Today was the fourth, and final, day of NPC 2008. Because of the fairly rigorous theological engagement throughout this week, my sense that there is a point of being a pastor has been renewed. The last thing I want to do is become a program director or events manager and this week at NPC has been good for my soul.

During this morning’s seminar with Richard TwissTonto and the Lone Ranger Revisited: Avoiding the “Ethnocentric Impulse” in Creating Diverse, Mutually Embracing Communities of Believers (quite a mouthful, but an even better seminar) — I remarked at the end how much I appreciated that my greatest take-away from his sessions was his emphasis on theology. We seek diversity in community not because it is the thing to do or as an evangelistic, church-growth tool, but out of our understanding of God Himself.

As mysterious and difficult it might be to comprehend, God exists as Trinity — in Himself, He is a perfect, mutually embracing community expressed in diversity. As we sang during the main session with Jon Klinepeter (whose version of “Joyful, Joyful” sounds suspiciously like Jesse’s Girl!), “Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son / And praise the Spirit, Three in One!” From this foundational understanding of God, we become the people of God — community expressed in diversity. As Richard noted, this stands in stark contrast with some church growth models that emphasize the homogeneous unit principle as the way to increasing membership.

During the Q+A, I was really impressed with Richard’s grace and wisdom in dealing with some very frustrating questions. After laying out a nuanced, thoughtful theological presentation, one of the first questions was (of course), “So how do I apply that to my church? We’re a white church in an increasingly Asian community, so how do we incorporate them into our church so we don’t die out?” Instead of criticizing the questioner for totally not listening at all, Richard urged him to re-think his ecclesiology — that instead of trying to “do diversity” for two hours on a Sunday, to become the Church Monday through Saturday by developing actual friendships with others. Otherwise, it is simply trying to keep the same old monocultural setup, but with a couple more “ethnic” faces in the crowd.

I really appreciated Richard’s words in warning us about claiming a “Christian” worldview, as if such a thing could exist as an objective reality over and above our actual experience of life. Instead, we are trying to develop biblically-informed worldviews within our unique cultural context. Too often, in the name of a “Christian” worldview, Western Christians have tried to de-ethnicize others into becoming “good Presbyterians/Baptists/etc.” by urging them to shed their God-given ethnic identities and take on a white, Western one.

To close out NPC, NT Wright continued building a massive picture of the Gospel, much bigger than just my personal salvation after death. When Jesus rose from the dead, he was doing far more than simply proving there is life after death or sending us to heaven after we die. Rather, the Bible says that Jesus, in His resurrection, has opened a whole new world — and we are both its beneficiaries and its agents. His brief talk was far too dense for me to recap everything (I was furiously scribbling notes the entire time), but he urged us to practice this new creation. Here is a great quote:

Good liturgy tells God’s story in God’s way so that God’s people can become little parts and agents of this new creation.

That speaks so deeply to what I would love our Sunday gatherings to look like. Instead of some random singalongs and lots of passive sitting (and clock-watching), our worship would enable us to live in the drama of God’s narrative over and above every other story (power, greed, war, hopelessness) we are being told throughout the week.

Although virtually every sentence Wright spoke was a densely packed theological treatise, he had another marvelous quote about the authority of Scripture: “Scripture is a large set of clothes that most of us haven’t grown into yet.”

Overall, I really enjoyed attending NPC with my wife. We not only enjoyed spending the week together, but I enjoyed bouncing ideas off of one another and sharing in this heart-renewing experience. Now, to see how this story unfolds in the life of our church…