Site Update: The Fall Lineup

Oboedire returns this coming Monday, September 1st.  The Fall program will consist of three weekly posts, two of which are new themes…

Mondays: “Journey.”  I will write meditations based upon Brian McLaren’s new book, ‘We Make the Road by Walking.’  I hope you will incorporate this experience unto your upcoming Christian formation.  Consider creating a Learning Circle (McLaren’s term for a small group) and  make use of the “Comment” option to share your experience with us.

Wednesdays: “In-Sight.”  This series continues as a means to explore a variety of topics.  It symbolizes the fact that the spiritual life occurs across the spectrum of our life experiences. 

Fridays: “For the Bride.”  This new series of weekly posts is intended to chronicle my ongoing reflections about the Church and the need to preserve unity and avoid schism.  The posts will further develop the topics that I initially addressed in my book, ‘For the Sake of the Bride: Restoring the Church to Her Intended Beauty’ (Abingdon, 2014).

I hope one or more of these Fall posts will be of interest to you–and more, I pray that the Oboedire ministry will be a means of grace in your spiritual formation, assisting and encouraging you to live as a fully devoted follower of Jesus.

Pray for me as I prayerfully consider, plan, and write this Fall.  And as always, if you know others who would find Oboedire to be helpful, invite them to subscribe to the blog.  It’s easy and free!  :-)

Blessings!  Steve

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Site Updates: Time for a Break!

Having concluded Pope Francis’ encyclical, now is a good time to take a break.

Beginning September 1st, a new Monday series entitled “Journey” will begin. I will write weekly meditations related to Brian McLaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking.

You can get a traditional book or ebook via Amazon.

I hope that many of you will journey with me through this book, which is actually a 52-session walk through the Bible. I hope you may do this with a friend or group, possibly a mid-week group at your church or Sunday School class.

By posting each Monday, you will have time to get ready to be part of a weekly group, or you will begin each new week with the inspiration a walk through Scripture provides.

So, see you back here on September 1st.

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Editorial: Abraham’s Book

To my surprise, I have become the basis for a character named “Pietist” in William (Billy) Abraham’s new book, ‘Dialogues Amongst the People Called United Methodists.’  Drawing upon my book, ‘For the Sake of the Bride,’ plus some of Billy ‘s own additions, he constructs the character of “Pietist,” along with similar constructs: Traditionalist, Evangelical, Progressive, and Reconciled.

By writing this blog, I will probably increase the sales of his book!  But I am happy to do that, given I went to seminary with Billy (whom we lovingly called “the firey Irishman”), and we have been friends since 1970.

Using a form of writing akin to Plato’s dialogues, Billy constructs a fanciful conversation among Traditionalist, Evangelical, Progressive, Reconciler, and Pietist–a round-table exploration of selected  key issues polarizing the UMC today. 

To his credit, Billy’s approach shows how complicated the issues are and how difficult it is to establish and maintain common ground among widely-divergent views.  When he and I recently exchanged messages about his book, he admitted the challenge he faced in taking a complex, multi-faceted situation and trying to fit it into the dialogue genre. 

The inescapable problem with this genre of literature is that it is concocted out of the author’s mind; that is, written in terms of how the author imagines things would unfold–which, of course, they never do in real life.  Even though the author of a dialogue is not one the characters, the author’s sense of each character determines how the dialogue goes.  Or to say it another way, there is more Billy in his book than appears on the surface.

Furthermore, for dialogues to work as literature, each character must be exaggerated so as to create a point for reaction by one or more of the other characters.  This style keeps the back-and-forth movement in the book.  But it frequently does so at the expense of truth, leaving the book with a tone that mixes satire and scholarship.  Sometimes it is difficult to tell which is which.

I can see this in the exaggeration of my views, both in naming it “Pietist” (which falls short of both the classical and Wesleyan understanding of the term) and also in escalating my views beyond what I meant when I wrote them down–sometimes far beyond where I actually stand. There are numerous examples, but I will only write about a few.

In Billy’s book, “Pietist” testifies to having had a deeply transforming experience–so far, so good–but he is then portrayed as believing he has been given new revelation from God–revelation that supercedes traditional theology.  And, of course, the other characters have a field day with that–as well they should.

But the fact is, I did not say that I had a new revelation, but only a new vantage point–one that gave me both a voice and the courage to enter the conversation with the hope that schism in the UMC can be avoided.  I do believe the Holy Spirit inspired my motivation to look afresh at some things.  But I go on to say in my book that my vantage must be brought to the round table, along with all the others.  No one must think he or she has an inside track, or a special place at the table.

My conviction here is actually not technically pietistic or controversial.  Scholars debaters, and apologists know that any substantial idea has multiple vantage points, and the only way to move forward is to take them all seriously and treat them all respectfully.

On this one point, Billy’s “Pietist” is more nearly what has been called an “enthusiast” (fanatic), and his depiction blurs the Wesleyan distinction between reason and experience,  and between doctrine and opinion–distinctions I try to maintain in my book, ‘For the Sake of the Bride.’

I offer this example both to show the inevitable exaggeration that occurs in dialogues, and to illustrate it with regard to my actual position rather than that ascribed to “Pietist.”

Caricature shows up elsewhere through a misrepresentation of “Pietist’s” spirituality as being excessively inward (i.e. “let’s just pray about it”), and his being obsessed with the homosexual issue.  The fact is, I chose that issue because it is the flash-fire topic in the UMC right now–but by no means the only controversial issue we need to face.  And by choosing the two great commandments as the theology of love in my book, I was hoping folks would see early on that the spirituality of my book is both personal and social: a manifestation of holiness of heart and life–inwardly edifying and outwardly transformative, which is precisely Wesley’s call to practice the  Instituted and Prudential Means of Grace.

Moreover, even though “Pietist” is charged with substituting the phrase “Jesus is Lord” for Nicene Orthodoxy, that is not something I do in my book.  I do draw heavily on insights from E. Stanley Jones in my book, but I must here make it clear that he never used “Jesus is Lord” as a summary of theology and doctrine, but rather as a life conviction that motivated him to engage people of differing faith, and no faith.  It was a conviction that there is no part of life in which Jesus is not present and active.  So, far from being a substitute for orthodoxy, it is a major igniting factor within it.

Perhaps the most saddening depiction of “Pietist” is in the section Billy names ‘Fly in the Ointment.’ Without going into detail I will simply say it totally misrepresents me personally, pietism in general, and the responses of Progressives to my book.  In this section of Billy’s book caricaturing deteriorates into counterfeiting.  It is an unnecessary and unfortunate part of the book.  It should have been omitted.

From these examples, I can only imagine that Traditionalist, Evangelical, Progressive, and Reconciler would be able to cite places in the book where their positions are caricatured.  But that is just the way things play out in this kind of writing.  The right mix of information and speculation is almost impossible to achieve.

If you read Billy’s book, keep in mind the kind of literature you are reading.  Allow the book to do what it can do, but don’t ask it to do the impossible; that is to completely and accurately portray how an actual conversation would go.

Realize that the best way to understand a person is to read the person’s writing directly, not a volume written by someone else about the person.

If you want to do that with respect to me, do not take “Pietist” as your defining concept, but rather read ‘For the Sake if the Bride’ yourself.  Here is the link to it through Amazon, in either a paperback or ebook…

Posted in Editorials

Lumen Fidei: Blessed Is She Who Believed

Not surprisingly, Pope Francis sees the human fulfillment of his encyclical in Mary, the mother of our Lord.

Somewhere it has to work, otherwise faith is only dangling doctrine.  But if there is an example to whom we can turn in order to see the principle personified, then we dare to believe we can be among those who embody and express the light of faith.

No matter what we may think about the adoration of Mary, we can all agree that she was a woman totally abandoned to God.  As such she became a witness to the light of faith, and as such she encourages us to go and do likewise!

Posted in Lumen Fidei

In-Sight: Our Amazing Model

Jesus made friends with people who were unwilling to make friends with each other.  He loved people who had already named one another enemies.  A reading of the Gospels leaves us with a list of amazing individuals and groups whom Jesus included in his family (cf  Matthew 12:50), even when they were unwilling to do the same.

This meant that he was always in the wrong place, hanging out with the wrong people–so far as one or more groups were concerned.  But he did it anyway, because he said he had come to reveal what the Kingdom of God looks like.

And then we come along, claiming to be Christians: “Christ ones.”  So, why do we so often and so little look like him?

And then we pray, “thy kingdom come.”   So, why do we see the existence of so many “little kings” and “little kingdoms” that look more like fallen-world potentates and paradigms?

The only thing that enables us to call ourselves ‘Christian’ is grace.  The only thing that can transform pretense into profession is love (i.e. the two great commandments), things Our Amazing Model has already exemplified when he lived on the earth among us.

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Lumen Fidei: Consolation and Strength Amid Suffering

To speak and to enact the light of faith is to experience suffering.  It sometimes comes from the world that rejects the vision and values of God.  But it also comes from within the Christian church as fellow believers disagree with our interpretation of faith.

St. Paul experienced opposition from both sides, yet he remained steadfast (2 Cor 4:10).  So do all who seek to live and share the light of faith.  Every reformer was first said to be “unbiblical” by some person or group.

So, as Pope Francis’ encyclical moves toward its close, he wisely reminds us that courage is a necessary ingredient in spreading the light of faith.

But if we allow suffering to do its work, we find that it breeds hope–hope captured in this hymn stanza: “that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my Father’s world.”

Combined with faith and love hope enables us to remain faithful–what Pope Francis has captured in the title of one of his first books, ‘Open Mind, Faithful Heart.’

Posted in Lumen Fidei

In -Sight: Radical Unity

Jesus’s prayer “that they may all be one” (John 17:21) is Interpretations have their role to play in the theological task, but they are not the starting point.  Affirmation of faith always precedes the interpretations of it.  The early Christians were wise enough to recognize that in their development of the creeds.  We need to recognize it today (better than we do) in our representation of Christ and Christianity.

The fallen world views Christians as those who are divided by a hopeless array of differences.  There is no attraction to a loving God through people who seem to dislike each other and perpetually try to “one up” them.  We have greatly failed to calculate the damage done to the evangelistic task by our sectarianism and theological arrogance.

The fact is, the world does not know all our interpretations, and they are not trying to learn them.  But everyone is made in the image of God–an image which creates a longing–one of which is to find a place where Christians really love each other. the most radical idea on the earth today.  It is ignored in the fallen world, where division, conflict, prejudice, and pluralism have gone to seed at the hands of egotism.  It is misunderstood even by those who mouth the words, but represent it in limited, superficial, ceremonial, occasional, and inconsistent ways.
But Jesus meant what he said, meant it profoundly, and intended that those of us who follow him should not only experience it, but also be at work to bring it to pass in whatever ways we can.  In the Book of Acts and the Epistles, we can see how the first Christians sought to do it by studying the passages where the word “one” is used.  In Christian history we can study the lives of saints and faith communities who manifested ecumenical and cultural unity.

In God’s new pentecost, we are the benefactors of the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit that is blowing “oneness” back into our lives and our cultures.  If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we can discern a grand reunion that has the potential to heal our divisions and create a unity that enables us to say and do things we could never do in isolation and competitiveness.

But like every visionary prayer, it must be enacted in specific ways and in concrete situations.  We begin right where we are to ask what things we might be able to do together that we might not be able to do alone.  This means abandoning “who gets the credit” and realizing we might even lose people to other churches in the process (we might gain some too), but our response to Jesus’ prayer is a sign that we are Kingdom people, not religious sectarians. 

And in the end, our enactment of Jesus’ prayer creates lives and actions that reflect the heart and will of God to a world that has come to believe that Christians delight in their differences and are more intent on being separated than together.

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