Children of God May 24, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Theological Reflection.
Tags: Biblical interpretation, Christian Community, Theology, Values
I’ve gotten in trouble lately for an idea that I thought was fairly safe, but turns out (as many ideas do) is theologically open to debate. I suggested that human beings, created in the image of God, might be children of God. I do have to acknowledge that this is a theological perspective that does not align well with the “truth” of other perspectives. I have been “taught” that no one can be a child of God until they agree to be a child of God — that parentage is dependent on the child deciding to be a child. I have been “instructed” that until we accept a narrowly defined set of acceptable Christian standards, we cannot “qualify” as children of God. I have been chastised by “theological experts” that children of God has nothing to do with God’s intention, but only the human response. I have been corrected by those who know the truth that we have to completely ignore the whole of Christian and theological thinking in order to pick and choose a few isolated passages of scripture and a limited theological perspective that limit our acceptance of “children of God” to include only those we like and with whom we agree.
Witness for the Prosecution May 17, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Evangelism.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Evangelism, Faith Sharing
Here’s something I don’t understand. Why do so many people in the church who teach evangelism despise non-Christians? No, really. It would seem to me that as Christians we would absolutely LOVE everyone who isn’t a Christian, but this isn’t the case. Over and over I meet United Methodist evangelists who are harsh and divisive when it comes to engaging with non-Christians. I tell a story about a mission project that my UM church did with a group of Hindus and a Harley-Davidson biker club. I use the story as an illustration of true unity and harmony, interfaith collaboration, and building bridges with those outside the faith. A few years ago, a prominent pastor in our denomination stormed up to me after I told the story shaking with rage. ”What kind of Christian are you?” he began. ”Telling people they should reach out to heretics and thugs. Your job is to convert such people, not buy into their lies You should have nothing to do with such people, and you shouldn’t encourage others to work with them either!” I was so taken aback at the time, I didn’t know how to reply. But whenever I think about this experience I confront a fundamental illogic. If we want to “convert” others, how is avoiding them a good strategy? If evangelism is not only our words, but our actions as well, how do we witness to our faith in the vacuum of staying only with our own kind? How does someone else’s lack of faith or belief in another faith mitigate my responsibility to witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ? How with others know my faith if I refuse to engage with them in a meaningful way?
Biblical Preaching May 15, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Pastoral Ministry, Preaching, worship.
Tags: Biblical interpretation, Church Leadership, Preaching
If ever there were a more confusing claim, I don’t know what it is. Biblical preaching. In the past few months, I have encountered people who either complain that their pastor doesn’t “preach the Bible,” or proudly boast that they have a “Biblical preacher.” (One over 2000 years old…?) But to probe what people really mean gets confusing. ”Our pastor doesn’t interpret scripture, he just preaches truth,” is a favorite of mine. I have never, ever met a preacher who doesn’t interpret — though many would have us believe that their interpretation was God’s own truth. Another favorite of mine is, “our pastor preaches mercy, justice, compassion — everything but the gospel!” Okay, here is my interpretive lens, but I thought mercy, justice, and compassion were good news. Now, I have been in churches (thankfully very few United Methodist Churches) where the names “God,” and “Jesus” are never actually spoken, and that it a problem. I once interviewed some people who were leaving worship at a “hot” new UMC, and I asked them, “What did you learn about God today.” Reply after reply was something along the lines of, “You know? I don’t remember hearing anything about God in church this morning!” Not good. On the other hand, some people think they are only hearing “biblical” preaching if the preacher peppers the message with scripture bits, creating the equivalent of a platitude collage. Some folks feel that too much scholarship and study is actually bad for “biblical” preaching. One pastor told me, “the Bible was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me. He didn’t need commentaries and dictionaries and study guides. Of course, he didn’t have the New Testament either, but he made out fine.” I know another pastor who proudly boasts, “I haven’t cracked a text-book since leaving seminary. Everything one needs is right in the Bible.” This person preaches from Petersen’s, The Message.
On the other side, academic snobbery rears its head. ”Preaching is a lost art. We have some of the absolute worst messages being preached, and people eat them up like candy,” a friend laments. Another holds in contempt any pastor who doesn’t preach the lectionary. Some preachers can exegete the hell out of the Bible, but they aren’t making it better. I am of a mind that the gospel doesn’t need our help — it does just fine on its own. At the same time, I believe it is the responsibility of every preacher to bring the very best thinking and scholarship to the pulpit. Preachers should never get in the way of God’s word, and all too often we do.
The $100 Challenge May 12, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Generosity & Giving, Money and the Church, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, Money and the Church, The United Methodist Church
A young man came up to me the other day and led off with the line, “You probably don’t remember me, but…” Having worked for the national church for almost 15 years, I have met an awful lot of people, and I must confess that I don’t remember too many of them, but this young man went back even further to my days in New Jersey. He said, “We only attended your church one time when I was like fifteen, but I still remember you.” I don’t think there is anything a preacher likes hearing more than that he or she said something to a teenager 22 years ago that made a lasting impression. Most of what we say seems to be forgotten before the majority of people exit the sanctuary… Anyway, what he remembered was “the $100 challenge.”
I haven’t thought of this in years. I went to two small churches that had a terrible track record paying their apportionments. (Apportionments being the “fair share” of missional and denominational support each congregation gives through the annual conference to support the work of the church.) The combined apportionment for the two churches was no more than $8,000, but generally each congregation only paid in the hundreds. Leaders in the congregations were fuzzy about what apportionments were and did. Paying apportionments in full was one of my top priorities, but the skeptical leadership didn’t share my commitment. I remember the chair of Trustees telling me, “if you can think of some way to raise the money, we’ll gladly pay them.” I took the dare and came up with the $100 challenge.
Compassionot May 7, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values.
Tags: Christian Community, Values
Who should have a place at the banquet table laid out for us by God? This is a question that keeps coming up in my life at the moment as I listen to conversations about immigration, homosexuality, capital punishment, and abortion. In each case, one significant issue emerges: who is acceptable and who is not (or who is deserving and who is not; who is “us” and who is “them;” who do we choose to include and who do we choose to exclude)? There is always a dividing line, and the basic disagreement is always about where to draw the line.
We live by our boundaries — those we choose, those imposed on us, those that are explicit, and those that remain hidden but powerful, nonetheless. We all draw lines. They define us. But where we draw them says a lot about who we are, what we believe, and who we believe God is.
What’s Happened to the Heroes? May 4, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture.
I don’t consider myself an old fogy or a prude, but I’m getting fed up with what’s happening to our superheroes. Last year I eagerly anticipated the Watchmen movie, yet I left it disgusted at the glorification of brutality and the gratuitous violence that all but obscured the story. Now, we have Kick-Ass, a clever concept gone sour through violence, foul language from young children, and a moral ambiguity worthy of ancient Rome or most college frat parties. Writers, illustrators, script-writers, and directors defend their “product” by saying they are a more accurate representation of our times. But why do fantasy/escape movies and comics have to represent the worst in us? For decades the comic superhero offered a counter-cultural, counter-reality vision for what could be. Heroes made a commitment not to kill, not to revel in their violence (until Wolverine), and they offered hope (truth, justice and the American way; with great power comes great responsibility, etc.). Their fundamental goodness counterbalanced the use of violence to solve problems. Surely there have always been contradictions and ambiguities — for a while in the 1950s, a crusade to wipe out any and all comic violence almost did to Superman what Kryptonite has never been able to accomplish.