more about this sight

"you're packing a suitcase for a place that you've never been...a place that has to be believed to be seen"...'Walk On' by U2

WATERSHED: A voice in the wilderness. DARYL UNDERWOOD.


The concept of Centerpoint Christianity briefly stated is:

Christianity from the centerpoint outward.

Christianity from the climax forward.

This blog constitutes concepts for a new view of Christianity that begins with what is foundational and moves forward from that point. It is based on the assumption that we are being pulled towards something unseen and pushed from a place that once was.

What Centerpoint Christianity attempts to do is bypass some of the constraints imposed by metanarratives by using the life of Christ and particularly the climactic actions of Christ as beginning points.

It supports the conviction that God is essentially timeless. From this beginning point we endeavor to move outward from the definitive moment of the parousia (visitation) of Christ and forward to the future which functions as a type of magnet to "what can be--and is coming".

When we begin at the life of Christ and move outward as from the centerpoint of a web, rather than in a linear timeline of history, another wide picture emerges.

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Inclusion and identification or the Wittmerites and me

When ‘emergence’ speaks of the concept of ‘belong—believe’ the perception or communication may as first blush appear to be about inclusive language. Perhaps this inclusion is just an inevitable ‘child of the times’; a result of the cultural and educational priority of acceptance of other groups and respect for others views that has been hammered into the emerging generation from educational systems for several decades now. This is the outcome or fruit if you will, of that—or so it’s surmised. And so ‘belong—believe’ may appear to be a reaction or outcome to the changing times and pressures in the present world. the pressure to tear down walls (sexual orientation, gender differences, racial divides and such) and ‘include’ everybody. It may feel to some like repositioned liberalism or rewrapped humanism. It may even appear to be on the edge of ‘universalism’. At first blush, from a certain perspective, 'emergence' with it's emphasis on 'belong--believe' can have that appearence.

So the understanding of ‘belong—believe’ given this perspective leads one to conclude that this inclusion is nothing more than an accommodation to the prevailing culture on a slippery slope on the way to believing nothing. And it is to be warded off—because it represents a road to a melting pot of mindless stew. What might be left, some reason, is a hodgepodge of mixed beliefs systems, so synchronized and distilled, that is has little aroma of the ‘gospel of Christ’ anymore.

‘Emergence’ from this viewpoint ‘doesn’t believe anything’ really. It is simply dangerous. And people 'need' to be warned. To the Wittmerites (a literary device I will employ to designate the group that adheres to this thinking,) their questions seem never answered but persistently sidestepped.

'These people are slippery in a Clintonesque sort of way’ they declare. ‘Why don’t they just answer the question? Why don’t you (emergence) define your box so we can know how to get in or how to be out?’

They are frustrated.

What Wittmerites are wrestling with comes from their paradigm or perception of what Jesus and his followers, chief of which is Paul, were ‘up to’.

In their world, they (Wittmerites) are the people who have been given the truth. They are ‘the new Jews’ who are the particular or peculiar people of the One God. All other gods are no gods at all. Wittmerites and their adherents have been grafted in to the vine. Given these presuppositions the task of the ‘enlightened’ is to help convince or persuade the ‘others’, those outside the circle, to come into their worldview or systemic understanding. This vocation is the same vocation of pre-Jesus Israel. The idea is that ‘we are to be the light of the world so that others might come in’.

Familiar stuff. I have preached it for years. Essentially we are to scrap other agendas and agree to an understanding of the ‘what is’ that will lead us to eternal life. For the most part evangelical Christianity is strongly powered by these assumptions. The goal is to preach or proclaim this truth in our gatherings and perhaps in other settings so that ‘others might come in’. So 'outsiders' might confess, speak, say, agree. Then they are in. And then we are in communion. In order for others to belong they must first come in. In order to ‘belong’ you must ‘believe’. In order to have communion or fellowship you must enter the box.

So far so good?

I’ve have been there and it’s been hard to shake these deep seated convictions.

'Up to'

And it can only be done by looking closely at what Jesus was ‘up to’. He was, as I have said before, bringing an end to one story and beginning a ‘new story’. The question is: What is that new story about? How are we to understand that ‘new way’?

I believe that a major theme of Jesus’ vocation was to proclaim that the particular god of Israel contained in their land, writings, temple and traditions is now the One and only God of the world. One God for one people. One God who is for the entire human race.

Jesus was not so much about inclusion as He was about identification. He identified with ‘everybody’. In some ways the scriptures are more about Him than us. It is a subtle but significant shift to say that. Jesus was saying 'I have come to identify with this fallen place' more than ‘will you come into this circle so that I can include you in my deal’. The gospel is about ‘God’s unveiled intentions’. When He descended He was saying ‘I am with you’. I am human. We have a common story. His baptism was a baptism of identification with humankind, His personal preferred title was—you guessed it—Son of Man. He didn’t just like the way it sounded. He was the Son of Man. He came to walk amongst the masses. He from the onset was and is about identification.

Identification and inclusion is not the same thing.

What emergence is trying to say, (as I understand it) is that we are to identify with the entire human race. We are not to exist here simply to invite others to ‘come into our story, to enter our metanarrative’, we are to say…’we recognize that we are already by virtue of being human in this together and have commonality’. Communion comes out of commonality. Words like pilgrim, journey, conversation, and community flow out of this theological assumption or worldview.

The oft sited illustrations are numerous in the life of Jesus in relation to table fellowship. The ‘in’ group was consistently at odds with Jesus over who he allowed into his ‘circle’ at the table. Why does he ‘sup’ with ‘touch’, ‘talk’ to these people? Why is he over at the well with that Samaritan woman (so deep was this cultural conviction that even the disciples were flustered at times); Why does he heal the Centurion’s daughter (doesn’t he know he is the oppressor, the enemy, the one who has the foot of Rome on our neck, and after all isn't healing 'the children's bread' which begs the question; Who are the children anyway?), Why does he tell stories that make the ‘outsider’ the hero and our leaders (as indicated in The Good Samaritan story) the bad guys? Why? Because he identified with them and their plight because they too are human. The answer to 'who is my neighbor?' is, of course, everybody for 'God so loved the world.

When this new movement speaks of community it is based on commonality rather than differences. They have commonality and in that—they have communion. For Jesus that centurion is ‘his brother’, she, that Canaanite woman who says ‘even the dogs get the crumbs from the master’s table’ is his ‘sister’. The woman caught in adultery is ‘His sister’ too, so He reaches down to lift her head. Jesus came to confront Judaism with their hoarding of God. They didn’t own Him. He identified with all—even the shyster Zaccheus, who was a ‘lost’ child of the homeland Israel. He wasn’t against the Jew; He was for the world; and it was in these stories that Jesus was confronting the box which ‘kept 'them' (the others) at bay and told them they were less than, unworthy, sinners’.

In the letter of Galatians we are told a fascinating story of Paul confronting Peter about this issue of table fellowship. Many conclude that Paul was somehow ‘one upping’ Peter to establish His authority as an apostle. They (when I say they I include me, because I have said it or acted in out from time to time) think the story is about hypocrisy. They say ‘isn’t that just like impetuous Peter who denied Jesus during Passover' and vow not to be like that, etc. While those things may be true and good, the central point of the message Paul is hammering home in Galatia is about ‘table fellowship and the gospel of Jesus Christ’.

When Peter is intimidated into moving away from his Gentile brothers by the pressure of the old system represented by the Judaizers he is ‘betraying the Christ’. This is ‘why’ the story is told in this letter, this is why the occasion is so important. It reveals what Paul is 'up to'. It isn’t simply recorded so we don’t act insincerely or indecisively like Peter did…it is included in the letter because it is essential to see this moving away from identification—as nothing less that a violation of ‘the gospel’ (of which Paul goes on to say interestingly enough is 'One gospel' and ‘the only gospel’) that has come to break down dividing walls, to establish neither Jew nor Greek, to bring down hostilities Indeed Paul says it is the mystery of the ages revealed. The mystery revealed is that God accepts Gentiles, wants to have table fellowship, and in this is putting away, or if you prefer, fulfilling the ‘old way’ or covenant and making room for the ‘new way’. These attitudes should have been put away long ago, Peter should know this, this is as central as can be. Jesus came to break down the barriers between Jew and Gentile so that they might be One, one spirit, one people, one God. This is the heartbeat to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is one of the major themes of His life and vocation.

We should be like him.

open hearts

Recently the band U2 conducted their Vertigo tour. One stop was in the city of Chicago on a night which happened to be Bono’s birthday. This is the concert they put on DVD for all time. I have it and I watched it. Man something was resonating there, very profound. In the midst of the concert Bono begins to point at his headband which has symbols of Christianity, Judaism and Islam on it. He begins to chant Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed all one-- again and again during the song, “ONE”.


Somehow I think Bono gets Jesus.

I was reading some reactions to the tour by people on various blogs. One contributor on a website called Rhythms of Redemption was really upset. She was at a concert on tour and she felt violated. “I thought Bono was a Christian, I was really disappointed” she lamented.

I think she missed the point.

What she was saying was Bono doesn't fit the box so he must be something other than Christian. I believe that what Bono is trying to tease out is that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam “all are monotheistic religions and all want to rise up against oppression, poverty, and inequity”.

He is simply saying let’s come together and get this right in our generation. We have commonality. Since all monotheistic religions have a desire to help the oppressed why can’t we ask them (us) to get it together without being seen as a traitor. We can all collectively cry out to the mother ship of religion to 'come together' particularly when we have an interest in justice and righteousness. It is obvious that this clarion call rings true for humankind.

Once I tried to suggest this to a Wittmerite, actually a seminary professor, by suggesting that perhaps Jesus was involved in revealing or unveiling something new in our space and time. The article I was responding to was mostly "Christians Make the Best Lovers". I felt sheepish about that declaration so I responded...

' conclude that people outside of Christianity cannot love or serve seems wrong, if not downright arrogant to me. People ‘love others’ or ’serve humanity’ as a result of their honor, integrity, or commitment to a truth or cause. Whatever the driving force the sacrifice is real and the resulting act of love most definitely ought to be acknowledged as ’sacrificial love’.

To say we have a corner on the market is offensive and drives a deeper wedge between those who need Jesus and the church. And the ‘rising tide of compassionate inclusivism’ (his term--mine would be attitude of commonality) may be actually be unstopping our ears in order to hear…I think Jesus said something about that.'

To which he replied:

'Also, do be careful when quoting Jesus. You don’t seriously believe that “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” was a reminder that we ought to be open to the insights of other religions, do you?'

And I was a bit stumped. Stumped because I do think others have something of value to say. Stumped because I think we should be listening. Stumped because well...I do believe that we ought to be open to the insights of other religions. We should listen, converse, learn. We should not be afraid. I seriously believe we should be open to insights of other religions.

I guess I'm stumped mostly because I believe Jesus will come out of those discussions standing tall. Jesus is that big. No one can really know this man without being impressed by him. I believe in Jesus. I guess he's my hero.

I do not believe Bono is “giving up” on Christianity. I believe He is Christian, but perhaps a new kind of Christian. I believe he is identifying with all mankind. And people are listening.

twilight zone

From time to time we have these experiences. These moments when we look around and say this is simply too weird to be true. I experienced one at Western Theological Seminary. My music, artistic, emotionally deep friend Drew Nelson had called me to let me know he was speaking to a seminary class in Holland, Michigan. He was a little nervous and just needed some fan support. I went along. Now teaching a graduate level class is a stretch because Drew never went to college and really doesn't even like college, is a bit burnt out on church, let alone seminary. He is a voracious reader and thinker.

The 'twilight zone' moment came while I was sitting in this class listening to Drew weep as he spoke of his deep compassion for the marginalized. That doesn't happen a lot in seminaries. To my left sat several students, one of whom I was sure was homosexual. That was a bit odd since this was a seminary class and the I didn't think he would 'ever get a job (or call) in this town', yet here he was, accepted, and I'm not sure why. Across from me in full Indian dress sat an old chief Drew's friend named Two Dogs. He had been a mentor and was a father figure to Drew. He sat proud but I knew he was trembling inside. The kind of tremble you feel at the moment you want to punch someone in the face but compose yourself while the adrenalin seeps through your veins. He told me that it was really hard to come here because 'this was the enemy'. But here he was, right here, right now, on this Dutch, white (except for the imported African next to me; when you see a black guy in seminaries like this one you can pretty most know he isn't indiginous) hallowed seminary turf. He had passed through years, decades actually, with this burning hate and pain over the losses of his people. He told me that 'one little, two little, three little Indian..' was a song about the slaughter of young braves  in a most brutal way. I sang that song as a kid in kindegarten. It was just a song to me. I never really gave it a thought, I didn't really understand. He was speaking to me, even though I was looking like the enemy, mostly because if Drew brought me then I must be ok.

Here he was. At wounded knee. Heart in hand. Hurt, and even shaking a bit. But here he was--and he was here--for his friend. I can learn form that.

He would smoke the peace pipe with the people in this room. As hard as it would be--he would do it. Now that  takes courage. I would like to learn about that. That takes forgiveness. I think Jesus would want us to know something about that, too. To say we have nothing to learn of Jesus from others is short sighted.

shifting sands

The Wittmerites are losing their grip. They are as Phyllis Tickle suggests beginning to move to the edges where they will eventually stake out their turf for the remaining few loyalists that still embrace their way. We will remember the ‘defenders of the faith’ the ‘apologists’ someday and wonder how their world was so small in the same way that we marvel that at one time women couldn’t vote and black folks were asked to move to the back of the bus. We eventually acknowledged them (I hesitate to use ‘them’) as ‘sister’, as ‘brother’, as female, as black, as--Us. And that is a good thing.

push and pull

History pushes while the future pulls. History informs us while our dreams andhopes beckon us. Together they can work in harmony if we embrace both without falling for one or the other.

They (the Wittmerites) can see it coming, it will take a while but it will happen. There is a shaking going on, at this time the Wittmerites hold the cards, but when they look over their shoulder they instinctively feel ‘little brother is coming’ in a MSU-Michigan sort of way. For those of you who are not familiar with the story Michigan football had always been 'the team' in the state of Michigan. After a comeback victory over rival MSU in 2007 one of the Michigan players Michael Hart told the media "Sometimes it's just like when you're playing your little brother in basketball," Hart said. "You let him get a lead and let him get excited, but then you take it back from him."

Hart then was asked if he regarded the Spartans as Michigan's subservient sibling?

"Yes I do," he said. "They do, so why shouldn't I."

Things change. 'Oh how the might have fallen'. This year Michigan suffered a 3-9 season while MSU went 9-3 and defeated the Wolverines in Ann Arbor 35-21. And little brother grew up. And emerging ideas are 'growing up'. This ought not be a competition but we mustn't be naive. There is, whether we like it or not, a conflict that comes out of convictions. A lot of blood was shed over the reformation and it's convictions.

At this time Wittermism holds sway...much of the 'resources' and backing find their locus right there. But other ideas and ways of thinking are seeping in. In the emerging marketplace of Christianity something is emerging.

And it can’t be stopped.

I believe Jesus is at the helm.

hope for something better

Come on up to 'The Rising'. In the end it is not about Obama, Bono, or Springsteen. The song I mean. These songs are always rising up to One. God, as revealed by Jesus is for Us.

What if it (‘The Great Emergence’ to borrow Phyllis Tickle’s phrase) is of God? What if He is moving things to a fantastic end? What if tomorrow really is good?

The Great Emergence may be somehow a reactionary movement. It may seem humanistic, or too open to other voices, it may seem risky. But I believe it is being pulled forth, birthed, and brought forward by God through His revealed agenda in Jesus. It is grasping what may have been lost or hidden for quite some time. It is not ‘better’ but it is coming from a different paradigm for a time such as this when it can be received. Just because something is a reaction doesn’t mean it is necessarily ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. Sometimes reactions guide us along the way.


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    you're packing a suitcase for a place that you've never been...a place that has to be believed to be seen" U2 - Journal - identification

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