A Big Can of Worms
David Swanson reports on opening events from the National Pastors Convention.

David Swanson agreed to leave frozen Chicagoland to labor in sunny San Diego at this year's National Pastors Convention. He'll be sending us updates throughout the week of the goings on there. This is his first post.

I arrived at the National Pastors Convention in California a day early to catch one of the pre-conference seminars: Emerging Critical Issues Facing the Church. (For this Midwesterner, the sunny blue skies of San Diego were another reason to come early.) The seminar featured four panelists - Scot McKnight, Phyllis Tickle, Andy Crouch, and Tony Jones - addressing four critical issues: the role of Scripture, the church and politics, homosexuality, and religious pluralism.

These issues are as controversial as they are critical. This was clear from the spirited conversation between the panelists, the passionate questions and comments from the audience, and our moderator's repeated requests for civil interaction. Allow me to summarize two of these conversations.

Scot McKnight introduced the section on the role of Scripture. "Since high school, I've been perplexed about how we [Christians] read the Bible," he began. Specifically, Scot was puzzled by how we decide what parts of the Bible were for "then" and what is for "now." He went on to define four ways Christians make these decisions. The "return to restore" method believes we can return to a New Testament form of Christianity in order to restore the Biblical texts to their original meanings. A less idealistic version of this is the "return and retrieve" method, through which the reader approaches the text in order to decide what can be retrieved for our lives today. The panelists agreed that every Bible reader does this to some degree. The question, of course, is how we decide what to retrieve and what to leave behind. Still others approach the Scriptures through his or her "sacred tradition," allowing their particular tradition to shape their understanding of the text. Finally, Scot described the "primacy of Scripture" method of biblical interpretation. Rather than reading through the lens of tradition, this method reads with tradition. Scot believes this is the most helpful way of reading the Bible, for it allows the church to be constantly reforming.

If Scot is right that we read the Bible in these different ways, and if he's correct that reading with tradition is the ideal, then how do we preachers and teachers help our church members read this way? Is it enough to allow our preaching and teaching to be formed by the primacy of Scripture, or must we be more blatant in explaining our methodology?

February 27, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 25 comments

Sara

April 01, 2008  12:14pm

Rich: We are not called to be perfect and holy and blameless. We are called to love others and to come as we are, without judging others that we don't know. It is then that we receive grace and forgiveness. We judge and rebuke others that we DO know – Christians – because we are to hold each other accountable. If you find my method a little rough, that is your perception. And Christians CAN use sarcasm and satire to make a point, especially those who "claim" to be believers. Seems I tweaked a nerve with you, sweetie. But be very careful how you go about ministering to others lest you lose out meeting some fascinating souls. Don't forget that we are all eternal beings (C.S. Lewis). Until then, see you on the other side. I'm sure you'll find many surprises. S Deut. 6:4,5; Lev. 19:18; Mt. 12:29-31 " 'Hear, O Israel, The LRD our GD, the LRD is one. Love the LRD your GD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength... Love your neighbor as yourself' There is no commandment greater than these." Matthew 21:31-32 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him."

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Tehrelle

March 05, 2008  10:47pm

i just want to say that Jesus said drink from my water and you will never be thirsty again so if you accept his gift of salvation you will always be saved. am i right? well it is our duty as brothers and sisters in the body to edify each other. so if someone doesn't acknowledge that he or she is in sin then we should make it known to them so they can maybe change... all i see this topic as is something that will separate the church it's tearing us apart. we cannot lose sight of love. the reason that a new church is emerging is because the broken and lost are rejected and the ones who want them saved are those of the new church. segregation is back and its not in the schools for a race issue its in our churches with the kids your grew up with and they are sad beyond belief

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Nate

March 05, 2008  10:30pm

Sara, I also love my church because people are not afraid to be real and don't have to be perfect. As someone who works with sexually broken people, I can say that I believe sexuality is deeply important to who we are as humans. Jesus showed great compassion for sexually broken people. We can talk about whether homosexuals are sexually broken (I happen to think they are); but if God is indeed calling people out of homosexuality, then it isn't because he is angry, but because he is compassionate. All this being said, I really agree with where you are starting: God calls us to love our neighbors. And we love because he first loved us, not because he threatens us into submission. I hope I can love in the same way you aspire to.

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Rich

March 05, 2008  6:05pm

In responce to Sara, your generation is not leaving the church in droves in fact the Evangelical Church is thriving because they teach truth concerning scripture. And they are not saying get your act together before you come to God we all come to him sin and all, but upon coming we confess our sin and repent of them. Your sarcasm concerning Lev. and Paul is surprising coming from one who claims to be a believer. Do we throw those scriptures out because our culture has "evolved" beyond them? God forbid, let me cling to his words all of them rather than the winds of cultural change. You mention treatment of blacks, but true believers could not condone the slavery of blacks in this country, it was scripture twisted to fit what sin people wanted to justify. The beards and calling ourselves people of the way, outwardly , surface things, not the things of the heart God is looking for. Take away the scriptures about Homosexuality and view Gods creation on its own and you'll see Homosexuality is unnatural, our bodies were not made for it, any Doctor can tell you that. Lets stop making God in our image, he is a God of love but also a jealous God, a Just God, a Holy God and a God of Wrath among countless other attributes.

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Rich

March 04, 2008  4:57pm

In responce to Ericpo, God doesnt care what we eat, he wants our hearts. And comparing Homosexuality to Illegal Aliens is well, not in the same ballpark. Yes it is true Christ died for the "sins" of us all, I dont know an Evangelical that would argue with that, but its when we come to him sin and all with all the baggage of our lives and lay it at his feet in repentence, that we are to turn from that sin, and that goes for the adulterer, the thief, the liar, the drug addict, the one addicted to porn etc. as well as the homosexual. Without an acknowledgment of the sin and repentence there can be no forgivness and grace. And no place in God's Kingdom.

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Sara

March 04, 2008  2:53pm

"should gay members of your congregation be allowed some opportunity of leadership? At what level?" this sounds like "should we allow the children to ride elephants during the sermon?" there is a lot of don't-ask-don't-tell going on in churches. we have become so afraid of being honest with each other and being real that no one will let any one in any more. one reason I like my church is because the music group I play in is full of "real" people. I hate defining them as that. but there are too many churches full of the usual self-perfecting congregations who believe you have to clean up before you can get through the doors. this is why my generation is leaving in droves. homosexuality is a hot-button and it shouldn't be. it is becoming less and less of an issue with my generation and the next one coming up. cue: you can begin warming up your Bibles to start quoting from Paul and Leviticus now. south africa condoned apartheid for decades, citing the biblical stories of Cain and Noah as the "mark" placed by G-d and by the curse from Noah, thus creating the black race. slavery was condoned for years because of verses in the Bible. women and their places in leadership (or lack of places in leadership), inability to own property, keeping quiet in church, and being a physically and mentally weaker sex because of verses in the Bible. financial prosperity is condoned by numerous preachers due to a select few verses in the Bible and woe to those who do not believe because it is their lack of faith. And then there is 'biblical' marketing... we often read what we wish to read. I have not read anything regarding homosexuality from Christ, for or against. really, he spoke more on the Kingdom of Heaven and money more than anything. I think these were far more important, so I've focused more on showing Christ to those who need him than focusing on someone's sexuality. I have seen many circumstances and issues "change" due to culture and time. we no longer stone non-virgins, grow our beards long, or call ourselves 'people of the way'. we even adorn our places of worship with one of the ghastliest ornaments of torture known in history. homosexuality may be one of those things that is changing. I accept my homosexual brethren and sisters because I am told that I am to love my neighbors as myself. I cannot judge them because this is a gray area for me and because I have a hard time seeing G-d as some angry Zeus character. let the casting of stones begin.

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ericpo

March 01, 2008  11:19pm

You can tell a lot about a community by who is really allowed at the communion table and who is not. Evangelicals in particuliar and I attend such a community are particularly good at deceiving themselves that their table is open. It isn't. We tell gays and lesbians that they are sinful and God isn't near them as long as they 'practice their sin'. Yet, these same people will sit down on Sabbath to a pork dinner. Because after all Jesus' made all unclean things clean! Evangelicals claim homosexuality is something to be purged because it is sinful. But these are the same folks that say we must keep foreign people out of our borders and kick people off of welfare. The very things that got Israel into exile and Sodom destroyed! And in the same sermon will claim that Jesus died for all of us! There is something unholy about the very nature of the evangelical conversation right now. Does justice, mercy, and faithfulness matter anymore? Are we so selective in our process and orthopraxis that we have strayed from the simple message of salvation through Christ. Have we determined as a Church that salvation is achieved only through the conservative societal lense and not through Christ himself? Have we made God so small that we have determined that He cannot possibly see Gays and Lesbians through Christ while they live out their lives 'in sin'. Is our answer that salvation is for those who meet the conservative evangelical model of perfection? If so, then who can be saved? I know I sure can't! Last time I checked John 13 still was in play. I didn't read in John 12 or John 14 any comments like, 'and Jesus said oh yeah but I did not lay my life down for Gays, Lesbians. Liberals, Welfare Moms, Gang Member, Deadbeat, dads, Drug users or pushers, illegal aliens, convicts,or who people who cheat on their spouses'. Last time I checked we all could call on Him.

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Lacey

February 29, 2008  4:25pm

It's always interesting to me that we as a culture talk about such controversial topics on blogs but a large portion of churches are not willing to preach or discuss on the holiness of sex in marriage. Maybe that is why people have such a distorted view of sexuality and turn to sinful natures of adultery, pornography, homosexuality, etc. We let the media shape people's mind instead of preaching on the hard topics because we don't want to step on anyone's toes.

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Nate

February 28, 2008  10:48pm

Why do we want churches to be safe places to worship? Light and truth and mercy are risky and dangerous and threatening.

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Carl Holmes

February 28, 2008  2:50pm

Why is homosexuality the ultimate test of deciding who can be in leadership and who can not? What about a person in leadership who is exposed as being addicted to pornography? What about an adulterer? In the latter two cases many times pastors or leadership are allowed to stay provided that they work on restoration. (of course this varies some) Why not work the same way with homosexuality? Homosexuality is a sin, we know that. We know that ultimately we are to work at loving the sinner and helping them be restored to being more like Christ. The question really being asked here is "will the church be mute about homosexuality, or will they look at it the same as any other sin?" What Tony Jones and the others in the Emergent movement are articulating is (at least I think) a position of love and acceptance to the homosexual who feels they would never fit in a church. Ultimately them being allowed into leadership is a church by church decision. Only the local body will know the character of the person, where they are with God, how they are working on the sins in their life etcetera.

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