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Posts Tagged ‘transforming christian theology’

I was just reading a book review in the Christian Century that had this quote “In an era in which more clergy know their Myers-Briggs score than can explain the doctrine of the enhypostaton, [this book’] is a breath of fresh air.”  Confession time:  I am a pastor.  I know my Myers-Briggs score.  I have no idea what the doctrine of enhypostaton is. 

As I was finishing up Philip Clayton’s book, I found the dichotomoy between the opinion in the Christian Century and Philip Clayton’s premise to be striking.  The author of the review in the magazine saw the major problem with the church was that clergy were not educated enough in the doctrines of the church.  Clayton suggests that the people in the pews need to be doing their own theology; that it is not enough that pastors can know and use big theological terms; that if we all can’t talk about our faith and see how it applies to our lives then we are lost.  I tend to agree with Clayton.

I appreciated this final part of the book and think that going through the Converstaions Worth Having with our session would be great.  The one area that I question is the idea about getting involved with a community for a community.  I feel the danger there is that we only interact with those we are comfortable with and it would be easy to end up with basketball ministries and book club ministries and just doing things we like and calling them ministry.  I see that trap already in the church and want to be sure we realize that following Jesus requires more than doing what we’re passionate about with a prayer and calling it good.  

By the end of the book, I still have the same question that I had when I began.  Can older, established churches do the kind of transformational change laid out in this book?  I hope so.  I think the changes are needed and vital to being the church in the future.  But I just can’t picture it.  I see new churches forming and old churches being put on hospice or greatly diminished.  Lucky for me, God is bigger than my vision.  Come, Lord Jesus, come!

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The other day I got an email from Steve Knight asking me to participate in a Synchroblog for the Big Tent Christianity Conference happening in Raleigh, North Carolina this week. I’m hoping to join other Christian bloggers, including Beloved, in setting out a vision for what the church will look like in the future.

Here’s the theme prompts we were given:

1)    What do you think?
2)    What are your hopes and dreams for the Church?
3)    More specifically, what does “big tent Christianity” mean to you? And what does it look like in your        context?

1) When I hear the term “big tent Christianity” I think about mainline churches beginning to work together to provide service and mission to their communities and the world. I realize this may be a little limiting, however in my experience I have heard many people, mostly evangelicals (I would list myself as an evangelical, not in the current vernacular but in the ACTUAL definition of the word) say “I just want to go to church, I don’t want baptist or presbyterian or lutheran. I just want to go to church…one big church.”

This I feel like is a great goal, but not one that is attainable not really that effective or life giving.

This summer I was working at a PC(USA) camp for middle schoolers and one of the other youth leaders who wasn’t currently serving a PC(USA) congregation and I were talking. I was asking him about his congregation including it’s denominational affiliation, if any. His response was, “honestly I couldn’t  tell you the difference between baptist or presbyterian or whatever. I don’t think it matters.” I was shocked.
This is were I tell you that I am a self proclaimed PresbyNerd. I ABSOLUTELY think it matters!

I think the differences, theological and otherwise, that have brought us to this point in our journey are vital. They help define who we are and where we’ve come from, if we lose that I believe we lose our history. As Lord Acton said, “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.”
I think that our differences are important, but our commonalities are what can bring us under a “big tent”. Our common call from Christ to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself should be the fertilizer that brings forth fruit from our deep roots of faith.
I was planning on covering all three questions in this post, but I don’t want to bore you. In my next post I’ll cover question #2 What are your hopes and dreams for the Church?
Blessings,
Buttface

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I appreciated Clayton’s discussion of the two warring camps – those who advocate using traditional language more and are not as concerned with relevance and those who are highly relevant but have a hard time connecting to the texts and traditions of Christianity.  I feel like I am pulled at by both sides of this battle.  How do we stay relevant without giving up what makes us uniquely Christian?  How do we react to changing times and also recognize the tradition from which we emerged? 

Clayton says, “When you can’t do without a word, you have to fight to redeem it.  Theology is in the same category as Christian, disciple, and church.  We need all these words or else we’ll get locked into a conspiracy of silence about things that we just have to talk about.”  This was so affirming to me.  There are many in the emerging church world that I have talked with who think we need to give up these words.  They tell me that we can’t say church, that Christian has too much baggage.   And I feel that if we can’t reclaim these words then we have lost much of what makes us Jesus’ disciples.  Sometimes it makes me feel like the old and stodgy one because I want to keeping talking about Church and Christianity.  I am uncomfortable when too much of our ancient language is lost.  I hope to be part of the generation that reclaims these words so that they have positive meaning.

Clayton spends  a lot of time showing an example of how a person can begin to articulate their own theology.  It gives me ideas about ways to encourage my congregation to share their testimonies, to connect their life experiences to their understanding of God.  My fear is that I will invite folks into this process and no one will be interested.  That I will be faced with the possibility that many folks in church are in the pews for reasons other than a burning passion to deepen their faith.  Or maybe it’s just that I don’t know how to articulate why this is important.  Whatever the reason, I probably need to get past my fear and extend the invitation.

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This first section of the book basically outlines that we live in a time of change.  The world around us is changing rapidly and the church is not keeping pace.  All of this I already knew and am totally on board with the message of these chapters. 

Clayton says “If those of us in leadership are honest, we have to admit we don’t really know how to manage this change.  We don’t really know how to pastor a new kind of church or lead a denomination into the future or solve the problems of social injustice and global climate change.  Most of us have a hard enough time just integrating our faith with the intricacies of our own day-t0-day lives.”   This speaks to clearly to where I am.  I see the change.  I am ready and willing to help foster change.  But I don’t know how.  I need help.  I feel stuck.

Clayton goes on to suggest that denominations need to split their clergy between “traditional” churches and new ways of being church.  This is one of my deep questions at the moment.  I serve a traditional church.  Is it destined to stay that way until it dies?  Is there only “old” churches and “new” churches and no opportunity for “old” churches to learn new tricks?  My attempts at pointing out the deep change needed have not been successful.  I would be hard pressed to convince a single person at my church that we are dying.   And yet with 80% of our members over 65 I know we are.   My relative youth as a pastor does nothing to change the basic structures of this church.

I was reading this morning an interview with our recently former Moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow, who suggested that our institutional structure will need to change, we will have to accept that there will be multiple ways of being church, that younger folks will need to be a significant part of the leadership, etc.  Again, I agree with everything I read of Bruce and Philip Clayton.  I feel like I have been in this phase of “Yeah, yeah I get it – everything must change – but how?” for awhile now.  I  will probably have to stay in it awhile longer.  And I will keep reading to see if there are any suggestions about steps forward offered in this book.

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So my husband got this book and was supposed to blog about it.  The list of books he needed to read beforehand got longer and longer just at the same time that I read a review of it and wanted to check it out ……….. so now I’m the blogger.  Just from reading the introduction I’m really excited to read further.

The main idea is that folks in church don’t know how to talk about their faith, what they believe and that this is a huge issue for the mainline church.  As a pastor, I couldn’t agree more.  I’m curious to see what the author recommends for how to deal with this.  I have encouraged congregants to write their own statements of faith with little success.  Recently I asked some of our oldest members what faith in God had meant in their life for a video we were doing and I got one word answers or no answers at all.  It seems we are uncomfortable talking about faith.

Having gone through the ordination process, I had the opportunity to recount my sense of call and my faith journey numerous times.  In seminary, I was asked to write a statement of faith and I presented that statement of faith at my trials of ordination.  (It’s now hanging, framed, on my wall.  One of my parishioners thought I should have it to remember that moment.)  All of these experiences helped me get more comfortable talking about my faith.  Even still, if someone outside the church asked “What do you believe?”  “Why does God matter to you?”  “What was so important about Jesus?” the truth is that I’d have trouble boiling it down to a few sentences that didn’t include some big theological terms.  I’m hoping this book will give me some tools to help myself and my congregation to talk about our faith a bit easier.

It’s interesting as I read the statement of faith on my wall how many things I’d already say differently and it’s only been 3 years since I wrote it.  Faith is fluid, belief changes.  We don’t just “do theology” once and are done with it.  It’s a ongoing process that I need to get better at.  Here’s hoping the rest of the book is as interesting as the introduction!

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