As we listen to you talk about life in the church we hear many things: a new venture in your congregation, a synod assembly or other synod event you’ve attended, a book you’ve read, a comment on an article in Let’s Talk. (The latter really gets our attention!) Rarely are you neutral about these ventures, events, books, articles. You have opinions, often strongly expressed, and often theologically grounded as becomes members of the Body.
We’ve brought together some of this “theological buzz” in this issue. Usually the theme of an issue signifies a particular topic for discussion. This time our “theme” is a question implicit in your discussion of your experiences: Where Do We Go from Here? We’ve asked this question before and it seems right to ask it often amidst the ferment.
Readers of Let’s Talk (and of many other publications) have appreciated Frank Senn’s pungent wit and wisdom. We are pleased to announce that Frank Senn will write our first-ever regular column: As I See It, in which he will share his view of happenings in the church. He takes seriously the name of this journal and expects your responses! (See our new address in the editorial box.) In his first column Senn asks, “What’s the Business of a Synod Assembly?” He asserts that in recent years the synod “has seen itself more as an agency that services congregations than as the arm of the congregations that does on our behalf what we cannot do individually.” “Little by little,” he says, “pastors and congregations have been distanced from strategic reflection on the mission of the synod.” Senn goes on to suggest how synod and congregation can interact in their respective expressions as church.
Paul Buettner also reflects on the relationship between congregations and the larger expressions of church with particular reference to how the institutional church views the distinction between faithfulness and success. He has grown fearful that we are “evolving a veritable cult of success in the church.” The prominent use of success-oriented language at church-sponsored “leadership” and “spiritual” events bespeaks for Buettner “an uncritical adoption and use of many of the concepts and terms of the secular corporation, as if those concepts and terms were theologically neutral.” He asserts that these concepts and terms are not neutral and that the attitude they express is a source of estrangement for congregations “near the margin of existence.”
Brian Halverson reviews The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call by Marva J. Dawn and Eugene H. Peterson. Dawn and Peterson’s thesis is bold. We live in a culture, they say, that attempts to defeat the Good News by accommodating and co-opting the gospel’s counter-cultural message, thereby removing its power to transform lives. This culture “seeps into the church through the pores of our congregations: a religion without commitment, spirituality without content, aspiration and talk and longing, fulfillment and needs, but not much concern about God.” Have these cultural forces succeeded in domesticating pastors, in making them “unnecessary?” Halverson critically examines Dawn and Peterson’s claims and their encouragement of church leaders to recover their gospel identity.
Julie Ryan reports a presentation by Barbara K. Lundblad. The Metropolitan Chicago Synod is sponsoring a series of events collectively called Refreshing the Hearts of the Saints. Each event is a one-day forum held at Gloria Dei, Downers Grove and featuring a distinguished presenter. Barbara Lundblad’s presentation had two parts. In the first, “Passionate Particularity: Naming Jesus” she examined how we as Christians living in an increasingly pluralistic culture can honor and respect other faith traditions while remaining passionate about the gospel. In her second session, “New Ways of Getting Back to the Bible,” Pastor Lundblad asserted that current debates about human sexuality often get stuck on exegesis of certain biblical texts. She offered a guide to interpretation using Luke through Acts and Second Isaiah to help us move beyond the exegetical impasse. Julie Ryan surveys Lundblad’s presentation with clarity and insight.
Andrew Leahy reflects on his recent experience as a Lutheran pastor presiding at a weekly healing mass at an Episcopal church. Ecumenism has been a recurring topic in the pages of Let’s Talk, featuring discussions of confessional and ecclesiological questions surrounding Called to Common Mission. Leahy’s “view from the parish” shows us another dimension of the full communion we have begun to enjoy.
Finally, this issue includes an index of Volume Five (Year 2000).
Your thoughts about where we, in this corner of the church, go from here are always welcome. Your letters and e-mail will get our attention. Let’s Talk! (And, we hasten to add, your contributions are welcome. An envelope is enclosed for your convenience.)