Thinking Out Loud

January 16, 2011

John Shore Launches The ThruWay Christians

You stop watching your favorite television program — play along, you do remember television, right — for a few weeks only to tune back in and discover there’s been a major plot twist, there are two new characters and a key character is off the show. Your reaction is, “Hey guys, I only stepped out of the room for a minute…”

In this case, I got out of the routine of reading Christian author John Shore’s blog over the holidays returning to discover I’d missed all the excitement —  he’s launched a major movement.  Okay, major in the sense that while it only has 300 members as of Saturday, it has the potential to shake things up a bit. Or a lot.

He had me at the opening sentence on the December 16th blog post that launched it all:

We are Christians who find conservative/right-wing Christianity too oppressive and exclusionary, and progressive/liberal Christianity too theologically tenuous. We embrace both the conservative Christian’s belief in and fidelity to the core message of the Gospels, and the liberal Christian’s dedication to inclusiveness and social justice.

Rather than continuing to choose between these two roads, we hereby establish the following, which we recognize and affirm as a thruway running between them.

There then follows a 16-part statement which touches on some current issues dividing the two camps, a manifesto that really comes alive in a 16-part “teen” edition also presented.

“The ThruWay Christians” may sound like an excellent title for a B-movie. Several decades ago, some people we knew despaired over the lack of crossover potential in the term ‘Contemporary Christian Music,’ and sought an alternative to describe music that causes you to reflect on the greater issues of life, coming up with… “Reflecto Music.” Seriously.

That was my reaction here. “They’re mean, they’re tough, they’re worshiping under a bridge near you — The Thruway Christians. Starts Friday. Rated PG-13.”  (Sorry, John, I couldn’t resist.)

Okay; having got that out my system, let me state some reasons why I think there is some need for some middle ground; reasons why I think John and company may be on to something.

A couple of the recent blog posts at JohnShore.com have happened because of correspondence from Christians who are also identify as LGBT.  (The short form for “L or G or B or T,” in case you’re wondering.)  Now I know for some, the idea of LGBT Christians is an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp,” or “honest politician.” But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover people whose desire to follow Jesus is real while at the same time, their sexual identity is different from yours. Or mine. That’s not the point here, and I’m not going to go down the comment trail on that issue.

What is the point is that some individuals’ felt needs are not being met by the church (local) or The Church (universal). Which, I will admit, probably suits some people just fine. That’s because Christianity in the U.S., where John Shore lives, is becoming like politics in the U.S.: extremely polarized.  Issues that are black-and-white. Attitudes that are us-versus-them. Faith without mystery.

It doesn’t suit me. I’m not sure how obtainable the goal of inclusiveness is in the light of scripture that seems to speak strongly to certain issues, but I am impressed with the idea I took away from reading the W. P. Campbell book I reviewed here on Thursday; the idea that the “extremes” currently visible can be best expressed as “Grace with compromised truth” and “Truth with compromised grace.” There is a need for middle ground.  A need for a highway (as we Canucks call it), a dual-carriageway (as the Brits say) or a thruway (as the Yanks say) running through the middle.

(Can’t help but be reminded of Isaiah 40:3 at this stage: A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD ; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”)

And so, first John had the ThruWay Christians Facebook Group.

And then due to a glitch, because Facebook is completely unwieldy, we now have the ThruWay Christians Fan Page.  (Which is why both of the above “links” actually take you to the second one; it’s not a mistake; you can still find the other ! one if you wish.)

And lastly, we have the ThruWay Christians Website. If the idea of looking for something where you feel you identify resonates, check out what’s going on here and follow the developments as they happen.  Right now there are too many people falling through the cracks; there are always going to be, perhaps; but this is about making the cracks a little smaller. (Be sure to click on the forums and visit the “welcome” section where over 300 people have signed in.)

In a weekend post, John says he knows he’s going to take a lot of abuse for this. (I’ll probably get some, too for helping publicize it. )

Publishing the document for ThruWay Christians threatened me. It was not to my personal advantage to do that. It wasn’t ambitious of me. It was the exact opposite. That was me nearly committing career suicide.

…I do encourage you to bookmark or follow or whatever it is you do; the early days of this venture. Is it a tempest in a teapot? Okay, perhaps. But I can’t help but thinking that somebody had to be the first guy in line to use the term “missional.” Or the term “emergent.”

I think there’s something of value here.

I think we should all be listening.

– Blog posts by others about ThruWay Christians:

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August 12, 2010

Steven Furtick: Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me

I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of Sun Stand Still: What Happens When You Dare to Ask God For the Impossible by Steven Furtick, the pastor of the rapidly growing Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC.   The title, releasing another “sun significant” day, September 21st from Multnomah Books,  is based on Joshua’s prayer in Joshua chapter 10.  “There has never been a day like it before…” (vs 13 NIV)

This is a book about prayer, and it’s a book about faith, and mostly, it’s a book about praying prayers of faith, or what he calls audacious prayers.   As such it’s a title that will inspire next-generation Christ-followers to stretch their faith in prayer; a book that might be given to a teen or twenty-something and/or someone who is new to the family of faith.

The author quotes Jim Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire early on and in many ways this book stands in that tradition of — and I hate to use this word because it can diminish the impact — books on prayer that are truly inspiring.

But beyond the reading process which I began several days ago, I decided to dig a little deeper to, if you’ll forgive the nameplay, see what makes Steven Furtick tick.

The book begins with the story of Elevation Church filling the Time Warner Arena in Charlotte the year on Easter Sunday; a dream planted in Steven Furtick’s heart just four years earlier.     Reports ranged from attendance figures of 10,000 to the figure on the Elevation Worship Blog, 11,600.   (It also lists the worship pieces that morning; of the eleven, six were from Hillsongs.)

I decided to watch the service online, but presented with a range of sermons, decided to jump into something else, only to find myself watching a guest speaker, North Point’s Andy Stanley.   In the process of trying to ascertain where Furtick and Elevation fit into the larger map of American Christianity, Andy Stanley came as a bit of a surprise.

That’s because — as my reading of the book and eventual viewing of the Easter sermon and two other sermons convinced me — Furtick’s message and style seems to fit into a long line of Pentecostal or Charismatic tradition.  For the Time Warner Arena occasion, he donned a suit which, combined with the dynamics of the arena, couldn’t help remind me of Joel Osteen.

But I’m not sure that Furtick would welcome the comparison.   I decided to dig into his blog; not just current entries, but ones from its beginnings in the fall of 2006.    He considers Craig Groeschel and Perry Noble mentors, and there’s nothing in his church’s core beliefs that hints of Pentecostalism.

Maybe it was just the Easter suit thing.   Or the traditional invitation at the end of the messages.  Or having the congregation stand for scripture readings. Or the “Amen Corner” on the website.

…Or maybe it’s part of our fallen nature that anytime someone has a faith-stretching, big-believing message we want to categorize or pigeon-hole that person with a “Charismatic” label, instead of recognizing that this is what it means to follow Christ as the early disciples understood it, and as we’re reminded in a story early in the book, Christians in the third world or persecuted church understand it today.   In fact, in some places Furtick would challenge the prosperity or claim-it message of hardcore Charismatics.

In the end, I have to conclude that Steven Furtick is a hybrid.   His next-generation appeal might earn him the label Emergent Charismatic.   Neither adjective is fully accurate here — how about Missional Pentecostalbut it’s the best I got because Sun Stand Still is a Spirit-filled message of classical Biblical faith, but it’s a 30-year-old’s fresh take on a classic Old Testament passage that any young person should enjoy reading.

The book will energize your prayer life no matter where you are on your journey with Christ.   If you want to dig in to more of Elevation online, you’ll find some powerful and passionate preaching with a wisdom beyond Steven Furtick’s years.

Reviewer’s Notes:

  1. Thanks to Norm at Augsburg Canada (Multnomah’s up-North distributor) for the advance copy.
  2. Elevation’s online sermon server gets you a full-screen, high-def video sermon every time, that downloads quickly provided you’ve got the bandwidth. Clearly among the best I’ve seen.   I don’t see an audio option.
  3. Given the aforementioned appeal to younger readers, I gotta seriously question Multnomah’s decision to release this in hardcover at $20 U.S. ($23 CDN)   I hope initial sales don’t discourage those involved, because this is a natural title for paperback first edition. UPDATE:  This will release in paperback at $14.99 US/$16.99 CDN.  They must have been reading this blog!!
  4. If you click on the “comments” section for this post (below) you can watch the promotional video for the book featuring Steven’s ever-changing hairstyles!

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