Stephen Rankin

Author's details

Name: Stephen Rankin
Date registered: September 27, 2012
URL: http://stephenrankin.com

Latest posts

  1. Rankin File: Exposing Bad Thinking: An Illustration of Why Method Matters — October 4, 2014
  2. Rankin File: Methods: More than Sharing Stories and Naming Sources — October 1, 2014
  3. Rankin File: Why I Don’t Like Labels: A Personal Story — September 27, 2014
  4. Rankin File: The Annual Conference is Still the Basic Unit and Why It Really Matters — September 23, 2014
  5. Rankin File: Cal State, InterVarsity and Religious Discrimination — September 15, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. Rankin File: What We Tolerate, What We Don’t — 1 comment
  2. Rankin File: Pressure Points on the Itinerancy — 1 comment

Author's posts listings

Oct 04 2014

Rankin File: Exposing Bad Thinking: An Illustration of Why Method Matters

Original post at http://stephenrankin.com/exposing-bad-thinking-illustration-method-matters/


My most recent post spoke to the importance of good method in having arguments.  I follow up here with a specific example to show why it matters in crucially practical ways.)

A recent flurry of blog posts and “sharing” among United Methodists reveals some of the problems we need to avoid if we’re going to make any progress toward resolution of our denominational struggles.  One blogger , for example, openly charged that others suggesting that General Conference 2016 be closed to all except delegates and other essential parties are all white straight males trying to protect their privilege.  A briar patch of problems we find here.  Statements have implications and when we begin to look at them, we see the problems.

First, if I say, “You call for action X in order to protect white privilege,” rather than (at least initially) accepting your statement at face value, I’ve taken it upon myself to change the subject altogether.  Immediately, we stop talking about what you actually said and switch to how I read your intentions behind what you said.  By implication, I’m effectively saying,

“You don’t really mean what you are saying.  You’re just saying so for something you want to protect.”

Fatally bad thinking abounds here.  First, I offer my statement as a description of the fact of the matter – the real issue is your bad motive, not something with General Conference.  I’ve made a claim about what is.  In that sense, I expect you to take my statement at face value, but, at the same time, I’m looking past yours.  By implication, I attribute honesty to myself as I claim to state the truth about your bad motive.  Second, while thereby accusing you of using language to exert power (protecting privilege), it turns out that my statement is a power move, too.   Why?  Because I changed the subject without explaining why I think the subject should change.  I have committed the very rhetorical sin that I identify in you.  A certain teaching about specks and logs in people’s eyes comes to mind.

Third, if I start by assuming bad motive in you, I am far more likely to misunderstand than to understand.  But understanding is one of the central goals of argument!  I should start with preliminary generosity or a kind of “innocent till proven guilty” principle not only out of respect for you, but also that I might have the best chance at understanding you!  Imagine if every time you tried to sort out a disagreement, the other party assumed you were using words in a certain way to cover your real intentions.  Nothing but misunderstanding, frustration and alienation can result.  On the contrary, if you and I are having an argument, I should always assume that you are speaking honestly and with good intent until you show me otherwise.  And in coming to the conclusion of bad intent on your part, I must always exercise extreme restraint.

(Side note: yes, motive matters.  In a court of law, it does, but even there culpable motive has to be demonstrated in order to be compelling.  It cannot just be asserted.  Yes, we are more than just thinkers.  We are motivated beings.  We still need to exercise extreme caution in assigning bad motive to our opponents.  Rather, we should be checking our own motives, not our opponents.)

Now, I can imagine one objection.  I know there are others, but this one comes quickly to mind.  By pointing out the problem of white male privilege, it does not necessarily mean that I’m attributing bad motive.  Maybe not, but if you read the blog that I’ve referenced (here) and notice the “want” in the title, not to mention how the whole post is constructed, it’s pretty hard to conclude that people’s motive are not being questioned.  So, yes, of course, one can make references to privilege as a principality to be resisted, but that’s not what I’m worried about.  I’m worried about how easily and often we use facile reference to structural evil as a way of “identifying” someone’s “real” intent.  That, too, is a mistake in thinking.  Structural evil exists often apart from bad intent and quite in spite of good intent.

The only way forward – the only hope of resolution of our deep denominational disagreements – is for us to listen generously, to think carefully and to argue clearly.  We should do so for a number of good reasons, but especially we need to remember who is listening.

The post Exposing Bad Thinking: An Illustration of Why Method Matters appeared first on Rankin File.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/exposing-bad-thinking-an-illustration-of-why-method-matters/

Oct 01 2014

Rankin File: Methods: More than Sharing Stories and Naming Sources

Original post at http://stephenrankin.com/methods-sharing-stories-naming-sources/


In a couple of different ways and places, lately, I’ve expressed an opinion about what is wrong with current United Methodist debates and what is needed.  My recent post about labels shared a personal experience illustrating the frustration of having people look past what I say and assigning a label that they then use to justify ignoring what I just said.  I told a personal story.  Many people, from every angle in our current controversies, can tell similar stories.

This is why simply sharing our experience is insufficient for making progress in our denominational struggle.  We are tempted to think that our experience trumps somebody else’s.  It is so easy to lapse into a kind of “can you top this” competition in our telling our stories.  To be sure, sharing experiences has its value.  It is a way of getting to know each other and, hopefully, in so doing we can empathize and recognize common humanity, even if we ultimately disagree.  It surely would give us more opportunity to exercise Christian love.  But beyond sharing our stories, we have to do the hard spade work of understanding each other’s methods.  It takes a lot of listening.  And some restraint, intellectual humility and charity.

So, let me try my hand at explaining how method works in our discussions.  I claim no particular expertise.  To use the language of the trades, I consider myself a journeyman in the craft.  Every craft, trade, science, whatever, has methods for skillfully doing the work.  In our case, we are talking about methods used in thinking about theological and ethical questions for the sake of living faithfully and effectively as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Within this framework, then, what is a method?  A method is a patterned set of steps employed to understand statements, propositions, claims and arguments.  (An argument is a sustained account or explanation aimed at showing the validity, strength, relevance and truth of a stated set of beliefs.)  Good methods are tried and tested by a community of people who learn how to use the methods and can help each other hone skills.  In this case, a community shares a set of beliefs and practices that gives them a starting point for method to interpret and to apply.

The goal of good method is to render meaning and truth.  “Truth,” of course, is a contested term, but delving into that subject goes beyond my purpose here.  Of course, some methods aim at simply helping us figure out what works.  If I have ants infesting my lawn, I can try a number of differing methods for getting rid of the pests.  The good one is the one that works.  In Christian debates about true and false, good and evil, however, we need more than pragmatism.  We certainly need much more than appeals to emotion, personal attacks and innuendo and inflammatory statements.  We need careful thought.  In other words, a good method avoids the temptation to skip argumentation and go for some shortcut, like labels or casting doubt on someone’s motive.  (For a good set of examples of these problematic shortcuts, google “informal fallacies” and you’ll see why bad thinking does not – apart from blind, dumb luck – render good policies and practices.  It will also help you understand what’s wrong with so many United Methodist debates.)

Behind and underneath the patterned steps we find assumptions or background beliefs.  Assumptions can range from “close by” and fairly simple to deeper and broader views about reality.  Assumptions help to determine the limits of what we conclude can be true and applicable.  Here is another tricky point: ideological opponents can use the same steps of a method, but if they have different assumptions, their conclusions can vary wildly.

Furthermore, all of us draw on and combine sources and we recognize or assign weight (force, authority) in our attempts to understand.  The Bible is a source, obviously.  Depending on the question, an article on a scientific point might be a source, or a theological or philosophical treatise, or a piece of fiction or a song.  Some people like some authors or teachers and others, others.  When we use sources, we need to know what we’re doing.  We need to know how this source supports what we’re trying to argue.  And we need to be able to tell if we’re using sources in a honest, rational (i.e. legitimate) way.  And yes, here’s another tricky point: we are tempted to stick with sources we find “trustworthy.”  Sometimes this means that they reinforce what we already believe.  But good method requires that I also look at sources that disagree with what I already believe.  I must practice reading what is distasteful or difficult or disagreeable to my views in order to know (and be truly confident) in what I think.

Thus, to summarize: statements or claims (“X is true”) need to be supported by arguments (rational, logically consistent explanations or accounts).  Assumptions need to be made visible to anyone interested in understanding our claims.  In making our arguments, we need to show how we use sources and what kind of authority or weight they have.

And all of this is open for scrutiny by people who disagree with us and by people who agree, but who think we should sharpen our thinking.   They can point out flaws in our thinking.  They can tell us that they don’t share our assumptions.  One of the most common difficulties in our present United Methodist debates on homosexuality, for example, is that opponents start with differing assumptions and simply talk past each other without attending to their divergent starting points.  Can we see how futile conversations are if we don’t recognize this problem?

Doing the spadework of method is not very sexy or exciting.  But it’s absolutely crucial.  And you, perceptive reader, can sense the moral dimension of what I’ve just described.  If I want to participate in productive conversation; if I want to help The United Methodist Church work toward unity of vision and mission; if I want to help calm the churning waters of angry dissent, then I am obligated to act in good faith by doing this hard work.

The post Methods: More than Sharing Stories and Naming Sources appeared first on Rankin File.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/methods-more-than-sharing-stories-and-naming-sources/

Sep 27 2014

Rankin File: Why I Don’t Like Labels: A Personal Story

Original post at http://stephenrankin.com/dont-like-labels-personal-story/


I try to balance staying aware with not getting sucked into social media debates.  This week I failed.  On three separate UM groups, I saw these words:

“extreme conservative evangelical”

“gatekeeper”

“white male” just concerned with protecting “white male” privilege.”

Before you protest that I’m just another white male conservative angry about being called out, let me nip that protest in the bud.  I recognize and admit without hesitation the fact of male privilege, of white privilege, of wealth privilege.  (I also think there’s much more going on than the concerns these labels illustrate.)  I recognize systemic evil.  I don’t like labels of any kind.  I know labels can be helpful, but often – especially now – they are not.  I don’t like it when anybody of any ideological bent uses a label for the purpose of de-legitimizing somebody’s ideas without having to make their case with their own ideas.

I think it’s fair to say that it near-infuriates me when labels are used that way.  Why?  Here’s my story.

Probably in the neighborhood of ten or eleven years ago, I was asked to spend half a day with an annual conference study group on the issue of homosexuality.  This group was tasked with presenting a resolution to their upcoming annual conference meeting.  The group met several times over several months and invited various resource people to address them.  I was one such “resource.”   I was asked to share with them most likely because I hold traditional convictions on core matters of theology, thus I’m sometimes identified as “conservative.”

I’m also an academic.  As is the case with most academics, it is very important to me to present positions as accurately, honestly and fairly as possible and to criticize positions, not the position-holders’ motives or character.  I also believe very strongly that, if I’m going to teach or serve as a resource for groups trying to decide contentious matters, it is my strong responsibility to read widely and to have reasonably good working knowledge of the issues involved.

That is exactly how I prepared for the session with the annual conference group.  I had my own opinions about the matter, but I was not there to make a case for my opinions.  I was there to elucidate the range of issues to help the group do their work well.   This is why this memory is particularly galling for me.  After spending the morning attempting to do exactly what I just expressed as my aim, I ended with a published editorial, written by a physician who is very supportive of L/G/B/T rights.  In other words, I used a source with whom most people in the group already agreed on the matter at hand.  This author pleaded with his readers not to deploy the “naturalistic fallacy” to support advocacy for same-sex marriage, etc.  What he meant by this term is actually more like the “is-ought” problem: if a phenomenon is counted as natural, then it ought to be counted as good.   But, of course, we all know that not everything that we call natural can be counted as good, so this view turns out to be a very inadequate foundation for any kind of rights advocacy.

It turns out, they did exactly what the physician/author (and I) begged them not to do.  When I learned of the outcome, I quizzed one of the members of the group who told me (and I have reason to accept this person as a reliable witness) that the majority of the group said, “Well, you know, Steve Rankin is just pretty conservative, so we didn’t think what he had to say counted all that much.”

There you have it.  One word – “conservative” – was all that mattered to sweep away my input.  It was a classic case of made-up minds in advance and all they needed was to “know” that I was “pretty conservative.”  They didn’t need to listen.  They just needed the label.  Of course, the irony of the whole thing was that I used one of their allies to caution them against adopting a mistaken stratagem, the very one they adopted.

A label is a poor substitute for the hard work of explaining how one draws one’s conclusions.  A label, even if accurate, is not an argument, not a reason to adopt a position.  It’s just a label.  Journalists can use labels to meet their word limits when trying to describe someone in an article.  We should not use labels as shortcuts for arguments.

We United Methodists have a 100% chance of failure to resolve our deep differences if labels continue to dominate in our discussions.  A 100% chance of failure.

 

The post Why I Don’t Like Labels: A Personal Story appeared first on Rankin File.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/why-i-dont-like-labels-a-personal-story/

Sep 23 2014

Rankin File: The Annual Conference is Still the Basic Unit and Why It Really Matters

Original post at http://stephenrankin.com/annual-conference-still-basic-unit/


To date, I have taken a pass on signing on to any of the various proposals offered to resolve some of the woes of our United Methodist Church.  One of the main reasons I have not – which I’ve publicly expressed – is that I don’t know how any future organization of the denomination will involve extension ministries.  More to the point, what happens to ministry to college students?  I realize that, already, many campus ministries have to spend a significant amount of time raising funds for support, since our general church funding apparatus does not meet all requirements.  Still, I want to note the significant implications for a shift in polity, if the feared future unfolds.

Since I make a living in a church related university (and before here in a church related college), I want to make clear that this post has nothing to do with job security.  I’m under the bishop’s appointment and I will serve wherever the bishop sends me.

So, where lies my reserve with current proposals?  It lies with our polity.  The basic unit of The United Methodist Church is still the annual conference.  This point has been softened, however, by other BoD language something on the order of, “The primary location (or point of contact) for our mission is the local church.”  I don’t have my Book of Discipline available at this moment, so someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure this is the gist of it. If we separate amicably, what happens to extension ministries, especially church related colleges and universities?  If we go with what some people call the local option, then what implications does that option have for extensions ministry?

My main concern here is with college students.  The National Center for Education Statistics (here) puts this fall semester’s number at 21 million, 18 million of whom are undergraduates.  However, keep in mind that this number does not include all the people “in the process” of going to college.  Some people otherwise enrolled may not be enrolled this semester.  They “stop out” temporarily for a number of reasons, so the actual number of people in the process of going to college is several million higher.  Furthermore, not all those 18 million are of the traditional age range (18-24).  About 8 million are over the age of 25.  And a bunch of them go to two-year schools, where, for the most part, we don’t even try to reach them.  Anybody hanging around a “junior college,” to use old and somewhat pejorative language, knows how difficult developing a community of disciples in that environment can be.  But it’s true of college in general.  Campus ministries compete for the attention of bright, ambitious young people with about a million other opportunities.

When you think about the roughly 3,000 institutions of higher education in this country, one wonders how many United Methodist ministries we find.  Not nearly enough.  Of the United Methodist related schools, about 400,000 students attend them.  That’s a significant number itself, but add in the Wesley Foundations and other campus ministries at non-United Methodist schools and you see a network of mission stations aimed at directly effecting the future!

What would happen to this network in the proposed structural changes?

Unfortunately, it is the exceedingly rare local congregation who has a good sense about its calling to reach college students.  Once the kids “graduate” from our youth programs, it’s hit and miss when they get to college.  Therefore, unless and until our local churches – particularly those geographically near college campuses, but definitely not limited to them – decide to get serious about campus ministry, I will continue to insist that the annual conference is still the basic unit of the church.  And we’d better by golly pay it some attention in all our talking about splitting.

While I’m on the topic, let me admit some obvious and hard realities.  College students don’t “pay for themselves.”  College ministries cost money and there’s no quick or obvious return on investment.  Second, college students are notoriously fickle.  If they get involved in a church at all while they’re in college, they shop around and church hop, depending on where their friends are going.  That’s if they’re traditional, residential college students.  It could also be that they’re having to work like dogs while they’re in school and they’re working on Sunday mornings.  Either way, as a segment of the population, they’re generally not very reliable for helping to maintain the local church’s institutional machinery.  Third, even if they do get involved in a church while they’re in college, they likely won’t stay in the area upon graduation (unless they’re in a big metropolitan setting), so some other congregation will get the benefit of the investment, not the college years congregation.

In short, college ministry is long on effort and short on short-term returns.  But that’s the point.  The cost-benefit metric is not the right measure.  We need a long term vision of college ministry.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: we don’t really know how effective we’ve been in ministry until we look fifteen or twenty years down the road from the time we had direct involvement.  This is a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true.

So, until someone shows me a plan for how whatever the denomination(s) will look like in the future addresses extension ministries, especially college ministries, I’m going to withhold judgment on proposals for structural change.  Not because the proposals are not attractive.  In certain cases, I think they are.  I just don’t see sufficient awareness of the need for ministry to/with college students.  And I think that’s a really, really big deal.

 

The post The Annual Conference is Still the Basic Unit and Why It Really Matters appeared first on Rankin File.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/the-annual-conference-is-still-the-basic-unit-and-why-it-really-matters/

Sep 15 2014

Rankin File: Cal State, InterVarsity and Religious Discrimination

Original post at http://stephenrankin.com/cal-state-intervarsity-religious-discrimination/


The California State University system recently has de-recognized any student organization that does not follow an “all comers” policy in their organizations’ membership standards, not only for members, but also for leaders.  Especially noticeable in this draconian move  is the impact on campus ministry groups, such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (go here).  Their practice is to welcome all people as members of their organization, but they reserve the right to choose student leaders on the basis of students’ agreement with the InterVarsity statement of faith and their lifestyle commitments.  InterVarsity has been in the news quite a bit since the Vanderbilt controversy (go here).  John Hawthorne (go here), a sociologist who teaches at Spring Arbor University, offers some thoughtful commentary on the complexities of the Cal State matter.

Remember, Christian ministry groups have been on college campuses for 50+ years, so this recent turn in interpreting non-discrimination laws should give us pause.  Keep that fact in mind for background.

Other than what I need to know for the work I do on campus, I do not have thorough knowledge of the laws being applied in this case.  But, as most of my friends have heard me say, I have a million opinions, even about things about which I know little.  In the present situation, I have two main concerns, one about the law (with the aforementioned acknowledged ignorance) and one a hopefully useful analogy to gain understanding as to what these acts of de-recognition mean.

First the law(s) being deployed in these decisions:  Anti-discrimination policies originated with concerns about mainly political and economic discrimination, that is, in matters like being able to vote or run for office and in employment.  Simply put, you can’t decide not to hire someone because of their race, religion, and the other statuses now covered by this law.  Couple these laws with the principle of separation of church and state and you have the conundrum now before us.  A university that receives government funding is duty bound to extend anti-discrimination laws to all corners of its organization – except, of course, where we generally don’t want it to extend, like Greek letter fraternities and sororities who do discriminate for all kinds of reasons.  With such exceptions noted, an increasing number of schools are now interpreting the law to apply to a student organization that derives benefit from recognition on campus and access to usage of facilities and sometimes even funding through a school’s program council or some other similar office.  Such an organization must match all the laws’ stipulations or risk being de-recognized.  The organizations with the biggest target on their backs are religious ones, especially evangelical Protestant ones.

You should know that some state schools have included an exemption in their student organization guidelines to permit religious groups to adhere to their missional values in determining qualifications for leadership (e.g. Ohio State University and the University of Florida, at least when I last checked).  Apparently, the State laws in California are more stringent.  Nevertheless, when we take the wide view, it is pretty difficult not to draw the conclusion that Christian campus ministry groups with more fixed doctrines are seen as law-breakers because they “discriminate.”

I work on a college campus and have for twenty years.  I can tell you there’s all kinds of discrimination going on, albeit most of the time not within those legally protected categories.  But since there is discrimination of other kinds, let’s consider an analogy.

We discriminate according to skill and commitment all the time.  Athletics is the obvious example, but think of others.  A student who qualifies for an academic (merit-based) scholarship and who joins an honors program has gone through a vetting process to demonstrate qualification and commitment.  If you join an honors program, you are promising that you will uphold that program’s standards and engage in the activities associated with that program.  You’re not likely to make it into the marching band if you don’t play one of the instruments that band director wants in the band and know how to march.

And perhaps closer to our point, a professor gets to determine pre-requisites for her classes and who it is who qualifies to take them.  In other words, she can discriminate.  She can decide that a student doesn’t qualify to be in the class and she can determine that a student is distracting others and have that student removed from the class – permanently.

So, rather than thinking about “discrimination” in the usual sense, what if we thought about what these campus ministry leaders are trying to do more along the lines of education and development?  They have an educational and developmental mission – to bear fruit for the Kingdom, to introduce people to Jesus Christ and help them grow as disciples and servants.  Leadership in these groups involves a version of skill and commitment similar to what I’ve named above.  Some of what campus ministers do is not unlike an academic class.  Students study and learn and practice, without academic credit, of course, and without the status associated with professors and academic courses.

Regarding how schools decide whether to recognize a particular campus ministry group, I think this analogy helps.  Imagine if a professor was forced to take any student who simply wanted take the class, even if that class had pre-requisites.  I can tell you, the professor in question would legitimately complain about academic freedom, about the infringement upon her ability to do her job.

Now think of the campus ministers who are trying to meet a discipleship goal (pedagogy, by the way, just is a kind of discipleship).  Imagine being forced to take anyone as a small group or Bible study leader, even if that person is completely ignorant of the Bible and the doctrines associated with the group.

I realize that the reality on the ground will likely look much different than the alarming scenarios people have drawn over atheists infiltrating campus ministries and the Young Republicans taking over the Young Democrats.  I understand that the California law has qualifications to try to prevent this sort of thing.  But that’s not my main point.  It is, rather, that people making these decisions need to see this situation from another angle, from the educational mission of campus ministries (and the benefit for the common good such educational ministries have on a campus).  The  laws that tie ministry leaders’ hands in determining who is qualified to serve as leaders in the organizations for which those leaders are responsible – those laws are unjust.

 

 

The post Cal State, InterVarsity and Religious Discrimination appeared first on Rankin File.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/cal-state-intervarsity-and-religious-discrimination/

Sep 01 2014

Rankin File: Another Lesson in the Power of Doctrine

Original post at http://stephenrankin.com/another-lesson-power-doctrine/


Yesterday in worship we sang the old Gospel hymn, “I Stand Amazed in the Presence.”  It’s one of those songs that gets me all choked up.  I know, part of it has to do with my upbringing: Sunday night worship in those little Methodist churches my Dad served.  We sang all those songs either from the Cokesbury hymnal or from that little whitish-gray paperback, the Upper Room songbook.  Nostalgia granted.  But there’s a lot more going on here than nostalgia.

In case you don’t have the whole thing memorized, let me pick some of my favorite lines:

(First stanza)

I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene

And wonder how he could love me, a sinner condemned, unclean.

(Chorus)

How marvelous!  How wonderful and my song shall ever be!

How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me

(Fourth stanza)

He took my sins and my sorrows.  He made them his very own;

He bore the burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone.

How marvelous!

I’m quite aware that some of my sisters and brothers in Christ don’t like this song, not as a matter of personal stylistic preference, but as a matter of doctrine.  They just don’t like what the song teaches.  The song clearly teaches substitutionary atonement.  I believe it.  Others don’t.  They recoil at the implications.  They express moral repugnance at the idea a God who would enact judgment in such a way.  Likewise the anthropology: “a sinner condemned, unclean.”

I also acknowledge that the song is very individualistic.  We need to watch the individualism.  I’m with you on that one.  But still, the personal appropriation of the Gospel as presented in this song strikes a deep chord in my heart.

So, while my heart thrills and my eyes fill with tears of gratitude and amazement, someone else likely feels cold, even repulsed, horrified.  Imagine sitting in the same worship service and having such divergent reactions.

I have written elsewhere that doctrine teaches us what to care about (Aiming at Maturity: The Goal of the Christian Life; go here http://www.amazon.com/Aiming-Maturity-Goal-Christian-Life/dp/1610972465/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409614578&sr=8-1&keywords=aiming+at+maturity or here https://wipfandstock.com/advancedsearch/search?search_type=keyword&keyword=aiming+at+maturity&go_search_btn.x=-371&go_search_btn.y=-572&go_search_btn=GO)  I think my experience in yesterday’s worship illustrates this point.  Clearly, doctrine is not just about head knowledge.  Over time, as we learn to think of God, of humans and of the Christian life through certain terms and teachings, we begin to feel particular emotional responses in relation to how our affections have been shaped.  Why?  Because we learn from others, our teachers and pastors and community leaders – through the choice of words, the tone of voice, even body language – what our community believes is true and important.  In other words, we learn to care about the same things others in authority (formal or informal) care about.  When I use the term “care about,” I mean to include intellectual thoughts as well as the feelings and sensibilities that attend them.

Another implication attends these thoughts, one about which I’ve been haranguing people around me in an entirely different context, but for a similar reason.  A while back I read Elliot Eisner’s The Educational Imagination and pondered his concept of the “null curriculum.”  That is, we teach both by what we emphasize, but also by what we avoid, by what we leave out of the curriculum, by what we never mention.  This concept reveals a couple of very important points regarding Christian formation.  First, no teaching is theologically is neutral.  This is not to say that everything is arbitrary, but it is to put the kibosh on the notion that we can put together a curriculum without bias or perspective.  And if this is the case, then we all need to be much more self-aware about our biases, much more reflective than is the case most of the time in our church settings.

Second, there is as much formation going on informally as through our formal teaching.  Sunday School class materials, youth group Bible studies, confirmation classes and other formal settings are often easily countermanded by what happens outside those settings and what is communicated everywhere else in our congregational relationships.  Again, the call for self-awareness.  Do we have any idea what we are teaching our charges that actually directly undermine our stated values and beliefs?  What are we really interested in with regard to the Christian life?  To church membership?

This is why I get impatient with those who are impatient with doctrine, who exhibit that characteristically Methodist penchant for hurrying past doctrinal conversations to “getting things done” for Jesus.  Doctrines do matter.  They teach us what to care about and what we care about reflects what we believe to be both true, good (or evil) and deeply important.

One last thought, going back to the hymn: it’s one thing to admit that we have stylistic preferences and differences.  This is just the reality of life.  Some people like a certain song.  Others don’t.  But what do we do when we  can find no common doctrinal ground for our preferences?  And that ground lies at the heart of the Christian faith?  About matters like the Person and Work of Jesus Christ?  What do we do when some of us find “I Stand” deeply true and important, life-giving and powerful?  And some of us find it morally repugnant, abhorrent, to be avoided at all costs?

What do we do then?

The post Another Lesson in the Power of Doctrine appeared first on Rankin File.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/another-lesson-in-the-power-of-doctrine/

Older posts «