Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Rant About the Usual (Rewritten!)

The Center for Progressive Christianity posted this article by Fred Plumer: Who Will Lead Us? Maybe Our Lay People. The most exciting and important question facing the Christian religion is what it means to be a Christian. The second question is related: how can the resources of Christianity be used to meet the challenges of our time? In short: What is Christianity about?

Fred demonstrates that congregations (with some exceptions) have not been the place to explore
conversation regarding new developments in theology, historical Jesus study, and Christian origins. While we might expect clergy to lead congregations in this direction, they appear resistant to do so (with some exceptions, of course). Even those who want to explore new theological ideas and scholarship have limitations set upon them or set these limitations themselves. Perhaps we clergy have become too institutionalized. Check this:
I suspect the reason may be that clergy do not want to create any unnecessary conflict nor do they want to risk the loss of any church members. But it seems strange to me that the latest thinking about the historical Jesus or about the sometimes twisted roots of the Christian church can be found on the front page of Time or Newsweek magazines and other national publications but these things are seldom being discussed in our churches. It is more than ironic that even though scholars are producing more books and articles challenging us to rethink what it means to be a Christian today, one of the last places you will hear these topics being discussed is in our churches.
Why is this so? Here is my guess: Clergy are trained to be care takers not risk takers. We are chaplains to the flock. We think our task is to provide comforting faith not questioning faith. This is what we think we are paid to do. We are kept, fed, and housed by the same flock. Giving them anything but the same old message is considered either evil, irrelevant, or against our own interests.

Twenty-first century theology is a lay people's movement. I am proud of the courage of a layperson in my first congregation. She wasn't really sure about me but invited me to her home. After a few minutes she pulled her copy of John Dominic Crossan's
Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography out of a desk drawer and showed it to me as if it were a nickle bag of Panama Red. "This is the first person who has ever made sense about Jesus," she whispered.

I wonder when we will reach the tipping point when we no longer have to whisper but can speak openly? It happens as laypeople have these conversations in book studies, retreats, and with their clergy.

It is the people in the pews (and who have left them) who will set the course for the next phase of the Christian tradition. One of the things that laypeople can do now is to encourage ministers to bring this information in their sermons and in their teaching and to support them as they take risks in this effort.

There are many great resources out there that are accessible for non-professionals. The Center for Progressive Christianity is a good place to start.
You don't need a preacher to have a book study. Start your own.

Hat Tip to
Revs Rumbles


  1. I guess the church would seem pretty irrelevant to me too if I thought Jesus Christ was nothing but merely this legendary, composite mythical figure, and the resurrection a huge hoax.

    God have mercy! How could you feel any differently at the last?(I personally, would feel like a charlatan everytime I said the words of institution, and administered holy communion.)

    But, in one area I can agree, no one should be motivated by fear, but by a deep conviction of serving God's truth, and walking that out in love.

    I'm sure I agree that a huge part of the problem is that too many of our clergy simply go into ministry like some folks might go into the banking business.

    They choose to believe, and teach certain doctrines not out of any soul struggle, exploration, or deep conviction of truth, let alone from a relationship with Christ, but simply because it is expected, and expedient for them to do so. And, you're right, they definitely want to keep the peace, and not make waves at any cost.

    Who is better off spiritually, the open,honest heretic, or the lukewarm, orthodox pretender??

    I realize these words must seem pretty blunt, but I'm typing my thoughts as fast as I'm thinking them. If I"m being too judgemental, may the Lord show me, and I'm apologizing in advance if I've wrongly said or offended.


  2. Good post, John! I linked to it as an update on my own post on the same article.

  3. Thanks Fred!

    Thanks Grace! Grace's comment was on my post before it was rewritten. I changed the content, tone, and focus a great deal. So, Grace, if you would like to comment on this revised post, please do!