return to religion-onlineNature of the Church
When does pluralism cease being Christian and become a polite word for compromising the faith? To sort out our thinking on pluralism, we need to discover whether the church grows as a tower or as a vine. All churches are branches called to bear the fruit Christ alone gives.
Jacob's Well is an emergent church whose history remains elusive. Jason Byassee writes how this church is unique and seems to be postevangelical, postliberal, postconservative, and postmodern.
(ENTIRE BOOK) Professor Hall 'thinks the faith' from within the North American cultural and ecclesial context. His theological work is not a timeless abstraction, but a rigorous attempt to engage Christian faith with social and historical actuality so that the gospel may be more faithfully proclaimed and lived.
The authorís contact with a wedding in a "Biker Society" surprised him with the care, concern and empathy each had for the other. Christianity could learn a lesson here, for we need the church as these bikers seemed to need each other. Christianity is not a solo activity.
Patterns of giving are uncertain and institutional loyalties are shaky. This is a recipe for financial turmoil. According to Wuthnow, the churches’ fiscal woes stem from a spiritual problem that demands a pastoral response.
The author reviews five books about congregations. All of them take pains to say that congregational size is not a measure of success or failure. But the implicit message is unmistakable: congregations must come to terms with their changing social contexts or pay the price of numerical decline.
The most important change for my work is the polarization between left and right in both Protestantism and Catholicism and the decline of a center rooted in communal traditions. I keep hoping that evangelicals will not think my work compromises their emphases on the love of Jesus and on biblical authority, and that liberals will not suppose it is inconsistent with intellectual openness or commitment to peace and justice.
(ENTIRE BOOK) By analyzing attitudes about church and family and by illustrating how our "biblical values" are often too closely related to the "American Dream," Fishburn offers sharp insights into the changes currently underway in our culture, churches, and families. Fishburn proposes a new agenda for the church -- an agenda that can create a healthy context for traditional and non-traditional families.
The author describes some of the dynamics and elements that are required for a church to become truly inclusive.
The author describes some of the dynamics and elements that are required for a church to become truly inclusive.
A new covenant which recharacterizes the nature of of God, church and world is not simply a restatement of conventional Western assumptions; it requires drastically new affirmations.
The author describes the elements that go into creating an open and welcoming church.
There is something wildly ironic about Christians’ protesting that the Unification Church’s demands that members turn over all worldly goods to the church are sinister, and that its members must be unbalanced to comply. Sun Myung Moon’s revelation calls forth real commitment, but commitment to a messiah without a cross who confirms us in our cultural predilections.
To renew theological thinking in the church will not immediately end its statistical decline. It may even drive out some who are now members. But in the long run it would reinvigorate the church and develop a core of membership that can carry the church through its decline and provide a basis for new health and even growth.
Robert Schuller’s gift to today’s church is to be found largely in his genius for winning a hearing from the unchurched. Regardless of our theology or our politics or our location, we can learn from him.
The greatest challenge facing oldline Protestantism today is whether within our life and thought we will welcome movements that buck the currents of establishmentarianism, Christendom and modernity and that call the church to speak once again the "language of dissent" to a culture and church of compliance and consumption.
Denominations have applied their energies to saving themselves through new structures, new curricula, new evangelism materials, new approaches to the role of the pastor and the people. But whatever benefits may have accrued, these efforts have apparently had little impact on the membership and dollar trends, which seem to have a life of their own. The church does much better when it functions as its founder envisioned -- as salt or leaven -- rather than when it attempts to be the whole loaf.
The type of growth proposed by the fountainhead of the movement, the Institute for Church Growth, is not to be undertaken to the detriment of other aspects of Christian life and witness.
A review of two books on the changing church. In a time when we are accustomed to speed, the flash of the Internet and the thrill of consumption, let the church, its function and itís worship, never be trivial.
The church is far too often not the Good Samaritan, but the priest and the Levite passing by on the other side. A Lady Bountiful attitude which assumes that the church’s ministry is to the disabled -- rather than with them -- misses the gospel’s whole point.
An enumeration of the crucial contributions mainline churches have to make to Christian life and an outlining of a strategy for maintaining vitality.
It is now time for the liberal churches to come out of their corner fighting, to declare boldly and without apology for their own option. Five rejections of the old liberal church and five affirmations of the new are chronicled.
The author discusses two books he considers most important: A New Kind of Christian and A Generous Orthodoxy, both by Brian McLaren. McLarenís vision is that each of us, whatever our theology, old or new, will learn something of Jesus from one another that we would otherwise have missed.
Churches often seem to lag behind secular institutions in opening their doors -- in every way -- to the handicapped. It is time to respond affirmatively. Several major denominations have led the way in adopting statements voicing church concern for persons with handicaps. We within the churches must act on those statements, opening our doors -- in every way.
Sometimes itís necessary for an institution to die in order to live. A wise church that is set in its ways will give up itís traditions and die that a new generation will re-create it into one that is contemporary.
As "ministry" has become increasingly the task of all Christians, Trotter explores why the church ordains ministers, and how this relates to the unity of all Christians. While this seems to be a paradox, we find a case of surprising power for the ordained ministry as a mark of the continuity of the Church. Working from the dilemma in the Old Testament, Trotter points to ordination as a way of ensuring the integrity of the church through time.
Neither academic theology nor popular Christian thinking typically deal with the most urgent issues facing humanity and the world.†† Because of the remoteness of the academic discussion from the pressing concerns within the church, the church has in fact looked elsewhere for solutions to its problems. Thus we must reflect about what it means to think and act as Christians.† The author looks at how could we can do this in the church.
More and more people who would otherwise have belonged to liberal, mainline churches are going to be “born again” out of television’s experiential womb. I see nothing that the liberal churches can do to stop it or change the evangelicals to become more like liberals.
The author describes some practical aspects of helping a local church become truly "open."
Ten years after its publication, Underwood’s study still has an essential vision that is painfully appropriate for achieving a holistic concept of ministry in the decade ahead. The only effective witness for the unity and catholicity we seek is that given by a Christian community which itself is overcoming its divisions and parochial mentality.
The church has been abandoning its strategic locations within city cores and traditional neighborhoods and trying to create a new kind of society in the form of suburban megachurches. We have come to view the particularities of functioning in the midst of the city (restricted parking, unsympathetic neighbors and pushy transients) as inconveniences rather than as opportunities for ministry.
Berger describes how the mainline Protestant churches have continued to be the home-of-choice for the middle class, but how this cultural captivity is also one of the reasons for the decline of these same mainline denominations.
The church's structure often seems to have lost its original purpose. New church styles sometimes result in forgetting cardinal values and forsaking critical vision. For example, a church that abandons its youth programs, abolishes its campus ministry, and abrogates its commitment to higher education probably shouldn't be surprised when young people don't find the church useful in providing shade or substance to their lives.
In the light of oldline Protestant churches’ losses of membership and influence, William McKinney briefly traces their "disestablishment," and suggests if these churches are to have hope of reversing the trend, they will need to address five issues, including mission agencies, funding of programs, support of congregations, understanding denominational culture and sharing methods of coping.
There is a basis for a renewed confidence that is reappearing in the church. Signs of renewed life are discernible in a host of vital and renewed congregations.
Jason Byassee discusses the complex and confusing divisions within The Episcopal Church.† The splits are over interpretations of doctrine, salvation, scripture, homosexuality, womenís ordination and includes additional divisions within each of these issues.
In a time of a global transformation of consciousness, the church needs to engage the world based on its radical roots in God's revelation, but informed by current views of the nature of reality. Also, the hierarchical structure of governance needs to be reformed into a more democratic one.
The church of the living God needs men and women who will expect great things from God and attempt great things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hall addresses with the question How shall we be able to fashion our life as the community of Christ's disciples (after all, our only raison d'être), and how shall we carry on as a missionary faith, in a world that is multicultural and pluralistic? His answer suggests new understandings of "One," "Holy," "Catholic," and "Apostolic."
The form of the church is forever in process. This realization raises some historical questions. How did the church evolve into its present shape? What historic forces molded it? What new forces are at work? How adequate is the present shape for what the church conceives its task to be? What will the church of the future look like? The institutional shape of the church in history is always determined by the attitude of the world toward that which the church professes.
(ENTIRE BOOK) Marcus Braybrooke guides us through the various forms of Christian beliefs and practices. He asks for understanding of the vast differences between various Christian approaches. His hope is that this writing will be a doorway to the Christian world for the non-believer and the believer.
Without both heights and depths, the gospel offered by Joel Osteen, the smiling preacher, on the TV screen is simply the same platitude over and over. The church has much more to offer than that.
Paul cautions Christians against legalistic protests; he challenges us to repent of our rigid conceptions of truth and to turn to Christ and find in him both the pattern of life and the gospel of faith. Anyone who thinks he or she knows all things -- whether in innocence or in arrogance -- in fact does not know enough of God and his messiah.
The Bible has found a congenial home among people who identify with the social and economic realities it portrays. Wile a literal interpretation finds great support in the Global South, in economic terms the interpretation is inclined to be more progressive.
(ENTIRE BOOK) Supported by intensive research, Dr. Niebuhr reevaluates the role of the church in American life and its relationship to the seminary. He arrives at a fresh concept of the ministry, and restates the idea of the theological school.
The Christians groups of the world are pleagued by sectarianism, which is the affirmation by one particular communion that it is right and all the others are wrong. This attitude shows how completely the pride and opinion of men, rather than the Holy Spirit, rule in the consciousness of Christian people. Would that all communions might stress penitence, rather than pride!
The majority of the laity are loyal churchmen, but at the same time, they do not see themselves as the special people of God who have a secular task to perform for his whole people.
Stewart's review of Miroslav Volf's book After Our Likeness describes Volf's perspective in identifying what makes a congregation a Christian church as "unflagging congregationalism." Volf's rigorous ecclesiology is rooted in the theology of the Trinity, and presents a challenge to the ecclesiologies of Catholic, Orthodox and most mainline Protestant churches.
Hauerwas began seeking to recover the importance of virtue and the virtues and ended up with the church.
In reformed traditions, the church is both a fully human community--all churches, says Calvin, are "blemished," and also Christ's very body. Wheeler examines the questions: what is the body of Christ called to do? What is its purpose? To tell the truth; and to "stay put."
Our distinctive liberal contribution is denied when we become simply custodial liberals, caretakers doing minor janitorial maintenance or cosmetic repairs on what we have inherited.
The wedding industry is an $80 billion business. These books offer many insights including historical background, the contemporary wedding scene and stories about weddings.
The author reviews a book on the nature of the church written by Christine Pohl. Hospitality in the church is central to the Christian tradition.
An evaluation of Rick Warren's two books, The Purpose Driven Church and the Purpose Driven Life. The author evaluates the concepts behind Warren and his fastest growing church in American history.
Our churches are lukewarm because they do not have convincing teachings that are evidently of great importance. The teachings that once carried this weight have been exposed as morally ambiguous and sometimes positively destructive: repression of sexuality, support of racism, repression of women, destruction of the earth. We have responded by regretting those teachings and making modest changes in behavior and doctrine. The result has been the sense of believing less with less confidence. The alternative is to think through the meaning of the challenges to past practices and doctrines to the point where a new vision arises. To stop halfway, clinging to the old while making concessions to the demands for change, is to insure lukewarmness and continuing decline.
The challenge of pluralism is to think through our understanding of Christ so that we see Christ's ultimate importance in ways that do not block our deepest appreciation of other traditions. We can do that as we understand that that appreciation is itself Christ's work, and that Christ leads us beyond appreciation to learning and being transformed by what we learn.
The goal of increasing production and consumption profoundly misdirects energies. It is far more important to provide every individual a recognized and dignified role in the community and to find ways to work out the inevitable conflicts of community life without violence and alienation. Christ does not command us to avoid controversy. Nor does Christ insist that we be successful by the standards of the market. Christ does call us to recognize that we cannot serve both God and Mammon and to choose God.
One congregation's attempt at reaching people for whom belief is problematic includes publishing a series of leaflets aimed for them. The following is a sample.
It may be that the theologically bankrupt Western, liberal, secularized church is incapable of dealing with the matters of mission, gloalization and context from a Christian perspective.