Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Introducing Christian Ethics

Introducing Christian Ethics

This is a wonderful resource for pastors and other leaders in the church.  Sam Wells of Duke and Ben Quash of Kings College in London provide a stimulating historical overview of Christian ethics as well as a thought-provoking typology of ethics today, noting how we have typically conceived of ethics as universal, subversive, or ecclesial.  The critiques they offer supply us all with helpful and useful insights.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Grace to Lead in the Wesleyan Tradition

Grace to Lead: Practicing Leadership in the Wesleyan Tradition
Kenneth Carder and Laceye Warner of The Duke Divinity School have written a thoughtful account of practicing leadership in the Wesleyan tradition.  In this 100 page volume, they give us a wonderful portrayal of the challenges facing those who would seek to lead in the Wesleyan way.  Published by the General Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, this little book provides helpful clues about reflecting on and participating in God's gracious renewal of creation. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Turning Around the Mainline

A great deal has been written about the renewal of mainline Protestantism. The prescriptions are endless. Below is a prescription of how one person sees the mainline and attempts to renew it.

Turning around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements are Changing the Mainline. By Thomas C. Oden (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006).

Over the last two decades Thomas Oden has written a great deal about theology and renewal. In this book, Oden captures with clarity what renewal is about and what it means for Protestantism in North America. Oden is clear that the Mainline’s decline is not simply about slouching numbers but about the loss of “confessional integrity” (21). It is a loss that speaks volumes to the lack of a theological “spine,” especially with respect to sexual morality and biblical interpretation (22). Oden’s book reveals the tensions now apparent in most mainline bodies.

Oden divides his book into six parts. Part One addresses the loss of confessional identity and church discipline among mainline Protestants. Part Two analyzes the implosion in the mainline and the ways confessional Christians are changing the landscape. Here, Oden not only takes on the role of analyst but also cheerleader as he makes the case for "steadfastness" to the cause of renewal. Part Three looks at how confessional Christians are turning toward a “classic orthodox” model of ecumenism, and how they, along with others, are working toward renewal. Part Four explores the “core teachings” of confessional Christians, detailing the many documents they have produced. Part Five examines the Confessing Movement in the United Methodist Church, along with the United Church of Canada, and stipulates how they have lost their confessional identity as part of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” church (214). And lastly, in Part Six, Oden takes as a case study the highly contested issue of church property, utilizing examples from the United Methodist Church, showing how church law, doctrinal commitments, and judicatory oversight intersect.

Oden’s work raises several issues: one is the demise of Liberal Protestantism, the other is the decline of the ecumenical movement. Both are interrelated, as both, since Vatican II, sought to overcome division and racial strife in church and society. In the process, however, as Oden states, these movements became detached from their original doctrinal moorings (62); in doing so, they drifted from what made them who they were in the first place.

This is an important point, for while the thrust of the old style ecumenism was to establish a kind of organic unity among the churches, the emphasis of the “new ecumenism” is to return to the core of the church’s confessions, if not to the core of the creeds and scriptures themselves (41). While many in the church may see this move as overly simplistic, the implications are worth pondering: without the substance of the faith in hand the church literally has nothing to hand on (42).

It is also at this point that Oden’s insights, while controversial, bring to the surface issues in ecclesiology. Outside of Roman Catholicism, since the Reformation at least, there has been little, if any, agreement on the nature of the church. Instead, there have been “marks” to identify the church’s mission – e.g., primacy of scripture, sound doctrine, etc. The focus is not so much on a comprehensive ecclesiology as on a vision of what the church is about. Oden’s argument is critical: it makes no sense to work for renewal unless the whole, catholic church is to be renewed. Renewal can only succeed if those committed to it work toward it in their own respective bodies. Such is the logic of renewal.

This is worth considering. Regardless of one’s theological views, Oden raises questions about the church’s identity and about the way it will take care of the treasures that make it unique. His work is a reminder of the ongoing debate about the relationship between tradition and change and about the way this change is to unfold. To be sure, it is a slow and messy process. However, for those who care about the process, much work and prayer await. The struggle to turn around the mainline has only begun.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Grace and Holiness in the Wesleyan Tradition

Grace and Holiness in a Changing World: A Wesleyan Proposal for Postmodern Ministry, Jeffrey E. Greenway & Joel B. Green, eds., (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 117 pp., ISBN – 13:978-0-687-46570-5.

“The times, they are a changing…” Indeed, they are! Not only did Bob Dylan sing these lines during an era of turbulence, but he also tapped into a well-spring of truth that has become commonplace among persons who look into the future: Even change has changed! And what can we say about the pace of change? Yes, even the pace of change has changed!

Therefore, as God’s people in the midst of the "best of times and the worst of times," who are we to be and what are we to do? How will we journey into the future? What are the "marks" that will set us apart? And how will others come to know and see us?

By no means are these easy questions to answer. The evidence points out otherwise. Throughout its history, the church has faced many challenges. This is not new. What is new at this juncture is how the various traditions within Christianity will maintain their distinctive voices within a wider consumerist and pluralist culture: how will Christians in the Wesleyan theological tradition, for example, contend to share "the faith once delivered to the saints"(Jude 3)? What "marks" will characterize a Wesleyan approach to discipleship in a rapidly changing world? How will Wesleyan Christians "reform the nation and church and spread scriptural holiness across these lands"? By no means are these easy questions!

Thankfully, the present volume comes to the fore to explore what the Wesleyan theological tradition can offer the ministry of the church at the beginning of a new millennium. Edited by Jeffery Greenway, a United Methodist pastor in Ohio, and Joel Green, professor of New Testament at Fuller Seminary, this work lays out the key contours of a Wesleyan approach to ministry in a postmodern world. As the title suggests, "grace and holiness" within the Wesleyan heritage are inextricably intertwined; we truly cannot speak of one without the other. Wesleyan Christians are known for preaching "grace upon grace" (e.g., preventing grace, converting grace, justifying grace, sanctifying grace, perfecting grace, glorifying grace); but they also cannot speak of God’s grace without speaking of God’s holiness and law, that is, without obedience (p. 10). In short, our living response to the grace of God starts with the holiness of God (p. 12). It is the "holiness of heart and life" that flows out of our relationship with God to neighbor and world (p. 12). Therefore, any proposal for a Wesleyan approach to ministry will need to come to grips with this distinctive conjunction.

The book itself is divided into six chapters, plus introduction (Greenway). All the contributors have taught or have attended Asbury Theological Seminary. All have undertaken attempts to suggest what ministry within the Wesleyan tradition will look like in a postmodern context: e.g., the "apostolic mission" of the church in a world of empire (Joel Green), the nature of change in the church in a world of transition (Lee Choi), the healing and costly message of grace in a world of sin and brokenness (Harper), the holiness of heart and life in a world of superficiality (Snyder), the importance of the priesthood of all believers for life together (Tuttle), and the dynamic tension in the Christian life between holiness and grace (Gutenson). All the authors address these critical "marks" of the Christian life and the way these "marks" impact the life of ministry – e.g., the stewardship of the earth, the role of the laity, the importance of the congregation in mission, and the significance of holiness and grace to biblical interpretation and proclamation. All find expression here.

As I reflect on this work, there are few observation I would like to make. First, as a pastor within the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, I appreciate very much what these authors have to share about the Wesleyan tradition. The book can introduce and educate persons on the basics of Wesleyan Christianity. On this score, it can serve a productive purpose.

Second, several sub-themes are also apparent throughout the work. Within the flux of culture, it is interesting to note how several of the authors use the language of "counterculture," "alternative society," or "apostolic community." Critical attention is given to how the church in the past accommodated itself to the wider society and how it lost its saltiness. The focus on holiness is pertinent here. As the authors contend, there is now a need for the church to re-envision its distinctive marks and focus on what makes the church unique. A great deal of work remains in this area.

Third, following the above point, there is also a need to ask how the "language of holiness" can continue to make inroads in a church with different understandings of holiness on the one hand and how it can communicate holiness to a world with no understanding of holiness on the other. Certainly, the traditional "marks" of the church come into the equation here. Under the influence of postmodern culture, the tension between grace and holiness comes into full view. Methodists in particular tend to wrestle with this tension by going in different directions – some by maintaining a strict holiness code, others by promoting respectability and relevancy within a mostly white middle class ethos. Now, the church faces another challenge: how it will live out the kind of "peculiar particularity" of Wesley’s vision of holiness while proclaiming the transforming grace of God to all? The question goes to the heart of the gospel message.

This book can move persons within the Wesleyan tradition toward the kind of holy conversation the church must have at this moment in history. It provides food for thought. However, in regards to a usability it would have been helpful to offer discussion questions and a bibliography. It would also have been nice to know where to go to read more about Wesley and the early Methodists. And while the book certainly spoke out of the Wesleyan theological heritage, it was odd to note how Wesley was not mentioned a great deal. Not that this was the purpose of the book; it simply would have been good to state how Wesley’s world was not a postmodern world, and that the ministry of grace and holiness today faces a number of new but similar challenges.