At a not so recent Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren I was sure the delegates had made the wrong decision. And I made as much clear in the last days through several meetings a small action during the closing worship. To be honest, I was a bit proud in taking a stand. I knew what we should have done, and I believed we had gone the wrong way.
In the months after that conference my pride waned a bit. I had to submit my annual paperwork for my license to the ministry and I began thinking about what it meant to disagree with a position of the wider church.
Over a decade later, I found myself writing these words in the middle of our polity regarding congregational ethics. “The prayerful conclusion not to support a denominational position or program should be a matter of anguish, not competitiveness or superiority.”
Unfortunately, I often experience disagreements within the church as a matter of competition for power and an assertion of superiority. And often the lines are drawn between what some might call progressive and conservative cultures.
But I have this weird notion that when the church gathers to ask questions about the faithful response to our times, the wisdom of the whole church informs our approach. So when I disagree with what the wider communion has said, my first task is not so much to chastise but to ask myself what I am missing. What part of Christian discipleship have I overlooked in my prideful positioning?
In the years since that conference I have found myself wondering a lot more. I wonder, when I enter a community of progressives, what part of the gospel they are lifting to my attention. And the same is true when I am with conservatives. In this posture towards others, I find myself assuming above all else that the people I am with are sisters and brothers seeking to follow Jesus above all else. Sometimes that assumption is harder to maintain, but I find myself listening differently when I remind myself of our shared commitment to Jesus.
So, then, what I have learned from our conservative and progressive communities?
From progressives I am often reminded that love and grace are the root of the Good News. In order to witness to the wider world, I must act from a posture of grace.
From conservatives I am reminded that grace is the catalyst for transformation. As I have heard said in many places, we are welcomed into the community with the understanding that we will be changed by the Gospel of love and grace. Come as you are are and leave as you never were.
Progressives have taught me that the church witnesses to the ways of God in the world, and we are to act in ways that build up the Kingdom of God in the here and now.
Conservatives have reminded me that this building of the Kingdom of God is not my own doing but something God is doing in and around me.
Progressives have taught me the world is a fallen place, where war and systems of oppression diminish the Image of God in everyone.
Conservatives have taught me that systems do not change on their own, and that as Christians we are to work on our own inner heart as much as we work for justice in the world. In other words, righteousness and justice are two sides of the same coin, and often the most prophetic thing to do is to tend to our own holiness.
Progressives have often reminded me that there are many roads to faithfulness. Each of us seeks after God in our own ways, and just because one’s path is not my own does not mean that they are wrong and I am right.
Conservatives have taught me that truth is real and not relative. While we may all be on different paths there is still a need to discern if we are indeed heading in the same direction.
Progressives have taught me to value the experiences of others. In listening to the testimony of others I learn to see more fully the ways God is at work around and in us.
Conservatives have reminded me that deception is a real part of our fallen nature, and that in listening to others I must also test the spirit in which a testimony is given. Part of that testing includes speaking from my own vantage point, articulating truth biblically as well as experientially.
Though the Brethren are not a creedal form of Christianity, I think the greatest reminder of balance has come through the Nicene Creed. In the last section the words are both plain and convicting. “We believe… in one holy catholic and apostolic church…” It is that tension between being one and being holy that gets me every time. How is that we can be both one— work from a place of unity— while at the same time hold up the holiness explicit in following Jesus. We are inherently mixed in our holiness, or as the followers of Wesley remind us, we are growing in our holiness. Put another way, holiness makes clear there are boundaries that often make unity a difficult endeavor. In the practice of “seeking the mind of Christ” I think the Brethren have worked out a way to attend to both boundaries and unity, one-ness and holiness. I am just not convinced that our current models of doing so have actually produced the fruit we seek.
We have simply become too proud of our positions and too often confuse discernment with coercion. We assume that our processes are about setting one another straight, and that one must win the argument in order for truth to be proclaimed.
Since that conference long ago I have come back to the words of Thomas Merton. Just because I think I am following the will of God does not actually mean that I am doing so. But I believe that the desire to please God does in fact please God, and I pray that I (we) have that desire in all that I (we) do.
I need my brothers and sisters to help me see when I am following Jesus and when I have strayed. And when I disagree with my community of faith, my first task is not to chastise others and set the record straight but is to ask if I am working from my desire to please God or if I simply desire to be right. More often than not, I am afraid I want to be right.
I am a Theatre Design and Technology major. Often, people have no idea what my major involves, so I will explain. Technical theatre includes many different concentrations such as lighting, sound, props, costume, set construction/design, and stage management. This major is very hands on and I am learning how to design and construct vital pieces for the shows Otterbein University produces. It is important that I can see the beauty in the art that I design and construct to better express the theme of a show. My perspective of beauty has been greatly influenced by the creations that God has made.
I find that it is easier to see the beauty in my surroundings because I am a follower of Christ and I have so much appreciation for God’s creations. I tend to see beauty in the world around me and in the art that I create, as well as the art of my peers. Though my assignments may be challenging at times, I find that they are simpler to complete when I strive to reflect God’s beauty. When I see what God has created, I see the beauty and perfection in it. When I see an amazing sunset, I want to be able to paint it and make it as perfect as what I see before my eyes. Every day God’s creations encourage me to strive to create art that reflects such beauty.
When it comes to my artwork, I feel like I often see God in it. I have created paintings, costumes, and props that I never thought I had the talent to do so. I have seen the art work of others and admired the beauty it has brought to the stage. Everyone I work with has their own special talent, which I believe is a gift from God. Romans 12:6 says “In His grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.” If God has blessed us with a talent, shouldn’t we be using it to the best of our ability? There is not a doubt in my mind that God has blessed each and every one of us with our own unique talents and skills. Whether we acknowledge that or not on a daily basis, we can see it in our finished products. I see this when a show opens and all the aspects of it have come together on the stage to complement each other and paint a picture of beauty for the audience to see.
As Brethren, simplicity is one of our core values we believe in. I believe that being simple is quite important, especially when it comes to our material and earthly possessions. I think that we should use what we possess and not have so much that it is wasteful. Simplicity comes into play quite often when I am working in the theatre. We try to use only what we need in order to complete a job in a safe and successful way. Simplicity helps us cut back on waste and save money for other aspects of a show we are producing. Simplicity is a good value to have whether you are using it in the workplace or in your church.
While simplicity is an important value to have, I believe the church has become too comfortable in it. Ministry has become something that we have made simple. I believe ministry shouldn’t be simple; it should be bold and take us out of our comfort zone. Often in the world of theatre, we are asked to step out of our comfort zone; whether it is to take on a leadership position or to create a significant piece for a show. Churches need to be willing to be bold and step out in their faith to reach others. The disciples are amazing examples because they got up and left everything they knew to follow Jesus and preach his teachings. Matthew 4:19 says “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Shouldn’t we strive to do the same? We should spend less time focusing on how others perceive us, and more time on pointing them in the direction of Christ. If we are afraid to step out in our faith, how are we to further the kingdom of God?
For more information about Otterbein University’s department of Theatre and Dance go to http://www.otterbein.edu/public/Academics/Departments/TheatreDance.aspx
Melissa Schlecht is a sophomore at Otterbein University pursuing a degree in Theatre Design and Technology with a concentration in Costume Design and Construction and a minor in Film Studies. An active member of the Potsdam COB (when she’s home), she recently helped lead Potsdam’s Youth Theatre Camp this past summer. She hopes to bring her heart for God and his Kingdom to the world of theatre and film.
Are human beings given free dominion of the land, or does God care what we do with the creation? Participants explored these and other profound questions at the Rooted and Ground conference held at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. Six students, from Bethany Seminary and Earlham School of Religion, and two Bethany professors attended the creation care conference from Thursday, October 1 through Saturday, October 3rd.
Around 140 participants brought a range of ecumenical perspectives to address a variety of environmental concerns. Activities at the three-day conference included presentations, worship services, and immersion experiences. From the assorted presentations and conversations, participants envisioned a variety of Christian responses to the ecological crisis.
The bulk of conference events centered on a multitude of presentations. Several papers and workshops focused on biblical, theological, and ethical principles in relation to creation care and social justice. Nate Inglis, Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Bethany Seminary, presented “Conversion to the Community of Creation: Bridging Anabaptist Theological Anthropology and Ecology” on Thursday afternoon. Scott Holland, Professor of Theology & Culture at Bethany Seminary, and Bethany MA student Kristy Shellenberger presented a workshop about theopoetics and creation care on Friday morning.
Presentations also featured practical suggestions that care for the land and local communities. Farmers described their methods of organic production. At the urban level, pastors shared how gardens were employed in liturgical practices and served the food needs of marginalized communities. “As demographics continue to shift in this country, it is important that the Church adapt and be equipped to minister in these new realities,” remarks Shayne Petty. He continues, “It is crucial that we expand the conversation about eco-theology to include the voices of those, demographically, not typically associated with agriculture. It can be incredibly empowering for persons of color, most of whom, especially Blacks, living in urban areas to be given theological language to reflect upon the beauty of God’s creation in the city.”
Worship services employed rich liturgical themes of creation’s praise to God through hymns and responsive readings. Three keynote speakers presented thought-provoking messages for conference attendees.
Wilma Bailey, Professor Emerita of Hebrew and Aramaic studies at Christian Theological Seminary, spoke at the Thursday night worship service. She explored various Hebrew terms found in the creation accounts of Genesis 1-3. Bailey also reflected on the wildness of creation. Lions and other predators caution us humans that we are not as fully in control of nature as we like to assert.
Our Friday night speaker provided even more profound reflection. Sylvia Keesmat, an organic farmer and adjunct professor at Toronto School of Theology, interpreted from the Letter to the Romans, particularly between chapters 1, 8, and 12. She claimed that the apostle Paul expressed profound grief over the Roman imperial occupation – an occupation that degraded both social and ecological health – and explored how that grief still pervades in our present global crisis. “It was humbling,” notes Katie Cummings, “to lament together our shortcomings and to confess our idolatry.” Keesmat also professed an inspiring hope, following Paul’s message, that God’s love for all creation will prevail and includes faithful acts of earth care.
Ched Myers, biblical scholar and activist theologian, spoke as keynote for Saturday morning worship. He explained the principles of “watershed discipleship,” a recent model of Christian community formed by natural bio-regions and local economies. It recognizes the sacredness of the land in providing not only for human needs, but also for all processes that God created to sustain life.
Before the conference began, participants selected between options for immersion experiences scheduled on Friday afternoon. Four Bethany Seminary participants, myself included, went on the “Trail of Death” tour near Plymouth, Indiana. A Potawatomi tribe once inhabited two sites around the Twin Lakes area until they were expelled in September 1838 by military force. For the next three months, the tribe marched west under oppressive conditions. The survivors settled in Oklahoma territory in November. As we walked between sites, I took time to reflect on the plight of the Potawatomi tribe and what true reconciliation with American Indian communities would look like. We then made a brief tour of the Indian exhibit at the Fulton County museum and headed back to AMBS.
The Rooted & Grounded conference reminds us that the whole creation knows God as Creator and is eagerly waiting for God’s people to return to this understanding. Oscar Lugusa Malande, a student at the Earlham School Religion, states this insight well: “At this conference, it occurred to me that the revelation of children of God is being fulfilled. [For a long time] the creation has been groaning for this revelation.” Compelled by this humbling truth, Christians must allow God’s priorities to inform our role in becoming responsible stewards for the health of the land, of our communities, and of other living creatures.
For more background information about activities and speakers, go to the Rooted and Grounded conference website: https://www.ambs.edu/news-events/Rooted-and-Grounded.cfm
Jonathan Stauffer is a member of the Polo (IL) Church of the Brethren congregation. He is currently a student at Bethany Theological Seminary and beginning his second year in the Master of Arts program with a concentration in theological studies.
By Jonathan Stauffer
Several experiences in the natural world heightened my self-awareness and spirituality. These experiences began as a child living in the country and continue into my adult life. I once took for granted the value of Earth, but these experiences built the case for greater appreciation and protection of God’s creation.
I grew up on a family farm and had many outdoor experiences through work and play. One of my jobs during the summer was to pull weeds out of the corn fields. I fed calves as a part of our dairy operations as a year-round job. Each of these tasks gave me a sense of what living things need to grow, which I attribute as an early ecological awareness. I also had time to play on the farm. I pulled off the heads of dandelions and climbed trees. On clear nights, I beheld a multitude of stars. Looking back, these childhood memories often contained moments of wonder.
By my high school years, however, my attitude had changed. I underestimated the value of outdoor experiences, and I did not see farming as an appealing profession. My interests focused on science, and I wanted to become an engineer. I studied physical sciences as an undergraduate at Manchester where I learned about universal laws of nature as they pertain to energy and matter. I also realized concerns arising from pollution and climate change that I felt needed solutions. But looking back, my efforts to understand the crisis focused more on human interests than the broader issues of ecology.
A profound change to my ecological awareness came about 7 years ago. I agreed to teach nature classes at a Brethren youth camp with my friend, Randall Westfall. Randall introduced me to wilderness awareness skills. I learned practices for how to walk quietly, listen intently, and observe carefully in whatever place I walked. These practices added a greater definition to my vocabulary of the natural world and invoked my childhood wonder once again. I also received joy from teaching the youth some of these same wilderness techniques because I saw their own spiritual and intellectual growth develop at camp. From these experiences, I have a continued interest to serve in outdoor ministry and learn about the local place that I reside.
I believe that wilderness skills are practice that contributes to human wholeness. Over time, I studied field guides to develop further knowledge of plants and animals. I learned about the ecology in my region. I no longer saw trees as green tops and brown trunks, but distinguished them by their leaves and bark. I memorized the features of several common medicinal plants and a few common bird songs. In this way, my awareness of biodiversity within creation increased, which is a natural order that God allows humans to comprehend.
Of course, there are also natural hazards that humans must heed. Caution towards the wilderness is not just for our own protection, but also serves to protect the rest of creation. We are reminded that God established creation a long time before humans came on the scene. As powerful as human knowledge has become, we are still limited in understanding the processes of the wild. Natural hazards provide a wisdom that humbles and sets ecological boundaries.
We must remember that humans are not detached from the creation. I believe wholeness (Shalom) includes turning to sustainable farming practices as well as developing renewable energy technology alongside ecological conservation. In order to best enable these changes we need to increase our understanding of the ecological processes that benefit our daily lives and pattern our build environments after them. Failure to do so will harm all creatures, including humanity.
Today, I view creation not only as a means through which God provides our food and fiber, but also as places for renewal and revelation. From this understanding of creation, I am grateful for the sacred intent that the Creator gives through nature. Such an understanding fosters simple living by assessing what are truly basic needs and what are empty desires. In fact, I question the accelerated pace of technology over the last fifty years, and wonder whether there are limits to its perceived benefits. I now am concerned about wholeness for both human and non-human inhabitants of the planet Earth.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to care for God’s Earth. Reading the Bible enhances our ecological imagination in addition to faith formation. Beyond the account of creation in Genesis, poems and wisdom teachings in the Old Testament relate to nature (Psalm 104 and Job 38-39). In the New Testament, the parables of Jesus employ nature as analogies for the kingdom of heaven (e.g. Matthew 13). Human interests are deeply intertwined with other creatures and the land, and God intended creation to be this relational. The Creator establishes these relationships to keep us in communion with all living things and the Divine.
As Brethren, we have traditions of simple living and covenant relationship, lifestyles that foster wholeness and aid in restoring the planet. Let us enjoy the God-given benefits of creation while also relieving the pain that we and other humans impose on it. Failure to act will be a missed opportunity in witnessing to the abundant living that Christ modeled for us.
Jonathan Stauffer is a member of the Polo (IL) Church of the Brethren congregation. He is currently a student at Bethany Theological Seminary and beginning his second year in the Master of Arts program with a concentration in theological studies.
This video from Homeboy Industries came across my Facebook timeline the other day. If you don’t know about this amazing ministry in Los Angeles started by Father Greg Boyle, you can check out their website.
In his thought of the day, he dropped this fantastic quote. “The measure of our compassion lies not in our service to those one the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.”
At some point we need to drop all this talk about service. For Brethren, I am probably nearing the line of outright heresy, but hear me out.
For the early Brethren, the idea that we care for one another was not based in the language of service, but in mutual aid. Sure, this made sense in the days of our more sectarian past. We did care for our sisters and brothers of faith. It wasn’t until the 20th century that this core idea shifted into the language of service. In my more generous moments, I can see how this shift in terminology helped the Brethren claim a role within the world. Talking about service in essence broke us out of the me and us view of care for others.
However, we must come to terms with how the language of service continues to separate us from others. Basically, those who “serve others” are often working from a significant position of privilege. Whether it is economic or social privilege, those who can take time off for service projects locally or around the country do so because they can. While we rightly acknowledge that those who have privilege should use it to care for others in need, the very idea that we serve them has an overtone of condescension. We literally come out of our privileged social location so that we can minister to “those in the margins.”
An interesting thing happens, however, as people go on service trips. Inevitably, they return with a bit of cognitive dissonance. I hear it most often expressed like this: “I went there to offer something to them, but they gave me so much.” In the midst of the relationship building with those whom we “serve” the lines between those in need and those from privilege blur, and uncomfortably so. Here we are, the ones who are to care for others and we find ourselves ministered to.
This is why we must finally let go of the service interpretation of feet washing. Put another way, washing feet is NOT about serving others. In John’s account, Jesus does name the roll he takes as a servant, but that is only half the story. When Peter chastises him for doing what is not appropriate for teacher, the conversation turns to washing, and alludes to baptism. “If I don’t wash your feet,” Jesus says, “then you have no part with me.” Brash as always, Peter responded that if that is the case, then he should be completely washed. “You have bathed,” Jesus said, “and are thus clean except for the feet.”
This exchange with Peter is a clear reference to baptism, sin, and grace. And when Jesus says that we are to do this for one another, he highlights the priestly role we offer one another. There is no privileged place since all must wash and be washed. All must confess to one another and all must receive grace from others.
This is why I think people are so put off by washing feet. Some say that it is the idea of feet alone that turns people off. However, when we talk about “serving others with the basin and towel,” it is much easier to kneel down and wash another person’s dirty feet. It is when we must receive the grace of having our feet washed that we get weirded out. In the language of service, it is always better to give than to receive.
This is why we don’t know what to do with the gifts we receive when we are on a service trip. It is why we feel so guilty about coming away with so much more than we actually give.
If we can finally recover the mutuality of feet washing I think we can finally move towards what Father Boyle called “kinship with those on the margins.” We can go out from our houses of privilege and finally enter the cycle of grace upon grace where we finally see Jesus in one another.
What do we do with quality theology from troubling theologians? Does bad behavior discredit good scholarly work? When concerning behavior is made public, what should be our response? When repentance has seemingly taken place, is there an appropriate length of time before the public forgives?
We recently examined what happens in baptism. My understanding has been heavily influenced by the work of two troubling theologians. Mark Driscoll and John Howard Yoder are two of the most famous theologians of recent times. They are, also, two of the most controversial. For my fellow theology nerds out there, it might seem odd that my theology could be influenced by two folks who are so different. If Driscoll and Yoder would have been locked in a room together, Yoder might have re-thought his pacifism. For now, though, let us focus on the questions from the previous paragraph.
Mark Driscoll is the former founder and pastor of Mars Hill Church, a multi-site megachurch in Seattle, and the former head of the successful para-church ministry Acts 29 Network which focuses on church planting. Driscoll was an early supporter of the Emergent Church movement and later became one of the most influential leaders in the New Calvinist movement.
Though Driscoll consistently received critiques from progressives for his complementarianism and hyper-masculine style, he started receiving nearly universal criticism in 2013. In May of that year an elder resigned and lodged a formal complaint against Driscoll stating that Driscoll’s sins included “not being self-controlled and disciplined, being domineering, verbally violent, arrogant, [and] quick-tempered.”((Murashko, Alex. “Charges Against Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Executive Elders ‘Non-Disqualifying,’ Says Advisory Board.” Christian Post. March 27, 2014.)) In November of that year, Driscoll was faced with multiple accusations of plagiarism in both his published books and sermon supplemental material. The next year, it became public that Driscoll had used hundreds of thousands of church funds to purchase copies of his books to engineer sales numbers in order to suit his desire to make the New York Times Bestseller List. Things came to a head when a forum thread resurfaced and circulated online from 2000 in which Driscoll, under his pseudonym William Wallace II, was shockingly aggressive and vulgar – even for him. He was removed from the Acts 29 Network and resigned from Mars Hill Church which subsequently disbanded to form 11 independent churches.
John Howard Yoder was a theology professor with an expertise in Christian ethics. A Mennonite, he was a famous Christian pacifist. Yoder ended his career working at the University of Notre Dame. He began, however, working for Goshen Biblical Seminary and Mennonite Biblical Seminary. The two institutions later joined to form Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary which has since been renamed Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS).
Unlike Driscoll, Yoder was not particularly controversial and was even well liked by many across the theological spectrum. Even when his status as a troubling theologian became well-known he was, for the most part, not publicly lambasted or shamed. Folks in the seminary community had been aware, to varying degrees, of Yoder’s sexual behavior which was at its mildest strange and its worst violating. Numerous groups were formed to try to intervene with no success. The first group to really take any major action was from his congregation. This group received reports from 13 women of sexual violation which took place “in many places: conferences, classrooms, retreats, homes, apartments, offices, parking lots.”1 Due to the work of this group, Yoder’s credentialing was suspended and was never reinstated. This seems shamefully minor in comparison to Yoder’s actions, however. Though this initial case of 13 led to some action, once one digs deeper it becomes apparent that Yoder’s deviant behavior stretched much farther. During the 70’s and 80’s Yoder sexually violated over 100 women in multiple countries. What’s more, many knew and seemingly covered it up. Seminary president, Marlin Miller was not only aware, he took detailed notes about allegations, compelled women to remain silent, and later ended up destroying the majority of evidence against Yoder and the seminary. AMBS did finally apologize in a worship service on March 22 of this year in which folks close to the seminary community, including victims, were invited for a service of lament, open sharing, and prayer. Though this certainly is a step in the right direction, the overall response to Yoder’s actions is both perplexing and vexing.
Though these two stories have some similarities, the differences are what I find truly interesting. On the one hand, we have Yoder who actually broke the law – though he was never charged. Yoder also used methods – abuse of power, manipulation, and coercion – in his illegal activity which stand in conflict and diametric opposition to the Christian pacifism upon which his life’s work was based. All the while, Yoder’s fall from grace has not been widely discussed outside of Anabaptist circles and, as mentioned earlier, when it has been discussed by the broader public, he has not faced the sort of public backlash as others have for doing much, much less.
So, now we get to Driscoll who is one such person. Driscoll has been outright ostracized, as of late, for being un-Christ-like, unethical, and engaging in suspect business practices. Driscoll has, for the most part, been lambasted and shamed for behavior some, if not many, people are probably not surprised by. Anyone who has ever heard or read Driscoll’s works would describe him as aggressive, crass, and unapologetically blunt. For those outside the New Calvinist movement, his views on gender roles seemed backward and offensive long before his public fall from grace. Why, then, was the resurfacing of this blog thread from 2000 such a big deal? This is a serious question for a couple reasons. First, Driscoll had already confessed to this in one of his books, classifying his William Wallace II days as his angry prophet period – one he had since outgrown. Sure, you could still make a very compelling argument that Driscoll still was not acting Christ-like long after his angry prophet stage, but his behavior had noticeably improved upon his open confession and recognition of his former wrongs. Second, I wonder about the influence of our current internet culture on this storyline. If Yoder’s behavior, or at least its coming to light, had taken place in a world of social media and 24-hour news cycles, would things have been different for him?
Driscoll continues to be an outcast, some would even say he has been demonized. There was recently public uproar because Driscoll had been invited to speak at a recent Hillsong conference. He was not giving a plenary. He wasn’t even giving a speech or being asked to speak from any sort of position of authority. He was to sit down for a conversation with Hillsong pastor Brian Houston to talk about what if anything Driscoll had learned in the past year. People threw a fit to the point that Hillsong had to come out with a statement saying that Driscoll would not be present at the conference. The interview still took place and was broadcast via video at the conference which still got a number of people upset. Hillsong and Houston never endorsed Driscoll. Hillsong is a neo-Charismatic multi-site megachurch which differs from Driscoll and the former Marsh Hill Church in a variety of ways. Both are conservative evangelical, but Hillsong is egalitarian and has surprisingly moderate views on LGBT inclusion. So now what? Are we not even allowed to have civil discourse in public anymore? Are we not allowed to openly discuss our failings, and the failings of others, and examine what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown?
So, what do we do with quality theology from troubling theologians? Ed Setzter says that while repentance must be both public and thorough, it must also ultimately lead to restoration.2 This is huge. Yoder has passed on. There is no longer opportunity for his public and thorough repentance and his restoration this side of the Jordan. There are opportunities, though, for the AMBS and broader Mennonite communities. It seems, too, that they are moving in the right direction. The same could be said of Driscoll. You may not like him as a person. You may not like his theology. But he does seem to be in the process of a public and thorough repentance. When, then, does restoration occur? Is there a time limit? What if God treated us the way many of us treat folks like Driscoll and other famous pastors who have public falls from grace? Can we forgive without forgetting, being permissive or affirming?
Two stories from Scripture, the parables of the prodigal son and the unforgiving servant come to mind. We are to forgive and welcome back into the fold those who turn and come back home. We are to forgive others who act inexcusably because God has done so for us and will punish those of us who refuse to forgive. I think of Noah and his naked drunkenness, David the murder and rapist, Moses and Paul who were also both murderers. God did amazing things through these broken people. I might not be a drunk, rapist, or a murderer, but I know how dark my sins are. I know that I’ve done things that are truly terrible and I know that I have hurt a number of people in my life, especially during my adolescence. I also know that I have helped positively shape the spiritual lives of many people by the Grace of God who chooses to use broken sinners for his glory.
So, I ask again, what do we do with quality theology from troubling theologians? I, for one, acknowledge that the theology is good while also acknowledging that the theologians sometimes were bad. Yoder and Driscoll have hurt countless people. That is a serious, serious issue and should never be minimized. Yoder and Driscoll have helped positively shape the spiritual lives of countless people. That is a serious, serious issue and should never be minimized. So, that’s what I do. What do you do?
- Waltner Goossen, Rachel. “The Failure to Bind and Loose: Responses to Yoder’s Sexual Abuse.” The Mennonite A Publication of Mennonite Church USA Providing Anabaptist Content The Failure to Bind and Loose Responses to Yoders Sexual Abuse Comments. January 2, 2015. [↩]
- Setzter, Ed. “When Pastors Fall: Why Full and Public Repentance Matters.” The Exchange. April 22, 2014. [↩]
This post begins a two-part series. Part I will deal with the question “What happens in baptism,” an important question for many Anabaptist-Pietists. Part II will deal with the question of “what to do with quality theology from troubling theologians.” At first glance, I imagine that these two questions seem pretty far removed. You might be wondering how they connect as parts of a two-part series. Read on and I hope it will become clearer.
Baptism is: an act of discipleship; our dying and rising with Christ; our joining the fellowship of believers, which is the new humanity. Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears write of this theology of baptism succinctly by saying:
We believe that water baptism is for those Christians who have already received Spirit baptism, making them part of the church. In water baptism, Christians are immersed in water, which identifies them with the death and burial of Jesus in their place for their sins. Coming up out of the water identifies them with the resurrection of Jesus for their salvation and new life empowered by the Holy Spirit. … [It] is a symbol of something far bigger. It is a visible declaration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit expresses the believer’s death to sin, burial of the old life, and resurrection to a new kingdom life in Christ Jesus.1
Baptism is an act of discipleship.
Scripture teaches that Jesus and the apostles charged all Christians to be baptized. Baptism identifies one as a disciple. Jesus commissions the first apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).” Peter, too, speaking to the crowds after Pentecost calls the crowd to believe, repent, and be baptized (Acts 2:38). Acts records how baptism accompanied conversion. After Peter had finished preaching to the crowd, Acts explains that “those who accepted his message were baptized (Acts 2:41).” Acts 8 shares of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch who eagerly exclaimed, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” After being baptized, he “went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:36-38)2
Baptism is our dying and rising with Christ.
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.
One of the central claims of the gospel is that God is reconciling people to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19). We go from spiritual deadness and separation to being counted as alive in Christ. We are united with Jesus and submit to becoming part of his death. In Christ, though, we experience death that conquers death for in Christ “death is nor more” for it has been “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).
Baptism is our joining the fellowship of all believers, which is the new humanity.
In addition to being united with Christ, baptism unites us with the global church of committed disciples – the fellowship of all believers. In baptism, we proclaim that we are part of the true church of those converted, born-again, being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and priests with unmediated access to God.
The church is the new humanity in which there is “a new inter-ethnic social reality.”3 The church is a people made up of all kinds of people. In Christ, God creates a new humanity that wrestles deeply with the problem of togetherness. In fact, this new humanity envisions a new way of living together “[as] a ‘multi-ethnic community,’ [that] does not quash ethnicity but relativizes it to the central claim that Jesus is Lord.”4 The same is said for other carnal attributes. This new path that showcases egalitarian living is a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. The church is corporately made up of heirs of the Kingdom. “As ‘joint heirs with Christ’ (Rom. 8:17) we receive the title to the coming kingdom, and even in this life we receive the ‘earnest’ or first installment of this inheritance.”5 In the church, and even more so in the coming Kingdom, God fulfills the promise to “take … from all the nations [and] gather … from all the countries” and give them his Spirit (Ezekiel 36:22-32).
Even the individuality of joining the church has the potential to lead to this togetherness as part of the New Humanity. Baptism, an act commonly associated with inauguration into the Church family, is rooted in many ways to the forgiveness of sin. It is a new birth – a new start that is available to the proverbial you. “The you here must refer not just to each person but to the other person – the stranger, the outcast, even the enemy or oppressor that one is inclined to view in terms of their past actions.”6 Because God can forgive you, he can forgive anyone. As all can be forgiven, the forgiven are one with Christ. As part of the new humanity, we are called to see passed our individual sinfulness and the sinfulness of others to our oneness in Christ. The new humanity aims to serve both the guilty and the hurting through reconciliation to God and to humanity. This new humanity works in the world, to bring about holistic change, under the guidance of Jesus Christ who is leader, shepherd, and judge. Under Christ’s supremacy, the church brings people into newness, continuing to proclaim that “The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
So, what do we do when theologians don’t live up to their theology? What do we do when it seems as if the old things have not, indeed, gone away? Are they hypocrites? Do we dismiss their quality work because of their personal missteps? Does grace abound? Check back in next week as I ask the question: “What do we do with quality theology from troubling theologians?”
- Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Every Christian Should Believe (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010). [↩]
- See also: Acts 8-10, 16, 18-19., 22; Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:11-15; Titus 3:5; 1 Corinthians 12:1-14; 1 Peter 3:21. [↩]
- John Howard Yoder, Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001), 30. [↩]
- Russell Haitch, From Exorcism to Ecstasy: Eight Views of Baptism (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 28 [↩]
- Haitch, From Exorcism to Ecstasy, 127 [↩]
- Haitch, From Exorcism to Ecstasy, 35. [↩]
Informative. Enlightening. Thought-provoking. Insightful. Energizing. Stimulating. Engaging. Refreshing. Challenging. Inspiring. Interesting. Hopeful. Enriching conversation.
I could go on. These are just the top reflections from the participants at Bethany Theological Seminary’s inaugural Young Adult Forum entitled “Anabaptism, the Next Generation.”
The goal was to bring young adult ministry practitioners together for a conversation about Anabaptism and its influence on and appeal to young people today. Instead we fostered an intergenerational conversation from college students to seasoned pastors. Some attendees were currently practicing ministry with young adults and some were simply interested in the conversation or were young adults themselves stepping into leadership and ministry.
The Ted-Talk inspired format encouraged speakers to share a “big idea” instead of an all-encompassing lecture. The format left space for short conversations between talks and allowed for more than just one or two keynote speakers as we are accustomed to at academic conferences. Talk-back sessions brought more than one speaker together so that their talks could interact with one another – music with spirituality, discernment with relationship, leadership with hermeneutics, and so on.
We heard talks that set the background with Anabaptist spirituality and biblical hermeneutics; we heard and experienced how we practice our Anabaptism through music; learned about practicing discernment together, being leaders, and making peace; we also addressed current concerns and practices of ministry with young people considering the multi-ethnic church and ministry with college students. Participants continued conversations in talk-back sessions, during lunch discussions where participants chose topics by sitting at tables with others interested in that conversation, and even during breaks as people met in the hallways of the seminary.
We also embarked upon a new adventure, taking what we were learning inside the walls of Bethany out into the community. We provided a list of locations for participants to go and observe how the context is appealing to the community, particularly young people. They engaged in questions such as, why do people come here? What is the role of this place in the community? How does this place and the work that it does interact with the conversations we’ve been having at Bethany this weekend?
Participants went to restaurants, a church, an ice cream place, and even bars and local hot spots to engage in these questions and observe the context and community in Richmond, Indiana. The goal was not to proselytize or make ourselves known but to take the first step from academic conversation to the streets and neighborhoods of our own cities.
I am grateful for the places where Bethany can grow into this forum and humbled by the things that others got out of the experience. The one thing that struck me the most after poring over the evaluations from this event is how much relationships were a part of this forum. Participants reflected on learning about the importance of intergenerational relationships, different ways to disciple others, the importance of discernment with the body of Christ, becoming partners instead of leaders, making connections, embracing multiculturalism, and connecting young adults to the church in new ways. We were invited into relationship with each other during the forum and encouraged to nurture relationships back home.
How are you engaging with each other in your faith community? What do you observe of different generations, ethnicities, and cultures? What is the importance of relationship for you and for your church? How do we marry our Anabaptist heritage to the neo-Anabaptism appealing to many young Christians today? These questions and many others still linger in my mind weeks after the forum. I look forward to observing and engaging them as I continue to participate in my faith community and in denominational gatherings.
If you would like to view the talks from this forum or for more information about this and other Young Adult Forums you can visit www.bethanyseminary.edu/YAForum2015. You will find the list of speakers from this spring, videos of their talks, and the schedule for the event. If you have questions you can be in touch with Bekah Houff or Russell Haitch of Bethany’s Institute for Ministry with Youth and Young Adults at email@example.com.
Inspiring and educational talks. Thoughtful and engaging conversation. Friends, old and new. Beautiful singing. Connecting with the local community. Meaningful worship. These are just a few of the things we did together at the 2015 Young Adult Forum. We hope you will come and join us for the next Young Adult Forum April 15-16, 2016 at Bethany Theological Seminary.
Let’s continue the conversation!
Bekah Houff is Coordinator of Outreach Programs for Bethany Theological Seminary. She received her MDiv from Bethany with an emphasis in Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Bekah has been active in summer camping ministry, district youth ministry, and served in the Youth and Young Adult Office of the Church of the Brethren. Needless to say, she loves ministry with young people!
Interested in networking and engaging with others who are passionate about young adult ministry? Anabaptism, the Next Generation is a learning forum on ministry with young adults being hosted at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, IN April 17-19. Speakers include Chuck Bomar, Josh Brockway, Jeff Carter, Dana Cassell, Russell Haitch, Tara Hornbacker, Steve Schweitzer, Laura Stone, Dennis Webb, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. For more information and to register, go to https://www.bethanyseminary.edu/YAForum2015.
Bethany’s upcoming young adult forum is an event I am very excited about. As one who has been active in young adult ministry for the duration of my young adulthood thus far, I am always looking for others who share my passion and want to engage biblically and critically about the issues currently facing the Church – particularly from a young adult voice.
In addition to engaging in conversation, reading has been an important tool that has aided my ministry. Having sojourned with Quakers and, now, Brethren, I would like to think of myself as fairly simple. My book collection – and yes I mean real paper books – would tell a different story. I love books!
One book I have become especially fond of recently is The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings by Reggie Joiner, Chuck Bomar, & Abbie Smith. You can purchase the book here. The book, written from the perspectives of a senior pastor, a college pastor, and a twentysomething, compels churches to move the finish-line of early Christian discipleship past 18 years old and calls for meaningful, intergenerational relationships as the answer to the “slow fade” of young adults leaving the Church.
In what I would consider the heart of the book, chapters three and four, we’re introduced to three ideas which serve as our framework for engaging with young adults: wonder, discovery, passion. Bomar writes of his two young daughters and how imaginative they are. He remarks on how as we get older our sense of imagination seems to fade. Western Christianity is often uncomfortable with how magical and mysterious our God is but, Bomar asserts, we must recapture “this sense of wonder in our own lives.”
As we get older, we become surer of ourselves and the world around us. As time goes by, we can even get rigid in our understanding. Young adulthood, though, is anything but rigid or certain. A person’s twenties are all about discovery.
Not only is this a time dedicated, largely, to cultivating self-awareness, it is also a time full of many transitions: high school to college, high school or college to the workforce, single to dating, dating to engaged, engaged to married, childless to a parent, and the list goes on. I think the transitory nature of young adulthood is another major reason why embracing discovery is so important. Young adults are not only discovering who they are, they are discovering how to successfully live into these various seasons or stations, of young adulthood.
This season of discovery should never end, according to Bomar. “Too many don’t want to admit this, but embracing our identity in God is never done. …The choice is always before us. Are we willing to remain teachable and continue moving toward discovery?”
Also, as many get older, passion becomes “a faded memory, forgotten like teenage love and letter jackets. …At some point maybe we thought we could impact the world, but now, well, we’ve resigned such childlike thinking” writes Smith. This definitely hits home with me.
As a young pastor, I often have my energy and idealism scoffed at by elders in congregations. People get set in their ways. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the phrase “well, that’s how we’ve always done it.” People frequently see my and other’s idealism as foolish and naïve.
This is particularly the case in my interactions with Baby Boomers – understandably so, however, as they grew up during a time when outspoken idealists were killed at places like the Lorraine Motel and Ambassador Hotel. Sharing one’s passion for new ideas takes vulnerability. Even so, doesn’t the call of the gospel necessitate vulnerability? It is a summons to die, after all. But, that’s for another blog post.
Toward the end of the book, Bomar writes an appendix called A Note to Ministry Leaders. If you didn’t already know Bomar, you learn more of his story here. He was the college pastor at Cornerstone – the southern California church planted by Francis and Lisa Chan – when the college age ministry grew from nine people at a barbeque to over nine hundred meeting at the church each week.
While the “ministry looked great from the outside,” Bomar writes, he began to question what he was doing and came to discern that they needed to shift their focus from programs to relationships. He lays out the following necessary steps for ministry leaders seeking to successfully engage young adults: Define success by relational connection; Help older believers embrace their responsibility; Invest in families; Value difference in a healthy way; Allow college-aged people to have a voice.
Slow Fade is full of valuable advice and is sure to get you thinking. I, for one, am a verbal (linguistic) learner. It is not enough for me to simply read a book. I have to process what I’ve read through more words – via speaking. That’s always better when others are involved in the conversation. So, please take time to converse here on the blog. We shouldn’t have to wait until next weekend to start engaging these topics and addressing these concerns. I look forward to responding to your comments here and to seeing you at Anabaptism, the Next Generation at Bethany April 17-19.
 The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings: David C. Cook (May 1, 2010), 50-52.
 Ibid. 53
 Ibid. 55.
 Ibid. 112-114.
 Ibid 115-121
My journey with the Death Row pen pal project began with a seminar led by Rachel Gross at our church about four years ago. Prison ministry was something that was drawing my heart, but I wasn’t sure how to get involved until Rachel opened the door. There were so many disturbing facts that she shared that I knew this would be a part of my life in a very meaningful way. I first shared with her that I would be interested in having a pen pal that might have difficulty with writing, as I was a learning disability teacher and understood students who have some challenges communicating. Alden Harden was who I was matched with, and he has been an extremely articulate man with a beautiful way of expressing himself especially through poetry.
Our letters went back and forth from North Carolina to Indiana at least once a month. We began with getting to know each other through our daily routines, likes, and dislikes. It is surprising how many common things can be found even with such different surroundings. The common threads throughout our written conversations were respect, genuine interest in each other’s lives, mutual concern, and a deep belief in God. We have shared about our childhood, siblings, parents, youth groups, joys, daily routines, jokes, sermons, disappointments, frustrations, and more.
My husband enjoys photography as a hobby. This has opened up a window for Al that has turned into a blessing for both men. Max searches his pictures, finds several that go together, and writes a little about them with each letter I send. Al has a chance to see, through Max’s camera lens, a whole different world than the confines of the North Carolina prison walls that surround him.
About a year ago Al started sending poems that he had written. I love poetry, and his poems were beautifully written from his heart. I thought he might enjoy seeing them in print, so I typed them and sent them back in my letters. More and more came. Some were very soulful and filled with life-lessons learned, and others were light and whimsical. But all were a beautiful expression of a delightful, loving, caring, dear man sharing himself though poetry. An idea sprang up that we could put these together in a book. Al was so excited about that idea that I began the work of creating a poetry book, using my husband’s photographs of our church worship centers as the illustrations for each piece. Another friend, who had created many books of vacation destinations, shared her work with me, which greatly increased my enthusiasm.
Several hours of editing and rearranging produced a lovely book of Al’s poems with Max’s photos illustrating each one. I purchased two copies. One was sent to Alden Harding at Central Prison in North Carolina, and one went to me in Indiana. Both of us were thrilled with the results. As soon as Al received his book, he asked how he could get more copies, as several folks were interested. For his Christmas gift this year, I sent six copies to his loved ones. It was such a rewarding way to honor this man who had written such amazing work and to provide a way for him to share himself with his family.
A couple months have passed, and more copies are wanted for more folks. I am not sure what shape this project will take, but I do know that I am so grateful to be part of this journey with Al. God can join together two unlikely people with such different backgrounds and create a beautiful friendship and an amazing book of poems.
Where is God in all of this? God is in the stirrings of a heart wanting to serve and connect in an upside-down way. God is giving courage and opening spaces for individuals to share faith stories and personal insights. God is providing respect and honor to the worthiness of each of us and giving opportunities to share with others. This project is connecting the dots of God’s love in action. It is a story about changing lives, attitudes, and hearts into the essence of New Beginnings and touching the fabric of the Easter message.
I would like to close with one of Al’s poems.
Thanks for making my heart smile.
It’s a real pleasure
It’s no way to really measure.
Things you put in print makes me grin.
You’ve become quite the friend.
No, I don’t have many,
Yet your rigorousness has proven plenty.
I love our in-depth talks.
They’re cozy like moonlit walks.
The way we share so many things,
Hurts, pains, future dreams,
Thoughts of you can engulf me for hours.
Capture my mind in translucent powers.
The way you virtually hold my hand.
In this crazy and barren land.
When I lay awake in the bleak of night.
Alone with my thoughts and all wound up tight.
It’s rereading your thoughts
That seems to make all things right.
by Alden Harden
Sue Mock is a member of North Manchester Church of the Brethren (South/Central Indiana District) and an elementary special education teacher in Warsaw, Indiana.
After Sue wrote this article, she received the following words in a letter from Al: “Yes, [the copy of the poetry book Sue sent him for his birthday] actually got here on the 19th, so it made for a lovely gift. Funny, most times, the legal mail person comes around to the pod cell for or rather with our packages such as this. They actually called me to the sergeant’s office to sign for it. Then the sergeant asked to check it out. The lieutenant then got whiff of it and asked to check it out. Said that he thought it was really good and asked if I had another one in the makings. Another sergeant on this rotation actually has hold of it now. I can hardly believe folk think it’s truly good.”