The following ramblings are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the local church I serve, the United Methodist Church, John Wesley, my family, my dog, my gecko, or anyone else whom I may have forgotten to mention for that matter.
Now, before you read on, let me just say this: I don't have all the facts or information, just what I've managed to follow in the news. So, as you read, please keep this in mind.
This article from the UM Reporter really saddened me on many levels, one of which is the incessant fear of what appears to be competition between local pastors and churches. Sometimes I fear that if we're not careful, we can be all too busy building our own kingdoms instead of the kingdom of God.
While I honestly sympathize with Bryson Butts, the former pastor of Gracepoint UMC - I hear in his responses a primal call to reach the unchurched that isn't always appreciated within institutional churches like the UMC - I am saddened that a church plant opportunity in Kansas has succumbed under the strain of it's tearing apart.
My prayer is for the Bryson and his new congregation and the 17 original members of Gracepoint UMC that suddenly are left without a church.
There's an interesting article out from the the Associated Press that says fewer Americans are willing to identify with any given religion.
Although the article seems heavily biased towards evaluating those within the "Christian" spectrum of religious life, although they do touch on the percentages of other faith systems. The report put out byThe Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn, makes some interesting findings.
"In 2008, Christians comprised 76 percent of U.S. adults, compared to about 77 percent in 2001 and about 86 percent in 1990. Researchers said the dwindling ranks of mainline Protestants, including Methodists,Lutherans and Episcopalians, largely explains the shift. Over the last seven years, mainline Protestants dropped from just over 17 percent to 12.9 percent of the population."
"The study also found signs of a growing influence of churches that either don't belong to a denomination or play down their membership in a religious group."
"Respondents who called themselves "non-denominational Christian" grew from 0.1 percent in 1990 to 3.5 percent last year."
It's an interesting article. You can read it here.
We all, to one degree or another, pick and choose when it comes to biblical interpretation and application; that is to say that we all approach the text with a bias and and list of presuppositions that we believe about any given text or even the Bible as a whole. The problem, McKnight suggests, is that we don't often understand why we do it, or even that we do it. He cites in his opening introduction the pithy statement that I too share a great disdain for and yet it appears on many a car's rear bumper as it chugs down the highway [often at speeds exceeding the local speed limits]: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it!" To be sure, we may have our own rationale for approaching the text like we do, but it often simply reinforces our own biases.
McKnight lets us in on his primordial journey into the Christian faith as along the way he encountered people who "said" that they "believed" that the Bible should be taken literally. The problem was for McKNight, and for many of us, that many people who hold this stand don't back it up with how they live their lives. Simply the fruit wasn't ever brought to bear upon their belief.
McKinght cites example after example of how we approach the Bible with certain assumptions about what we believe is applicable and why.
For Mcknight, the solution is twofold: 1. Admit our biases and accept them for what they are. 2. As the deeper question of how it is that we should live out the Bible today.
I would call this endeavor a movement towards a authentic and consistent hermeneutic.
In the second part of the intro, McKnight unpacks for us the metaphor for the book's title: his backyard encounter with a once tame but now wild blue Parakeet that is reeking havoc on its unsuspecting species-mates the sparrows. For McKnight, this blue Parakeet at first is an anomaly and then becomes an influence that changes the dynamic of the entire pecking order around the bird feeder [pardon the pun]. Foe becomes friend, but only forever under a cloud of anxious suspicion as the sparrows are never quiet sure they can trust their new found friend. Yet the parakeet is allowed to be true to who he [or she] is.
While there are numerous ways to read the Scriptures, McKinght suggests that there are three that servve as a good starting point to begin discussion. He suggests that we as readers might: Read to Retrieve; Read Through Tradition; Read With Tradition. Let me explain.
Read to Retrieve: McKnight states on page 25: "Some of us have been taught to read the Bible in such as way that we return to the times of the Bible in order to retrieve biblical ideas and practices for today" He goes on to suggest that we do this as a whole or in select parts that we the reader believe to be important.
I liken this to doing an autopsy on a living being. We strip mine the Scriptures to find the "essence" of a given text simply so that we can take it and attempt to make it fit into our day, time, and culture.
Reading Through Tradition: McKnight states on page 29 that they Reading Through Tradition folks feel that, "ordinary people need to learn to read the Bible through tradition or they will misread the Bible and create schisms in the church." The caution he suggests is that we need to make sure that we are not simply reading the Bible with a "whatever I believe the text says is what it says" mentality.
Biblical interpretation is not done in a vacuum and we need to make sure that we test our hypothesis with the history of ecclesilogical interpretation. But the other danger is that we can make one tradition "truer" than another. Tradition therefore trumps interpretation and we end up reading the Scriptures solely through the lens of our tradition which leads to what McKnight calls traditionalism: "the inflexible, don't-ask-questions-do-it-the way-it-has-always-been-done approach to bible reading." [p.31] Reading With Tradition: Again, McKnight: "We dare not ignore what God has said to the church through the ages, nor dare we fossilize past interpretation into traditionalism. Instead we need to go back to the Bible so we can move forward through the church and speak God's Word in our days in our ways." [p. 34]
For McKnight, although the Bible is written within the context of a given culture and time period, it is not bound and limited. That is to say that although we need some element of reading to retrieve and some element of reading through tradition to grasp the full bodied meaning of the Scriptures, we must allow the Bible the freedom to speak to our day and time in a way that is authentic, true, consistent, and yet fresh.
Rob Bell, in my opinion has said something similar in his book Velvet Elvis when he uses the metaphor of doctrine [read tradition] as "springs" or "bricks." One is dynamic and the other static. How we interpret those two will say a lot about how we interpret Scripture. Does the past great tradition of the church serve to propel us forward like springs. Or does it serve as firm unmovable fossilized traditions that don't have the flexibility for us to build upon them.
Make no mistake, McKnight, in my opinion, is not one who takes a low view of the Scriptures at all. In fact like most orthodox [small on the "o"] followers of Jesus, the Scriptures are for him still awarded primacy in all things. Yet there is a sense in which we must approach them with a freshness and humility if we are to do justice to what the Scriptures actually say.
Well, those are some thoughts. More to come as I move through the chapters.
This summer our church did a rather extensive exterior renovation. This week the regional UP paper came and did a story on it. Yet, despite my begging, they put my mug in the paper. You can read the story [if you are extremely bored and have nothing else to do] here.
Had a great conversation with Andy the Journal photographer who came to take the pic. He's only 30 and he's the senior photographer at the Journal and absolutely loves what he does. Thanks Andy for the great pic!
I've spent a good amount of time over the last several years reading about postmodernism and longing for something more when it came to the beloved community that we call the Church. This longing lead me into the wonderful discovery of the Emergent Conversation: a group of leaders, thinkers, believers, missionaries and activists that were asking some of the same questions I was and whose hearts seemed to long in unison after several common themes.
During this time I've read a good amount on Emergent and the emerging church. In fact I'm just in the process of rounding out Tim Keel's, Intuitive Leadership [BUY THIS BOOK]. As I was spending some time reading this evening it dawned on me that there are, I believe at least, three stellar books that together serve as a triune primer of the theology, philosophy, and eccelisology of the emerging church movement [and yes they also happen to all have been written by active leaders in the Emergent Conversation].
Doug Pagitt'sA Christianity Worth Believing, dares to address almost the whole notion of a primary modern western understanding of Christianity in hopes of perhaps rediscovering it's primal roots; to tap into that vast rich history that serves as a spring board for future conversations, not the boundaries to which we must strictly abide by. Tony Jones'The New Christians, examines the current landscape of the modern church and asks, "could there be more here than simply what we have? Do the current structures work? Are they life giving or life taking?" And provides some startling and provoking conversation for how we might journey together into God's dream for humanity. Keel's, Intuitive Leadership evaluates the cultural and sociological shift that we are in the midst of and grounds it in the question how might we now live out the life of the beloved community together. Churches are no longer to be understood as program driven and compartmentalized but as holistic life giving communities wherein the participants can do life together as they seek to live out the kingdom of God in the way of Jesus.
Granted these are rather simplistic and all too brief and general summaries of each book; they each warrant their own reading. But together they, at least to me, seem to serve as a great primer to this emerging conversation about the future life of the beloved community and it's members.
All of these books are well worth their modest price!
Was sitting at the local St. Arbucks today enjoying a great cup of coffee and reading Tony Jones' The New Christians [if you haven't bought it, stop reading this post now and purchase it here] when one of the baristas that I've gotten to know over the last few months sits down with me on his break.
He recently graduated from the local University and is currently hanging around in the area working for Starbucks and investing heavily in his church. We talked about the usually post-graduation stuff like what he's going to do and where he might want to do it, when he talked about wanting to be in the center of God's will for his life.
I've always wondered where the center of God's will is, what it looks like, and why people feel as though its so narrow. Somtimes I get the feeling that people are so afraid to act because if they don't "hear" from God directly and correctly, they might miss "God's Best" for them, another phrase that has puzzled me frankly. I always was under the impression that God had already given us God's best in the gift of his son Jesus.
Maybe I'm just mincing words, but sometimes I wonder if people in the Beloved Community called the church simply embrace their own fears, anxieties or apathy by spending more time waiting for the "center of God's will" instead of joining God in what God is already doing in the world. It seems to me that the "center of God's will" seems to anywhere and anytime we as God's followers join in the mission of God in the world by living the Kingdom in Hope in front of a world that by and large feels hopeless; by loving the unloved, and clothing the poor and naked and advocating for the marginalized, and living into our role as God's image bearers.
I began my along awaited adventure into Tony Jones' new book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, and I must say I like, REALLY like, what I've read so far. I spent the evening moving through almost half of it. So far, I believe that it is the best book on the emerging church in all it's fullness and flavors.
Coming at the heels of the end of my own annual denominational meeting and our denominations Quadrennial meeting, one section [as if I could even pick just one] stood out, and I share it with you:
is a pastor in the United Church of Christ, a notoriously left leaning
denomination founded in 1957....reflecting on the biannual General Synod
national meeting, she moaned, 'We used to be a group of
revolutionaries. Now we're a group of resolutionaries.' Operating by
a distinctively non-biblical Robert's Rules of Order, she said the
convention has devolved into a gathering of persons who read
resolutions that are then voted on and promptly forgotten. The
resolutions range from those for gay marriage to those against gay
marriage, from a call to study the imprisonment of native Hawaiians to
'saving Social Security from privatization.' The resolutions pile up;
and then they're read, seconded, discussed, voted on, and filed.' Lillian thought she was joining a movement, but she was joining a
bureaucracy. And that bureaucracy tends to squash the passion of may
Christ-centered and enthusiastic persons therein." p. 9-10
Amen, Lillian! Amen, Tony! Oh that we may rediscover our revolutionary hearts and boldly take a step forward towards the "new frontier."
After having set the bar for what it means to be an attractional seeker sensitive model church Willow Creek is shifting its weekend emphasis from primarily seeker sensitive to believer centered.
Of course no one is sure what exactly this means and if Sunday will now look like Wednesday night services, but a recent article from Christianity Today attempts to get at the rationale for the change.
Honestly, I've been to both and I think its probably a good change. The biggest difference that I saw in my few times there was that Sunday mornings was more of a experiential worship wherein participants "watched" the action of worship leaders and Wednesdays was much more participatory wherein participants were invited to take part in what was being lead on the platform. Also the Scriptural diet on Sundays was a much lighter fare than Wednesday nights.
All in all I think it's a smart move. Although I'm not really sure what the difference will pragmatically mean for their Sunday gatherings. I give them credit for doing a pretty authentic self evaluation and then actually making some decisions based on the results that they faced.