Archive for February, 2012

Theological Education and Tomorrow’s Church (part 3)

by   |  02.17.12  |  Uncategorized

The previous sections of this discussion emerged from my reflections on the future of theological education in Churches of Christ, which is deeply bound up with what we imagine the future of this part of Christianity to be.  Educating young men and women – the Millennials along with Gen Xers and Baby Boomers entering second and third careers – will look different in the future because of the church’s needs will look different.  But different how?  What do we need to innovate, and what to conserve?  How do we help men and women cultivate the imagination necessary for bearers of God’s good tidings in our time?

Let me suggest a few things for discussion.

Rule # 1: Self-awareness is good.

Over the past half century, Churches of Christ have gone through a number of phases, not everywhere and not all at once, but still in fairly recognizable ways.  We shifted from a confessional group that defined itself by a fairly small set of doctrinal distinctives (some biblically rich and some not) to a group more focused on self-help and consumerist approaches.  Sermons changed from “God’s views of appropriate music in worship” to “10 steps to a better family life.”  And since the shift was largely driven by Baby Boomers, the emphasis on programming, media, popular music, and other practices that made us less different from the dominant culture were all the rage.  Some of that change was helpful, some was inevitable, and some is worth keeping.  Much of it, however, was pretty lightweight stuff, and the processes of change sometimes expended a huge amount of energy that left congregations incapacitated for further spiritual growth and addicted to finding the next cool gimmick, when they weren’t blown apart completely.  Surely it is time that those of us in progressive churches acknowledged at least some of these problems.  Sectarian legalism sometimes – too often – has given way to a cheap grace that glibly demands that God forgive us no matter how uncommitted we are.

Of course, it is easy to overstate the problems, and no one could reasonably want to return to the sectarian past.  Or, to put things much more carefully, the truth is that the Holy Spirit worked to enable men and women to live Christian lives both during the times we want to forget and the times we spent forgetting them (forgetting them over and over, ironically – but that’s another story).   Christian men and women in our churches have done extraordinarily good and gracious things over and over regardless of the dominant ambience of our congregational lives.   So maybe the first thing we should say about our identity – the first step in self-awareness – is that we have been and are a blessed people through whom God has helped many others.  We can celebrate that, in spite of our very real flaws.

Rule # 2: It’s not about programs. More »

Theological Education and Tomorrow’s Church (part 2)

by   |  02.06.12  |  Uncategorized

This is part 2 of 3.  Thank you for your comments to the first part of the essay.  I am grateful for the encouragement and look forward to the ongoing conversation!

The Theological Landscape Today

            But if the news is good, what precisely is it about?  To answer the question, let me step back to an event many of you remember because you were there.  In the summer of 1967, a new magazine was launched, Mission.  You know its history.  Some of you made it.  The impression one has in reading the early issues now is just how uncontroversial they seem, especially during the early years.  The academics and others who wrote it seemed to fit the basic theology of Churches of Christ rather well.  (I leave to one side cartoons of Nixon as a watch salesman on Fifth Avenue!)  Page 1 of the first number describes the journal’s three purposes as “to explore thoroughly the scriptures and their meaning,” “to understand as fully as possible the world in which the church lives and has her mission,” and “to provide a vehicle for communicating the meaning of God’s Word to our contemporary world.”  One might object to the hermeneutics of translation (kernel and husk) implied by the statements or note that the world was hardly as homogeneous as the sentences imply, but, after all, journal prospectuses are not the usual venue for subtlety, and so we can overlook those faults, if they are faults.

The curious and revolutionary part of the statement is that it seems to assume that we do not yet know fully what the Bible teaches and that the world as we experience it requires serious interpretation.  Both of these assumptions would seem to be givens today, but of course they have not always been.  This is why, within two years of the launch of Mission, other Church of Christ leaders, also mostly academics, founded The Spiritual Sword.  Page 1 of the first number of that journal set its course (by which it still sails, alas) by noting “The church is faced with critical challenges,” and promising to “meet these challenges,” especially the “threat of Liberalism.”  Their “defense of the faith” would “meet a specific and immediate challenge with a direct counter thrust of truth.”  The language of “combat” (their word, not mine) pervades the journal, and in fact has until this day.  So much for solidarity!  And so much for reasoned discourse!

Now my goal here is not to stroll down memory lane, especially since it’s not even my own memory but a bit of history.  I was just getting out of diapers when Mission was founded and was being taught in 1969 to avoid sharp objects, spiritual swords or not.  My point is, rather, to note that we have for a long time had different approaches to theological education.  One sought to understand and engage the theological worlds of Scripture and whatever else we could manage, and the other believed itself to command Scripture and to be able to ignore all else, or perhaps better, to learn about it so as to convert it (rather as a general would know his enemy).  It should be obvious with which approach my sympathies lie.

If we are to take the first tack stated so well by Mission and by my own teachers, we must ask where we are today.  Only in this way can we “understand as fully as possible the world in which the church lives and has her mission,” and “provide a vehicle for communicating the meaning of God’s Word to our contemporary world.”  This theological world differs very widely from that of the 1960s and 1970s, and the responses worked out then, I would argue, are almost completely irrelevant today.  It seems to me that three significant movements inform Christianity around the world today, albeit in many subforms. More »