Think we’ve (Episcopalians) got it bad? Check out the Methodists

Tony Jones blogs a reflection on the United Methodist General Conference that took place a couple of weeks ago.

The eye-popping numbers: It cost $1500/minute!!! (I hope someone does the numbers for our own General Convention).

Will Willimon comments. Willimon’s warning applies to us as well:

My organizational guru Ron Heifetz speaks of the “myth of the broken system.”  Heifetz argues that all systems are “healthy” in that systems produce what those who profit from thesystemdesire.  Though the CGC can’t produce a complicated, large scale, two week convention, the CGC produces a General Conference that protects those in positions of power in our church.

Jones concludes:

All bureaucracies are good at one thing: self-perpetuation. They may be good at other things, too, but the propagation of the gospel is not one of those. Bureaucracy is good at distributing drivers licenses. But bureaucracies are bad for the gospel.

The Death of Postmodernism? Inquiring minds want to know

Blogger Tony Jones points us to a brilliant article by Alan Kirby: The Death of Postmodernism And Beyond | Philosophy Now.

Jones, a leader in emergent Christianity continues to fight battles with conservative Christians and deploys Kirby on his side. However, what I found most interesting in Kirby’s piece was the last paragraph:

This pseudo-modern world, so frightening and seemingly uncontrollable, inevitably feeds a desire to return to the infantile playing with toys which also characterises the pseudo-modern cultural world. Here, the typical emotional state, radically superseding the hyper-consciousness of irony, is the trance – the state of being swallowed up by your activity. In place of the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism, pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism. You click, you punch the keys, you are ‘involved’, engulfed, deciding. You are the text, there is no-one else, no ‘author’; there is nowhere else, no other time or place. You are free: you are the text: the text is superseded.

It’s a scathing analysis of contemporary culture and the contemporary self, with devastating implications for Christianity, beginning with his notion that the typical emotional state is “the trance” and the concluding riff: there is nowhere else, no other time or place. You are free: you are the text: the text is superseded.

And speaking of postmodernism, the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions recently passed. An assessment of its impact on science, philosophy, and culture by David Weinberger.


The Atonement: Some links

The Atonement continues to be a lively issue in Christianity. For many lay persons, it is one of the Christian doctrines with which they struggle the most. There’s been a great deal of interest in rethinking the doctrine in recent years. Right now, Patheos has several articles on it.

Tony Jones has a new book on the atonement and has blogged about it. Entries are here. A summary of his views is here.

For my part, it’s clear. I’m not interested in a God who needs to bargain with the Devil, or in a God who is bound to a legal system, no matter how just it seems to us. The crucifixion was the single most pivotal event in the history of the cosmos. In it, we see that the true character of God is love. God loves with an immensity that is hard to fathom. So much, in fact, that he forsook much of that divinity in order to find solidarity with you and me.

Greg Love also has a new book, and an essay:

I concur with the sharp critics of penal substitution. God is non-ambivalent and nonviolent, loving us with an unqualified love, one not surrounded by threats of condemnation, violence, rage, and death. Yet I also concur with the tradition: Burdened underneath the weight of sin, suffering, and tragedy, we human beings need a savior. And the gospel news is that we are saved by One outside ourselves—Jesus. This third approach entails the keeping of tensions present within the gospels’ stories of the cross. God is holy, but the holiness of God is present most in the mercy of God. What happens on the cross saves the world, and it ought not to have happened. The way Jesus died saved the world, but so did the way he lived. In Jesus’ work, salvation is a finished act, yet it is not one that happens “over our heads.” It inspires the human response of personal and social transformation. Jesus saves, and the Holy Spirit saves.

Today, on Tuesday in Holy Week, I’m thinking about the gospel for the day, and the verse that has become a theme for me this week: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (Jn 12:32)


The Church is flat–no, the church is a hierarchy

Two pieces published on Patheos on January 3 illustrate the struggle over ecclesiology within Christianity. The first is a report on and excerpt from Tony Jones’ new book: The Earth is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church. Jones is one of the leaders of the emerging church movement and in this book he looks closely at eight of the most important congregations in the movement and relates those congregations to the theology of Juergen Moltmann. In an excerpt published on Patheos, Jones explores how the image of “friendship” takes on Christological significance for these congregations as well as helping them to rethink the role of clergy leadership and develop egalitarian structures. Jones is not Episcopalian; the Emerging Church movement grew out of Evangelicalism but it has a strong interest in liturgy and has made inroads within the Episcopal Church as well.

The same day, Frederick Schmidt published an essay entitled, “Jesus is not our elected representative.” Money quote:

The church is a hierarchy—in composition, character, and mission. Jesus is not our elected representative. He is King of King and Lord of Lords.

I read these two pieces while reflecting on the debate at Episcopal Cafe on renewing the Episcopal Church. An earlier post by Jim Naughton led to debate over the centrality of the Eucharist to our worship, whether clergy were needed, and so on. You can follow that discussion here. There’s comment at the Friends of Jake blog as well

I’m coming to the position that all of the discussion about structural reform in the Episcopal Church may need to begin with a thoughtful discussion about ecclesiology and mission in the context of a post-Christian world. In a situation with scarce resources, it’s easy for important debates to devolve into competition over one’s share of the pie. That’s what I often sense is taking place in the Episcopal Church–whether it’s the debate over restructuring General Convention,  the thread on the Cafe about the roles of clergy and laity, or debates within congregations over budget shortfalls.

Naughton’s question, “What is up for grabs?” is the important question. Can we do ministry and mission on the local level with our diocesan and national structure siphoning off significant financial resources? Can we maintain buildings that were constructed fifty or a hundred years ago, are not energy efficient, poorly-suited for twenty-first century ministry, and require expensive maintenance? What might an Episcopal Church look like that was freed up from its structures (historical, institutional, and bricks and mortar) to offer beautiful worship, thoughtful formation, and hospitality to a world full of people seeking meaning in life?

It certainly is an interesting time to be an Episcopal priest. Thanks be to God!

More lists anyone?

Last week, I posted about “25 books every Christian should read.” Tony Jones has come up with an alternative that is more “theological,” he says. It also includes some of the authors I thought should be included.

If lists are your thing, you love Slate’s (rather premature) list of cultural items from the twenty-first century “that will stand the test of time.” Uggs? Ugh! Not to be outdone, The Guardian offers its take.

If, like me, you think one needs a little more historical distance before judging something a classic, you might appreciate Jeffrey Brenzel’s criteria for determining what constitutes a classic. One of them is “a classic requires strenuous intellectual engagement.” Well, that excludes uggs, and pretty much everything else on Slate’s list. The video down the page includes Brenzel’s reflections on some of the Christian classics and the development of the Christian tradition through the “speculation and collision” of ideas, beginning with Plato and Aristotle.

Stephen Greenblatt tells us what books he would like to have on his desert island: