Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Report to the Presbytery April 22, 2008

What kind of theology? Claiming a Missional Theology.

I am a theology junky. I love the academic study of theology. Although I was born and raised in a very active church family in a Presbyterian Church, I was never exposed to the academic world of theological study growing up. While in Seminary it is the academic study of theology that captured my heart and blessed me, and it still does. The Presbyterian Church has always made a very important intellectual assumption about church leadership. We assume that the academic study of theology is essential for our pastors and all church leaders.
But we must ask what theology should we study? Like all academic areas of study there is a rich diversity in the world of theology. In my opinion, part of the reason why the Presbyterian Church is so diverse, with such a dizzying array of convictions, perspectives and opinions, is that our church leaders do not have all the same theological grounding. We do not all read the same books. My study of theology has been incredibly diverse and, in some ways, scattered.
I have, of course, carefully studied our Book of Confessions and the historical context of our confessions. The idea of the ‘Invisible Kirk” in the Scots Confession blesses me. I look for and see glimpses of it in our churches. The Confession of 1967’s call to a ministry of reconciliation remains authentic and true for me. I enjoy the Brief Statement of Faith and I have used it extensively in my ministry.
I have studied a lot of church history and the theology of the Reformation Era. I have read a lot of John Calvin. His image of the church and its organization is remarkable. I have learned the important difference between the theology of John Calvin and the theology of Calvinism as it developed in various forms and places.
I have studied a lot of American theology including the American Great Awakenings, the great conflicts in the Presbyterian Church between the Old School and New School, the new light and old light, and the Fundamentalist Modernist controversy before World War Two. I have studied the long history of American evangelical theology. Maybe my favorite theologian is Reinhold Niebuhr. Especially in this election year, it would be good for us all to read Niebuhr again.
I have also studied a lot of Latin American liberation theology and African American liberation theology. In this tradition, Martin Luther King is a very influential American theologian. I appreciate King’s weaving together of American history and the Bible into his concept of the “beloved community.”

My point is this. As I reflect on my own theological education, I realize it is very scattered. One of the great blessings in the church has been the rich diversity of academic theology. One of the great problems, in my opinion, in the church has been the rich diversity of academic theology. There is so much to read and study that church leaders are seldom reading the same things. This, in my opinion, has contributed to our inability to come together theologically with a united heart and mind. Those of us who are immersed in Latin American liberation theology have a difficult time finding anything in common with those of us who are reading American evangelical theology. Those of us who are reading American feminist theology are having a hard time finding anything in common with those of us reading classical European Reformed theology.
From a theological perspective, I am now very excited about the church. I believe there is emerging a new school, a new brand, a new style of academic theology which has the potential to truly bring us together in common conversation. We call it missional theology. I believe missional theology has the ability to truly transcend our culture wars and bring people together. I believe that missional theology, unlike a lot of academic theology, connects theological reflection with the practice of ministry. Missional theology is truly theology for the church. I believe that missional theology is both very biblical and very consistent with our Reformed tradition. I believe that missional theology is also very attractive to young people, especially as it is being discussed in the emergent church movement.
So I bring a modest proposal to us today. Maybe we should start reading some of the same books. Maybe we should try and come together theologically. I suggest the whole genre of missional theology may be a common theme with which we all can connect. I suggest we start with the works of Leslie Newbigin, Darrel Guder and Brian McLaren. Or, for example, we may use the services of Amazon.com where there are 156 titles listed under a search on “missional theology.” Maybe a new theological movement is starting in our midst which, truly, has the potential to bring us together in service to Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Preparation for the 218 General Assembly (Part Two)

I believe our congregations and presbyteries should be seriously considering this call to expand God's mission:

RECOMMENDATION #34 to the 218th General Assembly:

As a result of the Worldwide Mission Consultation[1], “Renewed Call to Presbyterian Mission in the World! Dialogue for Our Shared Future” that was held January 16-18, 2008, in Dallas, Texas, the Moderator, together with the Stated Clerk and the General Assembly Council, recommend that the 218th General Assembly (2008) invite the sessions, middle governing bodies, seminaries, General Assembly Council ministries areas, and all PC(USA)-related mission organizations to affirm and adopt the following invitation:

An Invitation to Expanding Partnership in God’s Mission

As members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) committed to God’s mission, accompanied by global partners, we gathered together January 16-18, 2008, in Dallas, Texas. We acknowledge the rich Presbyterian heritage in world mission and reaffirm the Presbyterian understanding of God’s mission as it is expressed in “Gathering for God’s Future,”

The Good News of Jesus Christ is to be shared with the whole world. As disciples of Jesus Christ, each of us in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is sent into the world to join God’s mission. As individuals and as a church, we are called to be faithful in this discipleship. Our mission is centered in the triune God. Our mission is God-called, Christ-centered, and Spirit-led. Our mission is both proclamation and service; it is the reason the church exists. …

Our renewed call from God is to face the challenges of witnessing and evangelizing worldwide, equipping the church for transforming mission, engaging in ministries of reconciliation, justice, healing and grace, and living the Good News of Jesus Christ in community with people who are poor, [persecuted, and living in the midst of violence]…

The church is part of God’s plan. We are called into the community of the church, and we call new disciples into that community. With Christ as our head, the church community exists for the sake of God's mission. We learn to serve in mission in a way that is faithful to the triune God. We are to model the kind of community God intends for all humanity. To be the church is to be one large mission society. [PC(USA), “Gathering for God’s Future: Witness, Discipleship, Community: A Renewed Call to Worldwide Mission,” 2003, pp. 1, 16. Text in brackets is added.]

Grounded in this theological foundation we realize that God is calling us to new patterns of mission. The world has changed, and the majority of the world’s Christians are now in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The great growth and mission faithfulness of the Church outside the West invite us into a new posture. We must listen and learn to receive. We must also be open to new patterns of collaboration. These new patterns involve new cooperation and partnerships within the PC(USA).

I. We recognize that God calls us to mission that is grounded in confession of our sins, grows out of a life of prayer and is sustained in worship. Therefore, we covenant to live and serve together in God’s mission according to the following values:
1. Trusting in the Holy Spirit and trusting in one another as each discerns how God is moving us in mission. (Acts 10)
2. Doing mission in the way of Jesus who humbled himself, showing the way of self-giving and self-emptying. (Philippians 2)
3. Seeking to be faithful to God as we live and proclaim the fullness of Jesus Christ’s good news; personal witness to those outside the church, justice for the oppressed, and compassion for those in need. We accompany others in their efforts to be faithful. (Luke 4)
4. Affirming the complementary nature of God’s gifts to all in the one body of Christ and encouraging one another in living out those gifts. (1 Corinthians 12)
5. Recognizing our responsibility to each other by communicating openly, acting transparently, and speaking and hearing the truth in love. (Ephesians 4)
6. Striving in our mission to be aware of the context out of which we come, to respect the persons with whom we labor, and to honor the context in which they live. In an era of massive global inequalities we commit ourselves to be sensitive to and address the issues of power that result from our differences. (Philippians 2)
7. Valuing long-term relationships, partnerships characterized by perseverance and long-term commitments, which support and encourage global partners. (1 Thessalonians 2)

II. We seek to live out these mission values with humility, integrity, and steadfastness. Recognizing that God invites us all to be full participants in God’s mission, we commit ourselves to work cooperatively with one another in the following ways:
1. We will affirm and encourage World Mission as it continues to move from a regulatory role to a more enabling and equipping role.
2. We will celebrate and encourage diverse Presbyterian approaches and structures for mission while maintaining the unity of our participation in God’s mission.
3. We will share responsibility for the education and preparation of all Presbyterians for mission.
4. We commit ourselves to seeking more mission personnel who will serve long-term in cross-cultural contexts through the PC(USA), and to supporting them fully.
5. We commit ourselves to enabling and supporting our global partners as they send their mission personnel in cross-cultural service.
6. We recognize and affirm the growing opportunity for cross-cultural mission in our own increasingly pluralistic and multicultural society, and we receive the global community from near and far as mission partners and God’s gift to us. We seek increased integration between local and global mission.

III. As we move forward together in God’s mission, we commit ourselves to calling the church to ongoing intercessory prayer for God’s mission and to the following tasks:
1. We will form a coordinating committee to ensure that we will meet together to share and cooperate on a regular basis.
2. During the coming year we will work to address two immediate priorities:
a. to coordinate and collaborate in the sending of mission personnel;
b. to expand Presbyterian funding for mission personnel.
3. During the next three months we will share this document and invitation with our constituencies.

IV. With bold humility we invite those who would covenant with us to join in this new collaborative model of Presbyterian mission, and we ask for encouragement, for guidance and for prayer, remembering Jesus’ own prayer:

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)

[1] The Dallas Mission Consultation’s website is at http://www.pcusa.org/calltomission/about.htm.
The presentations made at the conference are available at http://www.pcusa.org/calltomission/papers.htm#top.
This “Invitation to Expanding Partnership in God’s Mission” is also available at http://www.pcusa.org/calltomission/read-invite.htm.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Preparation of General Assembly (2008), Part One

General Assembly (2008), Part One

I begin here a series of occasional articles in preparation for the meeting of our General Assembly this June 2008. Once again all the business at the General Assembly will be transacted electronically. Everyone wanting to participate in the proceedings of the meeting must connect with the web-based program PC-biz which can be found at the home page of the General Assembly meeting (www.pc-biz.org). I have found this program to work very well; it is easy to navigate and easy to find information.

There is already a long list of business items which the General Assembly will address. This includes 81 different overtures and 10 different recommendations and reports. The overtures have not yet been assigned to individual committees. By scanning the list of overtures, we may gather a sense of what will be the vital topics before this year’s Assembly.

At the top of the list of important business items is Recommendation One from the Form of Government Taskforce which was distributed in paper-copy across the church months ago. This is a very important recommendation which offers a complete re-writing of the Form of Government, the largest section of our Book of Order. This Recommendation is now available at PC-Biz as Recommendation One. This Recommendation has already sparked fourteen overtures. (Overtures concerning the Form of Government Taskforce Report: 16, 34, 43, 47, 49, 57, 58, 59, 61, 67, 68, 71, 72, 81).

As I scan the list of overtures these topics also seem very important:
Overtures concerning the Taskforce Report on Peace, Unity and Purity (Overtures 5, 28, 44, 83).

Overtures concerning the Middle East (Overtures 6, 26, 31, 52, 63, 75).

Overtures concerning the Book of Order G-6.0106b (Overtures 9, 11, 17, 40, 46, 61, 60, 69).

In addition, I highlight several Recommendations which may be important action items for us to review in preparation for the General Assembly:

Recommendation Five, a policy paper on U.S. energy policy, The Power to Change: U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming.

A list of several recommendations concern the administration and organization of the General Assembly Council:
Recommendation 23 is a comprehensive Mission Funding strategy;
Recommendation 25 is a large amendment concerning financial issues that is proposed to be added to the General Assembly Council’s Organization for Mission;
Recommendation 29 is a simple proposal to change the name of the General Assembly Council to the General Assembly Mission Council;
Recommendation 31 is a proposed General Assembly Council Mission Work Plan for 2009-2012;
Recommendation 32 proposes revisions to the General Assembly Council Manual of Operations;
Recommendation 33 proposes a revised General Assembly Council Organization for Mission;

In response to the influential mission conference held in Dallas in January, Recommendation 34 proposes the church affirm and adopt “An Invitation to Expanding Partnership in God’s Mission” which was written as the concluding affirmation at the mission conference.

Recommendation 35 is a proposed policy statement of serious mental illness.

Recommendation 37 is a proposed policy statement on homelessness.

Recommendation 40 proposes a Social Creed for the Twenty-First Century which builds on the
historical foundation of the Social Creed of the Churches which was first adopted in 1908, one hundred years ago.

Recommendation 41 proposes approving the report, Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Book Review: Jim Wallis, The Great Awakening

Book Review: Jim Wallis. The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America. (Harper One, 2008).

In this most recent book from Sojourners founder, Jim Wallis, there is a foundational thesis, reflected in his title The Great Awakening, which church leaders today should ponder seriously. Wallis argues that we are beginning a time of sweeping religious renewal and transformation in America. In the Foreward to the book, President Jimmy Carter prepares the way for Wallis’ thesis by arguing that “there is an almost unprecedented serious and persistent division among us – with faith and politics intertwined as never before in creating disharmony.” (page x). In some ways Carter may be accurately describing the Presbyterian Church with our persistent disharmony around issues of polity. And so Carter sets the stage for Wallis to ask if we are poised to move from a time of disharmony to a new revival. Wallis then begins his book with an introduction titled, “Something is Happening.” “Something is happening. Faith is being applied to social justice in ways that we might have never imagined just a few short years ago. Spiritual power is being harnessed to address the greatest social challenges that we face today.” (page 1).
As a student of American Christian history, I picked up Wallis’ book because of the title, The Great Awakening. In American Church history the phrase Great Awakening is used to refer to two different eras which experienced significant religious renewal and a lot of turmoil. This is old American history which we commonly do not pay much attention to today. These eras of Great Awakening in the American history were also very traumatic times for the Presbyterian Church. Our church had major theological battles in response to these influential renewal movements. Actually these historic, theological battles in the Presbyterian Church were much more divisive, bitter and destructive than the polity battles we are fighting today. The Old School versus New School conflicts, and the New Light versus Old Light conflicts in Presbyterian history were nasty theological traumas for our church.
Although not specifically referring to the Presbyterians, it is the long history of Great Awakening that Wallis wants to connect his thesis into. He argues that what is happening today in Christian America is the latest expression of Great Awakening. His thesis is very compelling and we need to ponder the implications of living through an era of Great Awakening. Is Wallis correct?
Indeed, Wallis begins his book by embedding his thesis in the history of spiritual renewal in America. “There have been other periods in history when faith tangibly changed things. Often called “Great Awakenings”, they are times when the revival of faith alters societies.” (page 2). Wallis then goes on quickly to outline the American religious history of great awakenings. The First Great Awakening was in the 1730s and 1740s and involved huge personalities like Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, George Whitefield and John Wesley. This religious movement shook the young America colonies. The Second Great Awakening was a century later in the 1830s. This religious movement was intertwined with serious social issues including abolition, women’s rights and all the complex issues which fed into the Civil War. Wallis then goes on to claim the Social Gospel movement of the early 19th century as another expression of great awakening. Although in academic theology the Social Gospel movement is not usually named a Great Awakening, Wallis is correct to see it within the long historical flow of powerful spiritual movements in America. Interestingly, Wallis moves forward in American history and considers the “black church’s leadership of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s as another great awakening of faith.” (page 2).
Wallis briefly outlines this American history in the first pages on his book in order to ask whether we are now poised for a new great awakening. It is a very important question. Of course, I may sarcastically reply that every era wants to believe that their particular era is of utmost importance and power. Before moving forward through Wallis’ book to consider his litany of social issues which people of faith should respond to with a new authenticity, it would be good to stop and ask this foundational question: Are we living into a new era of great awakening? Are we living into a unique period in history when people of faith step up in a special way to rally the resources of our spiritual lives and our faith communities to respond to the pressing problems of our world? May it be so for our Presbyterian Church.

Harrisburg Mission Initiative

March 5, 2008

Harrisburg Mission Initiative
The Mission Advocacy Committee of the Presbytery of Carlisle called an open meeting of the Presbytery to discuss our mission work in inner city Harrisburg. The meeting was moderated by Executive Presbyter Mark Englund-Krieger and Elder Skip Becker, chair of the Mission Advocacy Committee.

We discussed the theological relationship between mission, evangelism and social justice. What is the unique role of the church in the city? What is unique about the church’s mission? How do we do mission in the name of Jesus? There were several different perspectives on these questions. The theological foundation for our mission work needs further discussion.

What is the unique role which the Presbytery brings to this mission work in addition to what our individual congregations are doing? There was general consensus around the idea of the Presbytery serving as a connecting and communicating function: connecting congregations together in mission, and communicating mission opportunities throughout the presbytery.

As is true in all our mission work now, there was extensive discussion about the need to identify and communicate hands-on, participatory mission projects in which our congregations may be involved. An important role of the presbytery is communicating these opportunities.

Particularly given that Harrisburg is the state capital, what is the role of the church in political advocacy? Our mission work in the city touches upon complex economic and political questions? How does the church respond to these larger political and social issues? There seemed to some consensus that our presbytery has pulled back from political advocacy. This needs further discussion.

There was general consensus that the presbytery does not have a good understanding of or participation with the mission projects we currently support through our mission grants. The Mission Advocacy Committee will continue to raise the profile of our mission work in the city. It was mentioned that the Presbytery has a ministry initiative, led by Suzi Souder, looking the whole question of communication, and a taskforce studying specifically ways to revise and improve our website.

There were a number of specific issues in Harrisburg and specific mission organizations and programs discussed:

After School Tutoring Program: The Harrisburg Public Schools are rated the worst in Pennsylvania. One response we are involved with in the after school tutoring program which Derry Church supports weekly. There is always a need for more tutors and more support. For information contact (the presbytery office). (NOTE: Email addresses are omitted from the blogged version.)

The Check-up Center: This is a free, medical clinic in the heart of one of the poorest areas in Harrisburg. For information contact (the presbytery office).

Susquehanna Harbor, Inc.: The fruits of a long, ecumenical effort have proved fruitful with the acquisition of a large, government grant (H.U.D.) to build a new homeless shelter in Harrisburg. This work is being led by Christian Churches United. As this project develops there will be a great need for volunteers and support. This was identified as an excellent mission project for our churches. For information contact (the presbytery office).

The Allison Hill Fund: A fundraising effort being coordinated by Rick Woodard, Camp Hill Church, to raise funds for ten different mission organizations in Allison Hill. For information contact (the presbytery office.)