. I live in a postmodern world. Not only do I live in a postmodern world, wherein all meta-narratives have collapsed, but I also have instantaneous access to the catalyst of this collapse (catalyst = sudden awareness of what has always been). I can jump, in other words, daily into a constantly evolving and fast growing stream of information so deep and so swift that an ancestor living a mere 100 years ago would have required ten full lifetimes to swim it. Yes, ten lifetimes! I jump into this stream daily! I have been inundated with information. Tons of it. I used to have a dial up modem …
A Tomorrow Founded Upon Yesterday’s Novelty
I graduate from seminary in a few weeks. I’ll have an M.Div to frame and hang beside my B.A. in Theological Studies. I have worked hard, for ten years, to complete this necessary portion of my call’s preparatory stage. I take “preparation for call” as seriously as I do the “call” itself, as everyone should. I began my formal academic training at Transylvania Bible School. TBS was/is an independent, Wesleyan Methodist, interdenominational Bible school. No credits. No loans. I worked off my tuition bill in the print shop. I studied there for two years. I met my wife. We had a son. The three of us packed up and headed east, to Lancaster Bible College. LBC was accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). Wow! Credits. Governmental loans. No student work in print shops. I studied there for one year. I was suddenly baptized by the Holy Spirit and turned Pentecostal. LBC kicks you out if you speak charismatic and pray in words they can’t understand. So, my family moved on to the Valley Forge Christian College campus, where I enrolled as an Urban Missions major, and could be as Charismatic as I wanted to be. Valley Forge was granted accreditation by the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges, during my sophomore year. Now we’re talking liberal arts. I was suddenly given the opportunity to earn a B.A. in Theological Studies. Huge! Bachelors of Arts! Three years of Greek! Right on! Those three years of Greek were to begin in a student’s sophomore year. I was a sophomore when I changed majors, so my B.A. consequently required an extra year of studies to complete. So, we spent five years at Valley Forge; five great years! We had twin daughters! We then moved back to Lancaster to earn an M.Div at Lancaster Theological Seminary (LTS).
We tried a few churches during this time of academic preparation. We began the whole thing as members of the Brethren in Christ. We left TBS and moved to Lancaster as members of the Brethren in Christ. One day, my wife and I decided to visit the cool looking church with the big dove on the side of it. It was Pentecostal (Assemblies of God). It was incredible! They had live worship, which rocked! They also showed film clips during the sermon, as illustrations. It was a seriously visual experience. Multimedia. We were hooked. The Brethren in Christ were not quite there, in those days (some are now). So, we joined the AG and moved to Valley Forge Christian College. While there, I began reading everything. I mean everything! Philosophy. Science. Anthropology. Ancient Cosmology Theories. Jesus Seminar. Humanism. Internet. Etc. So, of course, I had a crisis of faith. I put Jesus down for a bit. I needed more information. So, I joined the Unitarian Universalist church because I read about early New England’s Liberal Christianity. I was trying to save Jesus. I never attended a Unitarian Universalist church during my time at Valley Forge, because there was not one close by, and I didn’t want to incur the wise wrath of the Student Life office. So, I graduated and attended my first Unitarian Universalist church service in the late summer of 2004. My wife and I left the Unitarian Universalist Association approximately 1.5 years later. Wacky. You bet. Our time there is a mere blip in the larger scope of our journey. The early New England sort of Christianity that I was searching for is not the present emphasis of Unitarian Universalist Association, by any stretch of the imagination. So, we got out, and quickly. Too, I entered a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) program which changed my life. I found that my liberal ideas were junk, when challenged by the faces of broken, sick, dying, and dead people in the emergency, hospice and trauma wards. Their families were not interested in my clever theories and philosophies. No. They were too busy being overwhelmed by this life’s realities. They needed to make sense of things. They didn’t need - or deserve - more confusion. So, to make a long and very heavy story much, much shorter, I admitted my errors and repented for forcing Jesus Christ into my own neat, limited, socially-liberal image. Too, I quickly realized all that liberal religion advances is already there in Jesus and His Kingdom … well most of it anyway. The missing component was personal piety and incarnational transformation. Jesus offers that too, in addition to all that is offered by a liberal social program. So, I re-embraced Jesus Christ as Trinity, Lord, Savior, and God … and got it all!
The Math, Life, Our Journey Years in Equation
So, let’s do the math: TBS(2)+LBC(1)+VFCC(5)+LTS(3)=11 years! I have spent the past eleven years unpacking and re-packing my faith in Jesus Christ, Christianity, and culture. I’m talking full time too! Full time. Eleven years. I have figured some things out. It was neither easy, nor pretty, at times. No one - absolutely no one - can say I didn’t dive in and try things on for myself, and test it all in real-time. Too, I picked up and discarded other things that didn’t work, all along the way. I basically shaped and sculpted … myself. I am a child of God, in Christ. No one can say I didn’t shape and sculpt for real. Did I make mistakes? Yes. Did I have success? Yes. Was it a neat and tidy process? No. Did I make people angry? Yes. Did people make me angry? Yes. I do, however, know exactly who I am. I landed. Just in time to graduate seminary and end my formal education preparation process; just in time to enter into and embrace my call as a minister of the Gospel of Christ. I am being loosed!
Reconstruction is the Only Point of Deconstruction
So, what have I figured out, after ten years of deconstruction and reconstruction? A lot.
1. This disciple of Christ thing is much more authentic after one deconstructs … and then reconstructs. Is my faith exactly the same as the first day I embraced it? No. I’m not the same either. I’m 12 years older. God is still the same age. I just embrace him differently now. I know why I’m holding on. I know why Jesus Christ is important to me. I put him down once, metaphorically speaking, of course. I then went back, sorry for my absolute foolishness. I can authentically call him Lord and Savior on my own, from the very place my own two feet are planted, wherever that may be. Deconstruction and reconstruction are important, but very time consuming. It took me ten years. Ten years! Check the Scriptures, God does things like that …
2. I am at home in the Brethren in Christ. I began my Christian journey as a Brethren in Christ student. My father is a Brethren in Christ pastor. The greatest mentors I ever had are Brethren in Christ pastors. I swim naturally in the B.I.C’s three foundational streams (i.e., Anabaptism, Wesleyan Holiness, Pietism). I’m a radical Anabaptist, at heart and in practice. It’s all about Jesus’ missional, incarnational, and egalitarian Gospel. Too, I like thrift store stuff. I deeply resonate with Wesleyan Holiness as well. Wesleyan Holiness ties in naturally with the Anabaptist emphasis on discipleship and obedience to Christ. It is also a fine hook for my charismatic hat. Pietism is all about God’s incarnation and transformative presence. The Spirit breaks through and changes hearts. Conversion. It is real. It happened to me. I love the Brethren in Christ … Anti-war. Anti-political. Egalitarianism. Holiness. Pietism. Conversion. Trinity. Change. The Brethren in Christ are good people. I heart home.
3. I swim in the Brethren in Christ’s Anabaptism, Wesleyan Holiness, and Pietism, but I also jump into the deep pool that is the Emerging Conversation. Granted, as I was coming out of the mystifyingly confused expression that is Unitarian Universalism, I reacted viscerally to a few aspects of the Emerging/Emergent conversation. I was mistaken. I was wrong. The closer I get to the conclusion of my formal academic process, the more I reflect upon and appreciate authentic ministry in this postmodern setting of ours. I also can’t help but to reflect upon my own journey, and it’s multifaceted branches. Too, the deeper one digs into Emerging/Emergent Conversations, the deeper the conversation actually becomes. I do not know of one Emerging/Emergent leader who is being unfaithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, they may just be the ones carrying the torch and lighting the way, so to speak. So, I’m down. Emerging. Emergent. No visceral reactions stemming from religious expressions gone wacky (Unitarian Universalism). I am part of this conversation. It’s my generation. I want to be conversant. I want to engage my culture and the people living within it, authentically. Real. Now. So, you can call me an Emerging/Emergent conversant, who expresses himself through a Brethren in Christ fusion of radical Anabaptism, Wesleyan Holiness, and Pietism … with a serious charismatic tip. Yes, I need a desk plaque for that title. That is where I have landed, after ten years of theological deconstruction and reconstruction. I never said I wasn’t a work in progress. If the progress made you uncomfortable … that’s your problem, I suppose. I’ll help you with that, if you want.
The Quick Crux of a Personal Manifesto. Who am I Now?
My landing deserves repeating: I am an Emerging/Emergent conversant, who expresses himself through a Brethren in Christ fusion of radical Anabaptism, Wesleyan Holiness, and Pietism … with a serious charismatic tip.
I’m not sure this ten year long process could have been done differently. God is all through it. He has guided me along the entire way. Teaching. Instructing. Pointing. Leading. Applauding. Correcting. Celebrating. Crying. Together. Together. It was messy, for sure. Its conclusion is beautiful. I have a few more weeks of seminary. I’m done. Time to start putting the reconstruction on the ground. Christianity isn’t something that happens to you in an instant. No. If God is in it … He will dedicate a substantial chunk of time to you. Trust me. Substantial. Not quick and easy. You will actually have to succeed and fail. Choose and discard. Try on things. Take things off. Just remember … there’s no need to fear, because God is there in it all.
So, I’m getting ready to finish this phase of my call/life with Jesus. I’m not done. There another new chapter on the horizon … with a whole new set of mysteries to engage, deconstruct and reconstruct. God is like that …