In-Sight: Confessions of an “Old Buck”

When I was in seminary more than 40 years ago, I can remember times we’d sit in the student lounge drinking coffee and lamenting the mistakes our ecclesial leaders were making.  We were the “young bucks,” and we were convinced that things would be different when we were in charge.

Well….I’m an “old buck” now.  I am one of the mistake makers the younger generation is drinking coffee and talking about.  A while back, it came to me that the least I can do is look at the past 40 years and see what mistakes I both own and confess.  Here the ones that stand out for me and the generation of Christian leadership I represent….

(1) We made Christianity appear to be a set of beliefs more than a way of life.

(2) We made the Church appear to be bureaucracy more than the Body of Christ.

(3) We promoted a hermeneutic of suspicion more than a hermeneutic of trust.

(4) We adopted a “come to” mentality more than a “go to” passion.

(5) We gave the impression that the “label” is more important than the “product.”

(6) We embodied the values of the culture more than the values of the Gospel.

(7) We “clericalized” the Church, while still espousing a belief in the priesthood of all believers.

(8) We emphasized membership more than discipleship.

(9) We diminished the liturgy (the church’s theology) and the sacraments (the church’s means of grace).

(10) We caricatured orthodoxy and equated it with notions of judgmentalism, legalism, and narrowness.

(11) We made Christianity more a subset of politics than a transformer of politics.

I’m sure my generation has done much more to weaken the witness of Christianity.  But this is enough to make the point, and enough to say, “Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy!”  And it’s enough to turn around and say to the new generation of young bucks, “We’re praying for you!”

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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2 Responses to In-Sight: Confessions of an “Old Buck”

  1. Steve Harper says:

    Thanks, Larry, for requesting the clarification. There’s a long answer and a short answer. The long answer comes from folks who are more astute than I am. In fact, I took the phrase “hermeneutic of suspicion” from Dr. Richard Hays, who used it in relation to trends in 20th century biblical studies. The short answer is that it essentially means emphasizing what is “not” true (e.g. miracles, Jesus virgin birth or resurrection) than what is true. This approach has done more harm than we usually realize. A friend of mine was on a an interfaith panel in Chicago with a Muslim. The Muslim brought one of the books written by a person who uses the hermeneutic of suspicion, and at the right time in the dialog, he pulled out the book, and asked, “Why should we believe in the Christian faith when your own scholars do not?” My friend learned that this book is actually used in Islamic evangelism activities to show people why they should become Muslims and not Christians. It would be like going into Starbucks and having the folks say, “What you are drinking is not really coffee. We call it that, but you need to know this really isn’t it.” Or what if we went to our physician and the first thing he told us was, “I’ll take a look at you, but I need to tell you that I’ve stopped believing in medicine.” These are oversimiplification illustrations of a hermeneutic of suspicion, but they make the point that not many of us would continue to go to that coffee shop or that doctor. If neither believed in what they were offering. As I come to the end of an era in ministry, I’m concerned that some in my generation wrote, spoke, and taught in ways that actually turned people away from the faith rather than toward it.

  2. Steve,
    Could you clarify what you mean by hermeneutic of suspicion vs trust?

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