Oct 23 2014

UM & Global: Valuable Themes and Unresolved Concerns: Thomas Kemper on Grace Upon Grace: Renewal (Part II)

Today’s post is the the first of two concluding posts in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries. Mr. Kemper is commenting on the last section of the document, “Renewal.” Use the “Grace Upon Grace” tag to identify other posts in this series.

We come now to the end of this series of blogs that has explored the continuing relevance and value for mission of Grace Upon Grace, the last official and comprehensive United Methodist statement on mission theology adopted in 1988, closing with the document’s final paragraph (66), 18 lines on the topic of “Renewal.”  Having already enumerated two themes from Grace Upon Grace that I find enormously valuable for the renewal of our understanding of and involvement in mission in the first quarter of the 21st century, I now conclude by proposing two clusters of concerns I think were undeveloped in 1988 but must be satisfactorily addressed today if we are to be viable as a church engaged in the missio Dei. Again, my reflections are those of a missional professional, a practitioner, a layman, not a formal theologian, having been a missionary in Brazil with my wife from 1986 to 1994, and now serving as a mission agency executive.

I find Grace Upon Grace lacking in two major ways. First, at least to my mind, it neglects health, healing, and the care of creation as dimensions of the missio Dei. By health and healing I mean more than humanitarian relief and medical services.  I also mean spiritual and emotional healthiness, wholeness of person and wholeness of community. Care of creation relates to individuals, families, communities, nations, and to international relations. It incorporates ecology and the use of resources, which has strong economic implications. Mission needs to grapple with broad economic challenges, especially regarding the poor and the conservation of nature.

A second cluster of concerns is the failure of Grace Upon Grace to discern and take into account the mission energy of mission-founded churches in the Global South and Asia. That could even be seen in 1988.  We Methodists have been deplorably slow in noticing something that was evident as early as the world missionary conferences of the late 1940s and 1950s that the younger churches are alive and potent with the Gospel and seen by other communions.  We have too long navel-gazed about our denominational “worldwide nature” and allowed our structures get in the way of letting loose the gospel energy of our mission progeny.  This relates, of course, to the shifting Christian center of gravity from Europe and North America to the global South.

The World Council of Churches’ 2013 statement on Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes—a wonderful title for excellent work—takes serious account of the implications for mission of the shifting demography. It recognizes and celebrates not the hope but the reality of mission from what was once seen as the margins—mission in Africa and Korea and Brazil that is alive in indigenous cultures but also reaching into the old Christian heartlands of Italy, Canada, England, and Oklahoma City with the ringing, compelling word and work of the Lord. We of the West may still have the dollars and euros but we are not the only, maybe not the primary, proponents of the missio Dei anymore. God has other missionaries too, and we are thankful that some of them from the Congo, and Colombia and Hong Kong and Ivory Coast are enlisting in service through The United Methodist Church.  There will be more—of that I can promise you.  There will be many, many more. I truly believe that God really is in charge of mission and will see to that.

Grace Upon Grace will remain a worthy landmark—a clear statement of faith and hope—in our mission pilgrimage. It is dated more by its omissions than its commissions. I keep a copy ready at hand on my desk.

I also keep handy a much shorter document, a statement of only some 850 words on mission theology drafted and adopted at the end of the last quadrennium by the directors of the General Board of Global Ministries. It contains a paragraph on grace at work but it is the last affirmation I want to quote in ending these reflections, for it reminds us of an essential reality of the missio Dei in this and any century.

“The Spirit is always moving to sweep the Church into a new mission age. With openness and gratitude we await the leading of the Spirit in ways not yet seen as God continues to work God’s purposes out in our own day in a new way.”

(The full statement can be read online at http://www.umcmission.org/Learn-About-Us/About-Global-Ministries/Theology-of-Mission)

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/valuable-themes-and-unresolved-concerns-thomas-kemper-on-grace-upon-grace-renewal-part-ii/

Oct 23 2014

Allan R. Bevere: The Character of God and the Nature of Scripture: Reading the Bible Incarnationally #5– Fundamentalist and Progressive Interpretations of Scripture are Simply Two Sides of the Same Coin

I’ve been meaning to get back my series on reading the Bible Incarnationally, but I have had other obligations that have prevented me from doing so. The via media Methodists have published a post on rejecting both the fundamentalist and progressive options in reading the Bible. They quote Stanley Hauerwas:

…the debate between fundamentalists and biblical critics is really more a debate between friends who share many of the same assumptions. The most prominent shared assumption is that the interpretation of the biblical texts is not a political process involving questions of power and authority. By privileging the individual interpreter, who is thought capable of discerning the meaning of the text apart form the consideration of the good ends of a community, fundamentalists and biblical critics make the Church incidental.

 The power of this text shows up in an excessive theological conservatism that has transposed fidelity into certitudes that are absolutes about morality as about theology, as though somewhere there are rational formulations that will powerfully veto the human ambiguities so palpable among us. The power of this text also shows up in overstated theological liberalism in which every woman and every man is one’s own pope, in which autonomous freedom becomes a fetish and all notions of communal accountability evaporate into a polite but innocuous mantra of “each to her or his own.”

Indeed, and in so doing both fundamentalists and progressives end up with their own brand of civil religion. James Hunter writes that civil religion is

a diffuse amalgamation of religious values that is synthesized with the civic creeds of the nation; in which the life and mission of the church is conflated with the life and mission of the country. American values are, in substance, biblical prophetic values; American identity is, thus, vaguely Christian identity” (Hunter, To Change the World, p. 145).

The truth of the matter is that both fundamentalist and progressive readings of Scripture have become all too predictable and all too uninteresting. There is indeed a better way. The via media post states it well. “A focus on the person and work of Christ as the primary hermeneutic lens through which to read Scripture thus upends the Pharisees on the left and the right, for whom the only lens is The Agenda.  The teaching and the way of Christ are best determined and lived out in the community of faith, the Church.”

As I have said before, if there are modern day Pharisees, they are not the legalists. They are the fundamentalists and the progressives who functionally reject the way of the cross (Philippians 2:1-11) in favor of the kind of power that marginalizes and seeks to eliminate those who refuse to get with their agenda. Their hermeneutic is indeed determined by their agenda.

Hauerwas is correct. Both approaches to Scripture have corrupted our use of the Bible.

I will address the Incarnational lens and the Old Testament in the next post.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/the-character-of-god-and-the-nature-of-scripture-reading-the-bible-incarnationally-5-fundamentalist-and-progressive-interpretations-of-scripture-are-simply-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/

Oct 23 2014

Rebekah Simon-Peter | Creating healthy, vibrant churches by building bridges of understanding: 3 Ways to Mess Up Worship

There are lots of ways to experience meaningful worship.  And unfortunately, just as many ways to make worship meaningless. In my experience, these are the top 3 ways to mess up worship. Talk about God…but don’t leave space to experience God. Call for silent prayer…then fill up the space with music or rush on to […]

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/3-ways-to-mess-up-worship/

Oct 23 2014

Issues: Why the UMC is Such a Dismal Failure at Church Planting #UMC

A near-perfect worship experience brings the Rev. Christy Thomas some insights about the UMC’s efforts to start and sustain churches.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/why-the-umc-is-such-a-dismal-failure-at-church-planting-umc-2/

Oct 23 2014

Threads from Henry's Web: Major on the Clear Stuff

I get disturbed when I see people around me disturbed by the latest Bible mystery, or obscure interpretation of prophecy. These things sell books, and bring in offerings, but I don’t think they produce better followers of Jesus.

I don’t have a problem with discussing difficult or controversial passages, but the church has been living [...]

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/major-on-the-clear-stuff/

Oct 23 2014

salvaged faith: Spiritually Blind

I mentioned earlier this week a youth group conversation about Mary Magdalene and demon possession.  There are so many different ways of understanding what demon possession might have been about … Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/spiritually-blind/

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