Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Getting Ready for Christmas

Today has been an interesting day in the pastorate.  As I get ready to celebrate the birth of Christ, I am reminded of how God leads and guides us.  Perhaps I am more sensitive, or realizing what is truly important, but the Christmas message of Immanuel brings us always to the heart of the matter.  A quick glance at the day may help:

I began the day with our staff sharing how a person in the church gave a very generous gift to help a family in need.  In addition, I tell how the Annual CROP Walk raised $14,000.00 to alleviate hunger.  Lastly, I note how a blogger 'out there' accuses the United Methodist Church of being socialist in wanting to  advocate the passing of the Dream Act.  There is a sermon somewhere here!  We then take time to prepare for our worship services.

Around noon we as a staff have a lunch together, provided by Kira's Cottage, a local Christian Bookstore.

After lunch Pastor Jenothy and I make a visit to a young man in the church who has cancer.  We have prayer and anointing and ask God's Spirit to abide with him and the members of this family as they go through a very difficult time.  We were reminded once again of God's presence and purpose.

In returning to the church I receive a phone call from a member who can finally begin playing Christmas Carols after losing her husband six years ago in December.  The grief has been too much.  However, today was a breakthrough.  Praise God!

After the phone call I am summoned to the front of the church to help a grandmother who doesn't have anything to give her grandchildren for Christmas.  I remember we have some toys left over from the Santa Shop.  We go through the boxes and see what kind of gift she wants to give.  Thankfully, we are able to help.

I then take time to compose a prayer for Christmas Eve!

As a pastor I am humbled by these experiences and realize again that somehow in the midst of the ebb and flow of life God is with us. 

In preparing for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I take a moment to catch my breath, realizing God has come.  May we all be ready to receive!

Andy Kinsey

Monday, November 22, 2010

Books that Began the Journey

As you can see I am not consistent with blogging.  However, from time to time I like to share what I think is important to the life of faith and ministry.

Below are some of the books that prompted me to go deeper into the call of God for the life of ministry. 

What books are on your list?  Here are a few that have kept me going.

Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 5)Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 4)   
Night (Oprah's Book Club)
The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Imagination and Pastoral Ministry

I have been reading and thinking a great deal about the role of the imagination in pastoral ministry.  Over the last six months I have read several interesting books.  I have listed these below, and I have been noting the various theories of the imagination.  In time I will look forward to seeing what kind of fruit will grow.  There are more books, to be sure, but the following have provided food for thought.
The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Edition

Imagining God: Theology and the Religious Imagination

Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern ImaginationThe Symbolic Imagination: Coleridge and the Romantic Tradition (Studies in Religion and Literature, 3)God and the Creative Imagination

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Top Picks

The Christian Century offers eight theologians' top picks of essential texts in theology over the last twenty-five years (www.christiancentury.org).  It is interesting to see how the landscape has changed since Tillich and Barth and others wrote during the last half of the twentieth century.  I don't know what top picks others may choose, but I have listed the following.  It's a good exercise!

The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, 25th Anniversary Edition  The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer In Christian Ethics  Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine Suffering Divine Things: Theology as Church Practice

Friday, October 1, 2010

Transform the World?

The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  For many in the United Methodist Church this statement reflects one of the best decisions the church has made since1968.  Many contributed to making it happen.  In keeping with the Great Commission, there is a kind of ring to it.  The problem, of course, is that the church over the course of time has failed to organize and operationalize it.  It has become a slogan to repeat rather a commandment to carry out.  (Perhaps I am too cynical on that.)

However, over the last few years, the church has tried to go beyond the original biblical mission of making disciples to the heavy claim of transforming the world.  

I don't know how many people will agree with the following, but I don't think I am alone when I say that the phrase "for the transformation of the world" is quite pretentious.  I am not sure how this phrase was added to the original statement, which was to make disciples of Jesus Christ, but I am not convinced it is a phrase any serious and thoughtful person can accept.  Transform the world?  Really?  We can transform the world?  I thought God was the transformer!  In a church that has trouble growing its Sunday school, we United Methodists claim we can transform the world?  Hmm...

The present mission statement of the United Methodist Church leaves a great deal to be desired. It reflects a kind ingrained hubris on our part to think we can improve upon the words of our Risen Lord.  In addition, it involves not a few messianic fantasies about own abilities and motivations.  And worse, it portrays a theological ineptitude, if not downright Pelagianism.  In keeping with the Liberal Protestant tradition, it displays a real failure to come to terms with sin and evil.  Who are we to say we are going to transform the world, as if we are now the Creator?  Given the atrocities of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, it is difficult to know how any sane person could make this statement with seriousness. 

Question: What would happen if we kept our mission to the following:  Our mission is to make disciples for Jesus Christ.  Period!  Brief, to the point.  What would happen if we took all the best practices we have at all levels of the church and put them forth in our ministries to make disciples? 

Let's stop pretending, and let's start exploring and putting into motion what it means to make disciples.  And then, just maybe, we can let God do the rest; that is, we can let God do what God does best:  transform the world!




Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Almost Christian

Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American ChurchI don't know if persons have read her book yet, but I highly recommend Kenda Creasy Dean's Almost Christian: What the Faith of Teenagers is Telling the American Church.  I have been very much impressed with what Dean says about the faith of teenagers and the implications of Dean's argument about cultivating a "missional imagination" in the church.  I think she's dead-on!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Abraham's Five Theses

Several years ago my family and I, while on Renewal Leave, had the opportunity to visit Wittenburg in Germany, the town where Martin Luther nailed the infamous 95 Theses to the Castle Church Doors.  I enjoyed the visit very much, though my family could hardly wait to leave!  No one could have imagined what Luther's actions would unleash, let alone fathom the direction the Reformation would take.

Last week Billy Abraham shared a more modest five theses about the future of the United Methodist Church with clergy in Raleigh, North Carolina in an address entitled: "At Full Liberty in the Flight from the Wrath to Come: A Practical Platform for United Methodists."

As the title suggests, the Theses point to a "practical platform" that speak to United Methodist self-understanding and hope of renewal.  Persons familiar with Abraham's Canonical Theism Project will find more food for thought here.  Each of the Theses have positive and negative consequences. 

Thesis One: United Methodism belongs historically in a third incarnation of primitive or early or ancient Christianity that is genuinely different from both its Catholic and Protestant siblings and that deserves a fresh and full implementation in our own day and age.

Translation:  We should stop thinking of the United Methodist Church as an une eglise manque, or, in the words of Albert Outler, as an ecclesiastical crock.  Stop apologizing for being United Methodists! 

Thesis Two: Clarity about the mission of making disciples is an essential first-step in the ordering of the life of the United Methodist Church as quickly as is humanly possible.

Translation:  Quit the "messiah complex" about the transforming the world and keep the mission of the church short and succint:  Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  Period!

Thesis Three: The United Methodist Church should take the next twelve years and figure out how to actually make robust disciples of Jesus Christ.

Translation: Figure out what it means to be a disciple of Christ and explore common efforts to provide solid catechesis and spiritual formation. 

Thesis Four: United Methodists should immerse themselves afresh without apology in the actual canonical faith of the church bequeathed to us in the canonical treasures of Methodism.

Translation:  Revisit the rich canonical heritage of the people called Methodists and search for the best ways to shape the mission of the church.

Thesis Five: Whatever happens in the wider church it is our responsibility and privilege as leaders and members to do all we can personally to implement the modest mandates of the preceding Theses in our own lives and ministries.

Translation: Stop waiting around for others to fix the church and get on with the work at hand wherever we are.

Never one to back away from deeper convesation, Professor Abraham always seems to find way of prompting and provoking.  Hopefully, in the days ahead, his five Theses will spark further reflection and discussion, if not action. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wesley on Dissipation

I have just read Wesley's sermon "On Dissipation."  As evangelist and spiritual director, Wesley diagnoses what ails the soul and speaks on how the believer may attend upon the Lord without distraction (1 Cor. 7:35). 

As I minister among persons who are increasingly "dissipated," I am struck at how timely Wesley's insights are.  Is Wesley foreseeing our "postmodern condition"? 

In this sermon Wesley defines "dissipation" and offers the medicine only the gospel supplies: to listen to the voice of Christ within.  Here are a few quotes from that sermon:

"Dissipation is in the heart, long before it is seen in the outward conversation.  There must be a dissipated spirit before there is a dissipated manner life." 

"Our spirits are at rest as long as they are united to God...so long as they 'attend upon the Lord without distraction'...as Mary attended to the Lord at the Master's feet" (Luke 10:39).

"...we are all by nature Atheists in the world; and that in so high a degree that it requires no less than an almighty power to counteract that tendency to dissipation which is in every human spirit, and restore the capacity of attending to God, and fixing itself on him."

"The original word 'dissipation' properly signifies to disperse, or scatter....And, indeed, it may be said of every man that is a stranger to the grace of God, that all his passions are dissipated."

"Hence, we may easily learn what is the proper, direct meaning of that common expression - a dissipated man.  He is a man who is separated from God; that is disunited from his centre, whether this be occasioned by hurry of business, by seeking honor or preferment, or fondness for diversions, for silly pleasures, so called, or for any trifle under the sun...whoever is habitually inattentive to the presence and will of the Creator is a dissipated man."

"For as dissipation or ungodliness is the parent of all sin; of all unrighteousness; of unmercifulness, injustice, fraud, perfidy; of every possible evil temper, evil word, or evil action; so it, in effect, comprises them all....if there be any vice; all these are included in ungodliness, usually termed dissipation...Abhor it, as you would abhor the devil!"

Monday, August 16, 2010

Canonical Theism

Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology & the Church, William J. Abraham, Jason E. Vickers, Natalie B. Van Kirk, eds., (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), pp. 335. ISBN – 978-0-8028-6238-9.

This review appeared in the Circuit Rider Magazine in November 2008.

“Canonical theism is both a vision of church renewal for the twenty-first century and a long-haul, intergenerational theological project” (xii).

With these opening words, William J. Abraham of Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology introduces a new set of theses and essays on how the church at the dawn of the millennium can constructively engage in theology and ministry. According to Abraham, the church at this critical moment in history “cannot face the challenges that lie ahead without rethinking the internal ordering of its own life and without its own intellectual leaders and teachers reconceiving their fundamental theological vocation” (xv). Instead, what must take primacy now is the canonical heritage of the church – that “great gift of medicinal salvation” mediated through the treasures, persons, bishops, saints, icons, and councils of the church’s life, created, guided, and sustained by the work of the Holy Spirit (xvi, p. 2 – Thesis IX). It is this heritage, undergirded by the Holy Spirit, which expresses how healing may come (p. 11). As a richly textured argument, canonical theism can help the church retrieve and re-envision the manifold components of its past to proclaim and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the present (xvii, p. 11).

Canonical Theism originated as a “working group” meeting at Perkins School of Theology over a three year period, beginning in 2002. Comprised of scholars from biblical studies, systematic theology, church history, and philosophy, it started with a conversation around the Thirty Theses developed by William Abraham. The group met biannually to address the key aspects of canonical theism, beginning explicitly with the relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and the canonical heritage of the church and then moving creatively to the implications of canonical theism for church as a whole (xviii). The first six essays provide the meat and the central components of the book.

Other key aspects follow. Essays on the emergence of canonical theism and the way it engages with various aspects of contemporary theology extend the authors’ argument. Essays on the importance of the Holy Trinity in theology, the Philokalia in Eastern Orthodoxy, the issue of infallibility in Roman Catholicism, the matter of the authority of scripture in mainline Protestantism, the resurgence of arguments surrounding the historical Jesus, and the potential of renewal within evangelicalism, are also included. All of these essays are prolegomena to further theological reflection and exploration as they communicate the hope of charting new directions in the church’s life, especially with respect to theological education, systematic theology, catechesis, evangelism, and missiology. Here, as a robust form of Christian theism, canonical theism operates as “a complex means of grace that restores the image of God in human beings” and functions as “an instrument of spiritual direction and formation” in the life of the church (Thesis XI). It is a project deeply oriented toward the church’s renewal and to the recovery of the church’s nerve to share the gospel.

Several issues come to the surface when contemplating what this new collection of essays on canonical theism may mean for the church’s life. First, to persons who are concerned with the renewal of the church in all its various forms and who seek intellectual stimulus and theological depth canonical theism offers hope. In this sense, canonical theism is not one more speculative exercise in reinventing the church (e.g., Liberal Protestantism and Conservative Evangelicalism); and it is not one more entre to an already over-crowded, contemporary theological menu (e.g., process, feminist, liberationist, narrative, to name a few). Rather, it is an attempt to resource the church as a whole as it looks to the future with the rich treasures of the past, an attempt to come to grips with the brokenness of the church in history and to discover that healing truly lies within its own life.

Second, related to the above point, canonical theism challenges leaders in the church to deal with the epistemological commitments that have sustained division and fragmentation over the centuries. Across the board deep schisms exist in the church’s life (e.g., papal infallibility, biblical inerrancy, the use of the Quadrilateral, the historical critical method, to name a few). Making our epistemological positions absolute on a wide variety of issues has only served to diminish the church’s mission. Canonical theism, on the other hand, offers a breath of fresh air in “decanonizing” these proposals while also preserving and even enhancing their best insights (Thesis XXX). Here, canonical theism works more in the tradition of spiritual director than in the tradition of theological policeman/woman. As noted, the implications for theological education and spiritual formation are numerous.

Third, canonical theism has profound consequences for the way the church engages in evangelism and catechesis. In a post-Christendom era, the church is in the unique position of shaping persons in the way of Christ, from early childhood to teenage catechesis to seminary education and new convert formation. There is a deep need to rethink not only what the church proclaims but also how the church initiates. Canonical theism is under no illusion that the church can live off the fumes of a once-Protestant culture, whether in its conservative or liberal guise. The fumes are simply too thin, if not toxic.

And fourth, canonical theism provides an illuminating and candid look at how the church passes on the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). To be sure, Abraham notes, “Providence has secured more than one way for the faith to be kept alive across the generations” (p. 57). The provisions, supplied by the Holy Spirit through the canonical heritage of the church, have supplied the necessary medicine in the face of corruption and mistake (p. 57). As Abraham goes on to state, “There can be no community without responsible leadership and oversight” (p. 57).

And yet, in the era of “emergence,” when the code word is “network” and when persons from a wide variety of traditions are retrieving the practices of the ancient church for the future, it remains curious as to why the canon of episcopacy is omitted by some in favor of more egalitarian/missional networks. For example, how will such “networks” pass on the faith? How will they maintain continuity and accountability to the church universal? Certainly, there is a fear that stems from the abuses associated with hierarchal forms of leadership in the church’s history. This is well-documented. But given the amorphous nature of postmodernity, how will the church – the emergent, networked church, for instance – ensure that the deposit of the faith will pass hands? As an intergenerational project, canonical theism can assist in asking the right questions here; as a project of renewal, however, it will not offer a silver bullet to reinvent the church overnight. Rather, it will offer a way to re-envision the church across time as it announces the glad tidings of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.

Persons who may not know about Canonical Theism will want to purchase this work. It represents the fruition of years of study and prayer. To be sure, it is not an easy read, but it is an important read. As a theological project in the making, it is one that persons will want to take the time to chew on as they consider its central proposals and theses as well as its implications for ministry and mission. It is surely one that will offer the kind of healing that is good for the church’s aching and hurting soul.

Treasures of Renewal Conference

     William J. Abraham

A Wesleyan Theological Forum

This event will focus on the “Treasures of Methodism” for the renewal of the church’s mission. Professor Abraham will kick off our first Theological Forum that will foster ongoing conversation and action regarding the Wesleyan way of discipleship.

University of Indianapolis

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10:00 a.m. in McCleary Chapel

1 CEU – Cost: $25.00 (Payable to Indiana Conference)

Suggested Reading: The Logic of Renewal (Eerdman’s Publshing, 2003)

A Continuing Education Event sponsored by The Wesleyan Connexion Project

Questions: Email Andy Kinsey at pastorandy@franklingrace.org

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Vital Connection

The following is a devotion I wrote for the Board of Church & Society in the new Indiana Conference.  Some of the insights come from Randy Maddox's article "'Visit the Poor': John Wesley, the Poor, and the Sanctification of Believers" in The Poor and the People Called Methodist edited by Richard Heitzenrater. 


From the beginning, the Wesleyan Movement, like Christianity itself, was largely a movement of and for the poor.  An Oxford don, John Wesley himself attempted to imitate the life and ministry of Christ to the marginalized and disenfranchised of England.  He brought together evangelical zeal and social outreach in a manner that focused on the needs of the working class.

The Methodists of Wesley's day translated their basic message of "love of God and neighbor" into a mission of help and hope in the community in which the poor were included as children of God.  The Wesleyan approach or method of outreach to society was (and remains) a defining feature of Methodist piety.


Throughout his life and ministry, John Wesley assumed that consistent and faithful social action must be grounded in deep communal and spiritual patterns of formation.  His statement that "there is go holiness but social holiness" presumes a whole network of ecclesial practices, notably the means of grace.  Indeed, in his famous sermon "The Scripture Way of Salvation (1765), Wesley integrates two key aspects of the Christian life, namely 1) how salvation is by grace through faith, and 2) how God upholds a place for our responsive appropriation of that grace.  Wesley insists that both works of piety and works of mercy are "necessary to salvation," being the way that Christ has appointed us to share God's love with others.

Throughout Wesley's writings, we see an integral connection between the reality of sanctification or holiness and the concern for the poor or social action.  Unfortunately, as the history of Methodism shows, the connection Wesley found to be so vital to the church's witness and mission has been difficult to maintain.  Again and again, we have seen how the heirs of Wesley's legacy have gone in different directions or staked out opposing positions:  for example, over the centuries there have been those who have focused a great deal of attention on Wesley's concern for social action but have paid little attention to the spiritual formation Wesley believed inclined us to be involved in this kind of ministry, and there have been those who have devoted a great deal of energy on Wesley's spirituality but paid scant attention to the formative power he assigned to works of mercy.  In the Wesleyan tradtion, holiness of heart and life involves making this vital connection and keeping it in tack. It is the key distinctive in imitating Christ, or, as Wesley put it, walking as Jesus walked.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mainline or Methodist?

The United Methodist Church in North America needs a Wesleyan Methodist Revival.  The Wesleyan Leadership Conference on October 14-16 at West End United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN aims to help the United Methodist Church recover what it means to be Christian and Methodist in the 21st century.  One step in the process is to ask the question, can we be "Mainline" and "Methodist"?

The Conference will focus on the book by Scott Kisker Mainline or Methodist?: Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission.  In this work, Kisker argues that the heart of Methodism is really all about holiness: "the restoration of what we were created to be - the restoration of the image of God."  Persons can go to the following link and read the review I wrote about Kisker's book in Circuit Rider: Review.

Mainline or Methodist?: Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission

The cost of the conference $95.00 per person.

Persons interested in attending may contact me at pastorandy@franklingrace.org.

Let me know!


Monday, August 2, 2010

Methodist Class Meetings in the 21st Century

Kevin Watson has written some very interesting posts about the importance of the Methodist Class meetings in the formation of the Christian life.  His blogs are worth reading, not only on this particular topic but also on other topics related to the Wesleyan theological tradition.  Go to Kevin's blog.  I think many persons will find what he says helpful.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Summer Reading

Summer is a good time to read!  Though it has been difficult to find the time, I have been able to focus on the following books:

"If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die": How Genocide Was Stopped in East Timor by Geoffrey Robinson.  I am reviewing this book for Missiology.  Not the most uplifting, to be sure, but insightful with respect to the ways societies can move toward sanctioning and carrying out mass violence.  

"If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die": How Genocide Was Stopped in East Timor

Christianity & Contemporary Politics by Luke Bretherton of King's College.  After reading Bretherton's first book Hospitality as Holiness: Christian Witness amid Moral Diversity, I wanted to see what Bretherton would say in this volume.  Needless to say, I have not been disappointed.  I highly recommend it.  Bretherton needs to be read on this side of the Atlantic by as many people as possible.

Hospitality as HolinessChristianity and Contemporary Politics: The Conditions and Possibilites of Faithful Witness

Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community by Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker.  This book is part of the New Monastic Library Series.  Heath and Kisker open up a lively conversation with our Wesleyan heritage, missional church, and new monastic movements. 

Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community [New Monastic Library series] (New Monastic Library: Resources for Radical Discipleship)

Wesley and the People Called Methodists by Richard Heitzenrater.  It is always good to re-read the classics!

Wesley and the People Called Methodists

Beyond Maintenance to Mission: A Theology of the Congregation by Craig Nessan.  I am reviewing this book for Reviews in Religion & Theology.  Nessan takes a very practical approach to congregational life arguing that mission flows out of worship.  Worship is the identity-shaping practice that allows the church to move into God's mission in the world.

Beyond Maintenance to Mission: A Theology of the Congregation

Enjoy the summer! 

Andy Kinsey

Friday, July 23, 2010

True Freedom

Throughout July I have been preaching a sermon series and leading a Bible Study on Paul's Letter to the Galatians. It has been a helpful exercise to lead the congregation through this kind of biblical journey.

Below is what I wrote for our July Newsletter about the nature of Christian freedom, picking up on Paul's definition of freedom in Galatians.

As Americans we love to celebrate Independence Day. It is a time to affirm Jefferson's famous "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Despite the imperfections of our political system, we enjoy tremendous freedom. The American experience has been an "experiment," but it has also been a journey: a journey toward realizing the promise of freedom.

And yet, we are reminded as Christians that we must be careful not to define the freedoms we enjoy as simply "freedom to" or "freedom from," but to understand that the real test is how we will use our freedom to serve others. Paul's caution to the Galatians is worth noting: we are most free when we surrender to Christ, and when we use our freedom to benefit others (5:13). It is a paradox, to be sure, and one worthy examining: we must take care not to confuse liberty for license (5:19). Instead, we must understand that with freedom comes responsibility. To see freedom as something we can use without limits or boundaries can lead to our destruction. History is littered with the remains of such a notion. Without string, the kite flies away. The same with freedom: freedom can go off in all kinds of directions unless it is grounded, that is, unless it is grounded in Christ.

The political and personal freedoms we celebrate remind us that our freedom needs grounding. It needs to remember that there is a cost, and that the cost is very high, indeed, extremely high. It needs to remember that unless freedom is tied to service for others it remains empty and without promise, indeed, it is without Christ.

"For freedom Christ has set us free..."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Interruptions and Ministry

It was almost month ago, when I returned home from the Wesleyan Connexion Project, that I encountered the messiness and beauty of ministry. I had been away for three days, and I was looking toward making a transition as I prepared to leave the next day for Annual Conference. The only way I feel I can describe what happened is to give a minute by minute account of what we face in the ministry. As Dick Hamilton, a retired United Methodist pastor, explained to us in a round-table discussion, we "move in and out of so many situations so fast that we have no excuse to say that what we do as pastors is boring." There is wisdom in that statement.

The best way to describe what happened on that day is simply to break down the time frame of when I pulled up to the church and when I eventually made it home.

4:00 p.m. - I arrive back at Grace Church from the Wesleyan Connexion Project at the Univesity of Indianapolis. We had a productive time with our seminarians in training.

4:05 p.m. - Before I shut the door of my car, I am greeted by a member whose family life is chaotic. The look in his eyes tells me things are not good. We talk for over twenty minutes. Finally, we have prayer in the parking lot.

4:25 p.m. - Walking into the church I meet one of our Lay Leaders. We chat and greet one another.

4:35 p.m. - I walk into my office. There are two notes on my computer telling me I need to call persons about one of our Bible Studies.

4:40 p.m. - I check my email and find a couple notes I need to address.

4:45 p.m. - The Case Worker with our Good Samaritan Ministry walks into my Study and shares with me several concerns about persons who have come to Grace to receive assistance. We talk about the steps we need to take.

5:00 p.m. - I remember I need to visit a family that is moving to Kentucky. A young couple in the Army is being transferred to Fort Knox. I travel to the home several blocks away and have prayer with the family.

5:30 p.m. - I pull into the driveway. Peggy reminds me that we have an appointment at the Franklin United Methodist Community. We head out and make our way across town.

6:00 p.m. - We arrive at the Community and have dinner with one of the residents.

7:30 p.m. - We make our way back home.

And who says ministry is boring?

I think it was C. S. Lewis, and a few others I am sure, who talked about finding God amidst the interruptions of life. Paying attention to what the Spirit is saying at all times is a discipline of the first order. God speaks out of the whirlwind of activity.

I pray that those who walk in this vocation of ministry may see the beauty of God amidst the many demands and challenges and opportunities. Who knows, we may be entertaining angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2)!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reflections on Annual Conference: Asking the Right Questions

The article below appears in the next Together Paper of the New Indiana Conference.

Driving home from Annual Conference, I felt disconnected. I knew something wasn't right, but what was it? Were my expectations too high? Were my expectations different than the expectations of the planners? Was it the business of the church, the many motions and amendments on pensions and health care? Was it the question around why some churches tithe and others don't, or was it sitting in a huge auditorium wondering if this is what Wesley had in mind when Methodism began? Were we even asking the right questions?

To be sure, since the early days of Methodism, the church has undergone change, sometimes necessary, always messy. The denominations that now comprise The United Methodist Church have had many different forms of connection, from corporate to federalist models, to name two. Organizational styles have also varied depending on larger patterns of organization in the culture. Not always have Methodists "conferred" well together.

Perhaps this recognition made me realize the obvious: Regardless of organizational structures, we can never escape our history and need for God's grace. We can never forget we stand line with Christians who sought the Spirit's direction and found ways of offering Christ; such persons also faced challenges not unlike our own, yet discovered God's faithfulness in their midst. They were willing to ask hard questions and test the Spirit's movement.

Like all organizations we in the church can fall into the temptation of focusing solely on the human side of the equation; we can throw up our hands and say, "What's the point?" Or, we can become so critical we slip into cyncism and say, "Why bother"? And yet, deep within, we also know, "There is more"! Perhaps this is where we can learn from the early Methodists.

In June 1744 John Wesley and the societies in London and Bristol that had grown needed a way to confer about the workings of the Holy Spirit and the direction the Methodists needed to go. They needed a means of seeking God's grace amidst the demands of an expanding movement. In short, they needed ways of comforting and strengthening one another. Or, as Wesley himself asserted, they needed the wisdom of others to learn how to save "not only the souls of those who heard us but also our own."

In early Methodism a Conference was meant to seek the leading of the Spirit and to gather those whose spiritual insights Wesley knew he needed. In fact, as the early records indicate, a Conference was to be guided by three basic questions.

1. What to teach;
2. How to teach;
3. What to do; that is how to regulate our doctrine, discipline, and practice.

Within these questions other questions would also be addressed. The goal was on seeking clarity and coming to grips with the essentials of the mission. Confering with one another was intended to be a spiritual practice.

Maybe this was the disconnect I was feeling. Was it the yearning for grace amidst the "business" on the floor? Was it the recognition that a Conference in the Wesleyan tradition does not begin with a series of motions and "whereas" clauses, but with a series of questions: What are we teaching and how are we teaching it? How are we practicing our doctrine and holding one another accountable? How are we seeking the Holy Spirit's direction?

Perhaps Wesley's own concerns are still relevant: Unless we are connected to the power of the Spirit that began 2000 years ago in Jerusalem and swept the ends of the earth, we might as well cease to exit (Acts 1:8). The United Methodist Church only matters if it is part of God's redeeming mission in the world. To understand that mission, however, requires prayer and discernment, and true prayer and discernment requires an attentive community, a community willing to ask the right questions as it also seeks to move with the Spirit.

I don't know if others felt the way I did driving home from Conference. It is hard to gauge such a large gathering. And yet, I wonder what it would mean to have our Conference, congregations, and agencies shaped by the above three questions. After all, it may be, as it was for Wesley and the early Methodists that our attention to how we respond to these questions may not only concern the souls of those we seek to save, but our own as well.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rethinking Church and Gambling

In the next edition of the HUM, I will have an article about "Rethinking Church & Gambling." Please read below and send me comments. I hope we can begin a conversation about the church's mission in a post-Christendom context, especially in Indiana. Here is what will appear:

The other day I spoke with a United Methodist Friend of mine who said he enjoyed gambling. He said he didn't gamble to make money, but only to have a good time. It was more recreational than habitual. Playing the lottery or going to the casino was a source of entertainment.

It would be interesting to know how many times the above conversation takes place around Indiana. Now that gambling seems to be a permanent fixture there are plenty of occasions to speak with the "recreational gambler." And, who knows, such a person may occupy a pew or two in our own church? At least my friend does.

Over the past year United Methodists across the connection have been encouraged to "rethink church." It's our church's latest slogan or catch-phrase. Not to throw cold water on it, but it does hold some promise: How may we rethink church in light of our Wesleyan heritage when it comes to various social issues, gambling in particular?

Twenty years ago when I was ordained, the gambling industry was just beginning in Indiana. As a denomination we thought we would be able to hold off loteries and horse parks. Our church's collective efforts seemed worthwhile; casinos and betting parlors seemed unlikely.

Today, the landscape looks different: Indiana is a leader in legalized gambling revenues. The state looks to these revenues for supporty, especially after cutting other sources of revenue, public funding for schools for example. A financially struggling state looks to receive gambling's win-fall.

To date, however, the gambling industry in Indiana and elsewhere doesn't appear to be disappearing. On the other hand, one wonders if we as United Methodists have thrown up the white flag. As our Methodist forebears were unable to stop the distribution of alcohol during prohibition so it now seems we are unable to stop gambling. The Wesleyan vision of mission to reform the nation and spread scriptural holiness seems to have stalled, if not stopped.

And yet, our Social Principles state very clearly that "gambling is a menance to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government and stewardship. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice." Surely, we can hear the Wesleyan emphasis to "do no harm" and "do good" both collectively and individually. The General Rules echo in the background.

But there is a problem: It is very difficult to reform what we cannot resist. If we as United Methodists cannot abstain from gambling (as my friend above can't), then what influence do we really have? If holiness of heart and life cannot begin here, then where will it?

Perhaps this is where we can begin to rethink church: First, we can begin by practicing an ethic of resistance as a whole church body. If our holiness is not social holiness, then our efforts, however good, will simply remain invisible. Our witness will have lost its saltiness. Viewing gambling as "undesirable" is surely one of our tasks of preaching and teaching.

Second, we can support our Gambling Recovery Ministries led by Janet Jacobs in the new Indiana Conference. Ours is one of the few Annual Conferences in the country that carries out healing ministries to those victimized by the practice of gambling. Prayerfully, we can find other ways to expand in this area as we offer God's healing grace.

And third, we can find creative ways of re-engaging in a mission of reform that works to promote standards of justice and advocacy. Over the years, few have carried this banner. But we can only imagine what would happend if others would also begin to make noise with our public officials. It takes the church to engage the principalities and powers, not simply a few passionate servants. "Speaking the truth in love" to the false claims of gambling's so-called benefits to the common good is a long-term commitment.

In short, all three of these strategies are necessary if we are to be true to our own Wesleyan understanding of ministry. We cannot separate resistance, recovery, and reform and expect otherwise. Surely, the people called United Methodist in Indiana can begin to rethink church along these lines. Hopefully, we can imagine new ways to continue this vital witness and mission.

Andy Kinsey

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Elusive Tony Campolo

On Tuesday, amidst the snow and wind, I made my way to Franklin College to hear Tony Campolo, preacher and social activist. Over a hundred students and faculty plowed through the snow to hear what he had to say. The chapel was full. After all, Campolo is a dynamic speaker. He knows how to inspire and motivate. It was vintage Campolo. I wasn't disappointed.

Or, was I? Upon reflection, I realized how far I have traveled in my own theological journey. The Pietism of my past has been challenged, and, hopefully, corrected by the gleanings from Orthodoxy. A whole new world has been opened.

However, upon hearing Campolo I recognized (again) the deep flaws that characterize Protestantism in America. To be sure, I resonate deeply with Campolo's passion for the poor. There is no doubt we are on the same page. His critique of the Pat Robertson's and Joel Olsteen's of the world are on target.

However, I must say that as I was sitting there listening to Campolo a gulf began to open between him and me. I saw how divided the church is in this country, and I realized how shallow our notions of the church are. In fact, it is becoming clearer to me that most folks have little conception of the church and what the nature and purpose of the church are about. That's where I began to question Campolo's own use of scripture and the ways he utilizes the Baptist tradition to offer critique.

For example, as I stated in my last blog, I have come to see how we can appropriate the Epiclesis in our practice of Holy Communion. The Lord's Supper is not simply a Memorial Meal, but the presence of Christ in our midst. How such presence is communicated remains a mystery, of course, but the bread and wine come to us as Christ's body and blood. As Campolo made clear, bread is bread and the wine is wine. Period!

Second, it is also clear after hearing Campolo that he operates out of a notion of scripture that gets to what I would call "the one who has the most verses on your side wins." Yes, the Bible has over two thousands verses indicating how the people of Israel and the church are to deal with the poor. Jesus ate with sinners and outcasts. He worked and ministered among the oppressed. In many ways, he was a revolutionary. There is no getting around it. As Campolo stated because there are more verses dealing with these issues the other issues simply must take a back seat. The minimalist mantra is well-known in some circles of the church: because the Bible says little about it, then we need to say little about it too. What matters is how the church is perceived by others in the public.

Campolo is right to bring our attention to the intolerance and bigotry that exists in some quarters of the Christian community. But I am wondering, though, if this minimalist strategy of biblical interpretation really carries water anymore. Persons have deep disagreements about abortion, terrorism, homosexual behavior, divorce, etc.; the list is quite lengthy. And yet, I also wonder how the church can begin reading scripture together. Is it even possible that a Campolo and an Olsteen can sit down and search the scriptures together? Can we even imagine such a possibility? I fear not.

What Campolo was espousing was simply another twist to the old strategy of finding what appeals to him and then sticking to his guns in making the appeal. Here, the poor have the privileged position. While this is certainly not false, it is also not the whole story. The Bible says many other things too! And while discerning God's truth is not simply about counting verses and seeing how I agree or disagree with those verses, it is also about struggling with ways I can speak the truth in love and practice justice for all God's children - rich and poor.

It was hard to pin down Campolo on some what he said the other day. I don't hold that against him. Sometimes we preachers can say all kinds of things. And yet, as we move into the future, I can certainly see how we are moving more and more into what Billy Abraham and others have called a post-Protestant age: a time of increased fragmentation of the church and the inability of the church to discern how it may even come to agreement on the treasures it possesses. It is a concern that goes to the heart of who we will become. I just don't think counting and adding up Bible verses will be the only way to go.

Andy Kinsey

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Epiclesis and Ecclesial Imagination

It has been a while since I have written, so forgive me! I don't know where January went, but I can tell you it went fast! Before I knew it, the month completely escaped me. The whole discipline of keeping time is not an illusion, but a necessity!

One of the reasons I have not posted a blog is because I spent a week at Southern Methodist University at the Center for Missional Wisdom. There, I spent time with "Billy" Abraham and Norman Russell, one of the world's foremost scholars of Orthodoxy. In seminars, we dealt with key texts relating to Orthodoxy as well as to Orthodoxy and Mission. We also dealt with the nature and purpose of practical theology. To be sure, it was a stimulating and challenging week.

During my time at SMU I was able to present a proposal that I hope to research more fully in the coming years. More and more, I have become interested in the role of the imagination in pastoral ministry. I have become interested in the relationship between revelation and imagination, and with the way God forms the imagination through the workings of the Spirit and church. As I will share below, I am especially interested in how our invocation of God's Spirit in the Eucharistic Epiclesis gives shape to what Craig Dykstra calls the "ecclesial imagination." I am also interested in how the Wesleys understood the Epiclesis for the life of ministry and mission.

There is more here than I can write at the moment, but I do want to summarize why I think the Epiclesis is important for the life of faith and for the formation of the imagination.

First, at the core of what I want to propose is the following: at the heart of the Christian life is a real knowledge of God and that this knowledge gives substance and form to our imagination. I want to argue that critical to the formation of our imagination is the invocation of the Holy Spirit, or the Epiclesis upon the bread and wine - and that implicit in this invocation is a communal pedagogy of transformation that is key to opening up the imagination to God's creative and sustaining work. It is in the Epiclesis, in other words, that we recall the descent of the Spirit in Jesus in the Incarnation; that is, we remember how Christ was made into God's saving instrument capable of sanctifying those who come into contact with him and how Christ is made real in the world.

Second, it is through the Epiclesis that we share in the Eucharist which gives voice to the Spirit's role in making the bread and wine into the means of grace for those who partake and which expresses the Spirit's activity upon those in the prayerful assembly. It is through the Epiclesis that we invoke the Spirit upon the church (as in Pentecost), and unite with the church through the ages. With the invocation of the Spirit God makes it possible to not only receive but also to offer Christ's forgiving grace to others. It is in the Epiclesis that the Spirit makes the church into the body of Christ for the world and brings into existence a new community of redemption and freedom.

And third, it is through the Epiclesis that we enter into the dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit, "seeing in depth" what God is doing in our lives and in the world and discerning who we are and what we need to do. In the Eucharist, and specifically in the Epiclesis, we participate in that reality which transforms human knowledge and perception - cognitively and affectionately - and helps us to envision new possibilities for being in ministry with God and others. In faith and in prayer we see anew how, through the Spirit, we are drawn into creative ways of flourishing and serving: as the bread and wine are sanctified into the vehicles of God's grace, so we are sanctified and intentionally set apart as instruments of God's love for the world.

I share these "thoughts" as seeds waiting to blossom. I don't know where I may go with what I have written, but I would like to read more about the Epiclesis and the role of the imagination in terms of seeing in depth. In the United Methodist Church, when we prepare to come to the Table, we pray that God will pour out his Holy Spirit on us and on the gifts of bread and wine. We pray that God will make the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and that God will make us into the body of Christ for the world, redeemed by Christ's blood. In addition, we pray that by the Holy Spirit God will make us one in Christ and with one another, and that God will make us one in ministry to all the world until Christ finally comes and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

I am not sure people in the pews fully know what to do with these amazing statements, but I am convinced that the seeds of the church's renewal are planted deep within them, and that implicit in the practice of Epiclesis is a kind of Pentecostal-sacramental, missional-communal, vocational-practical vision of what the church is. Perhaps this is what a truly Missional Methodism is all about. I hope to write more in the days ahead.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hospitality to Strangers

One of the best books I have read is Luke Bretherton's book "Hospitality as Holiness: Christian Witness Amid Moral Diversity." Bretherton, who teaches at King's College in London, writes how Christ's life, death, and resurrection constitutes the ground of welcoming strangers. To be recipients of Christian hospitality we do not have to do or be anything. Rather, we are welcomed because welcoming the stranger is to both follow faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and is a mark of openness to Christ. A distinctive feature of Jesus' ministry was his open commensality and healing; his ministry is fulfilled in his crucifixion: as an act of surpreme hospitality Jesus renders himself vulnerable to the point of death in order that we may be welcomed by and participate in communion with God. Thus, hospitality to the stranger constitutes part of the church's witness to the Christ-event and the hospitality that weak and sinful humans have received from God (p. 149).

Bretherton goes on to note how in an article on hospitality that "within the Christian tradition the stranger to be welcomed is consistently defined as someone who lacks any resources to support themselves. The stranger is someone who lacks a 'place' in society because they are detached or excluded from the basic means of supporting and sustaining life - family, work, polity, land, and so on - and are thus vulernable."*

Christine Pohl, who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary, makes a similar point. She states how, "through most of church history, the Christian hospitality tradition has expressed a normative concern for strangers who could not provide for or defend themselves."** For example, in 1785, a group of Methodists founded the Stranger's Friends Society in London to aid the new class of urban poor. John Wesley described the Society as 'instituted wholly for the relief not of our society, but for the poor, sick, friendless strangers.'*** In other words, following the parable of the Good Samaritan, the answer given to the question: "who is my neighbor?" has been that the neighbor to be welcomed is the 'friendless stranger.' Hence, what constitutes the abuse of hospitality by hosts is defined in terms of whether their hospitality ignores the vulverable and friendless stranger.

I like what Bretherton and Pohl write about hospitality. They speak to a great concern regarding mission and ministry in a pluralistic culture: with new moral, social, and political questions emerging everyday, the church must find ways to live amongst strangers and yet also maintain its distinctive witness. The temptation of the church is two-fold: to accomodate and waterdown its witness on the one hand and/or to retreat from the public square and so disengage from the world on the other. The tension is always present. What Bretherton and Pohl offer, especially those who are searching for a missional framework within which to serve and lead Christ's church, is a way to follow Christ's example and so learn and relearn the practice of hospitality. What they offer is a kind learning and relearning that goes to the heart of practicing the gospel. They also offer a kind of learning that challenges us to open up our lives to welcoming strangers, for, as the Preacher in Hebrews says, in welcoming strangers, we welcome angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2).

Reflecting on the church's mission I can only commend what Bretherton and Pohl are stating as a first-step in sharing concretely in Christ's ministry.

*Luke Bretherton, "Hospitality and the Negotiation of Life with Strangers" (St. Ethelburga's Center for Reconciliation and Peace).

**Christine Pohl, "Making Room," p. 87.

***John Wesley, "Works of John Wesley," Volume 4: Journals (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), p. 481.