Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

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.