Friday, November 22, 2013

Sowing in a shattered society

Brian Emmett speaking on "sowing in a shattered society" in San Antonio, Texas in October of 2013. Brian discusses the Daniel paradigm of living in empire and discusses how to be "excentric" people (having a different focus). He also discusses the importance of being discerning about the spiritual influences of technology.



  1. As I was watching (listening - submissive activity) to Brian's message yesterday, I came under some gentle conviction. At the part at the end of the clip where he compares the empire to a beautiful anaconda-constrictor, the mental image of me that came to my mind was a knight with a sword who was increasingly embraced by the serpentine dragon ... and was mesmerized by it, with the sword starting to fall to one side as the knight was entranced by the beauty of the snake. Am I being beguiled by the snake of our culture? Perhaps. One troubling symptom is the difficulty I find in the mornings of sitting quietly in God's presence and "listening" to his voice .... it was easier when Debbie was around. Now, I often go straight to my email to check on my students (especially the online ones) and check my FB and Twitter status ......what about you?

    Walsh and Keesmaat (Colossians Remixed) characterize "empire" along the following lines: systemic centralizations of power; control secured/maintained via economic and military structures; religious legitimation of the empire by means of powerful myths/stories; colonization of the imagination through the proliferation and ubiquity of imperial images.

    Empires are a fact of human society; as such, they are a mixture of good and evil. The early church had a complex and multi-layered relationship with the Roman Empire; we have, or ought to have, a similarly complex and multi-layered relationship with the empire in which we live. What are some ways in which our empire has colonized the imaginations of the churches? What are some of the ways we find ourselves deeply stamped with the current "Caesar's" image and likeness, thereby compromising our ability to render unto God what is God's? (NB: I do NOT see President Obama or any other president as "Caesar." I would see them as agents of the imperial mindset held by the US/Modern West).

  3. I loved what he said in the beginning about "doing less in order to do more." Certainly food for thought for me right now - I've been thinking a lot about all the things I say "yes" to - mindlessly - and, as Joseph so humbly shares, manage to constantly say "no" to the One who is always there waiting - and "just sit quietly in God's presence." This idea of the Book of Daniel as a manual for living in Empire is frankly, restores the Book for me. I've not been able to read since shaking off some of the restricting dispensationalist shackles of my early Christian life. More to follow - thank you Joseph. Great stuff.

  4. Ralph, good points. I did a series in Maryland several years ago called "The Postmodern Diaspora" in which I used Daniel as a model for living in a postmodern society (= postmodern empire). I actually started with Josiah as a proponent of "National" revival and and the Godly Nation ... and Jeremiah as a prophet the bad news of the coming captivity and dispersal. I believe we are living in an era of epochal transition of something like that now ... Daniel shows us how to live in the postmodern empire and serve and shine without being angry cultural warriors "cursing the darkness"

  5. I think we all feel challenged; I know I do! From NT Wright I've gotten a different way to think about "principalities and powers." These "powers" are, I think, human constructions--things like Government, Education, Technology. As human constructs they are mixed bags--they partly carry something of God's image and purposes, but are also distorted by sin... and these powers are the agents through which Empires typically operate and extend their influence. And because of this sin-distortion, the powers then become vulnerable to the demonic. We cannot have thriving human societies without government, education, technology, etc.--and we recognize that any of those have and can function as agents of an Empire opposed to the Kingdom. The goal of the church--the outcome of our spiritual warfare if you will--is not to destroy the principalities and powers (ala, for example, Peretti's "This Present Darkness" novels) but to call them to account before the Lord. So thinking about Technology as a principality: what might it look like for us to call Technology to account before God? What would we say/do? And how do we disciple folks in the context of a technology that actually seeks to subvert nearly everything we say matters most?

  6. One big way that we are influenced by the culture of our empire is in how we use our time. Brian spoke of being "time poor" and the need to do less in order to be more.

    Contributing to that issue is the technology that Brian talked about. We have hundreds of TV channels at our fingertips, movies and music online, blogs, FB, e-mail... But another contributing factor is the complexity of the culture around us. Everything we do, these day, gets complicated -- income taxes, healthcare, even simple choices like picking a cereal from the hundreds available. And all of that takes time.

    Avoiding the coils of that snake requires becoming quite eccentric, in the sense that Brian speaks about. We have to constantly swim against the current and act in ways that seem weird to the culture around us, in order to focus our time on the things that matter.

    And there's always a balance to find in all of this. We live in the world, even if we are not of it, and we have to deal with all of its complexities, while seeking to center our lives around God and His purpose.


  7. Here is a quote from Mark Van Steenwyk’s "The Unkingdom of God: Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance":

    "If we are to challenge imperialism, we must not only try to disarm the deadly idea that the supremacy of Christ legitimizes the supremacy of Christians. We must also, I believe, disarm the idea of Christ’s supremacy (Kindle Locations 502-504)."

  8. That's an interesting line: disarm the idea of Christ’s supremacy. As in remove any militant agenda from or take away any hostility where Christ's Supremacy is being used as a weapon?

    Brian - great thoughts and questions. I've started to read a couple of NT Wrights messages on this. Any you might suggest?

    I like this line from Ephesians "that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places".

  9. Since Jesus is the way in which Father's Kingdom comes and his will is done on earth as in heaven, it is good to consider what Paul had in mind when stressing that "Jesus is Lord!" is the heart of the Christian proclamation, what he meant in telling the Colossians that Jesus is to have "supremacy" in all things. I thought Will's idea of "disarming" how we have thought of Jesus' Lordship is a good one: the Kingdom is non-coercive, non-centralizing, non-standardizing, in the world but standing apart/over against the world for the sake/good of the world. I've not read Van Steenwyk, so not sure where he wants to go with the quote Joseph cited above. Sounds like a good weekend's worth of discussion and book-sharing!