Out of Context: Will Willimon

"The modern, essentially atheistic mentality despises mystery and considers enchantment and befuddlement an affront to its democratic right to know–and then use–everything for purposes of individual fulfillment. This flattened mind loves lists, labels, solutions, sweeping propositions, and practical principles. The vast, cosmic claims of the gospel get reduced to an answer to a question that consumes contemporary North Americans, though it's hardly ever treated in Scripture: What's in it for me?"

-Will H. Willimon is bishop of the United Methodist Church, Birmingham (Alabama) Area. Taken from "Power Pointless: The way we distill the gospel for presentation can take the life out of it" in the Summer 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.

August 07, 2007

Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments


August 10, 2007  8:46am

I'll admit that I have not read the article from which this snippet was pulled, but my guess is that Bishop Willimon isn't talking about atheists here. I think this is an example of the danger of taking comments/quotes out of context, which we do with Bible verses an awful lot. I believe he's talking about the pervasive need of our society to boil everything down until you have just the basic "need to know" content. I would agree with him that the prevalent method of evangelism is about WII-FM (what's in it for me?) – saving each of our souls. And this then gives permission for us to pursue our desires since we have our base covered. Taken in that context, I agree with his view of North American culture. We've taken the "mystery" out of our journey with God but creating a step-by-step process for "saving a life." It's like we got our directions from Mapquest, now we just need to follow them to reach salvation. But Mapquest seldom takes you through the scenic routes, passes you by the slums and ghettos, or makes you stop in places you don't want to be. It never takes you on the road less travelled. So we miss all that God wants us to see and we seldom allow God to work through us to accomplish his goals for our lives.

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August 09, 2007  3:28pm

I don't think they have a problem with mystery etc. Their main issue of contention is that they need to submit every day of their life to an unseeable unhearable supreme being who deserves their service.

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mike rucker

August 08, 2007  10:59am

...and i would argue that modern evangelical theology "despises mystery" just as much in its attempts to reduce scripture to all black or all white. like the mystery of God being revealed in different ways to different people. like the mystery of seeing scripture as man's heart cry and his attempt to make sense of the world around him rather than a God-dictated treatise to be parsed and diagrammed. i have a piece on my blog about seeing wayne gruden's "systematic theology" in the bookstore, and imagining this three-inch-thick tome next to Jesus' "systematic theology" of loving God and loving your neighbor. the enlightenment's effect on western theology was to do exactly what bishop willimon complains about - remove any enchantment or "befuddlement" and create long parallel outlines for every "-ology" it can come up with. i have no problem with mystery. what i *do* have a problem with is when "mystery" is used in place of "ignorance", eg, even-though-these-verses-are-contradictory-somehow-they're-both-true-and-we'll-all-know-that-one-day. that's not a mystery - that's a mystake :). good to be back with all of you. even you, Melody... :) mike rucker http://escroll.blogspot.com

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August 08, 2007  7:52am

If this isn't a "sweeping proposition" itself, then what is? This is a case of the pot calling the kettle 'black'.

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