Am I Evangelical?

I consider myself evangelical, in the best sense of that word. People define the term differently, of course. Some define it by a set of beliefs, especially concerning the authority of scripture and the nature of salvation. Some define it as having to do with a personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Without disputing the importance of any of those criteria, I believe “evangelical” is about the good news, the evangel, the story of Jesus who revealed God to us and who defined by his life and teachings the nature of God’s love and God’s desire for the world.

“Evangelical,” however, has been used to divide the church, which is not good news at all. How can we be evangelical and divide the body of Christ into groups of Christians according to their beliefs and practices? If evangelical has any biblical roots at all, surely those roots grow deep into Jesus Christ, the head of the church which is his body, as the New Testament says. Its claim is that Jesus has made us one, creating a unity of the Spirit which is God’s work. If we do anything to harm the body, to divide the church, we are wounding Christ.

[From Moral Values: What I Learned Growing Up in Church – Read the book online.]

How the church can be a safe place

A Safe Place Covenant
(Short Version)

 Examine:       We will ask, “Does this contribute to love?” before we do anything.

Engage:          We will act with respect, compassion, and generosity toward every person.

Listen:            We will look for what is good in others, listening to their whole story.

Speak:            We will speak only for ourselves, except to speak up for someone who is hurt.

Act:                 We will make people feel safe when they are with us.

Used by permission. © 2006 by Jimmy Reader. Original © 2004 by Jimmy Reader from Moral Values: What I Learned Growing Up in Church.

SEE THE FULL VERSION OF THIS COVENANT HERE

Going back 100 years

In 1907 Walter Rauschenbusch published Christianity and the Social Crisis. 100 years later his grandson, Paul Raushenbush, republished it. What struck me as I read it in 2007 was that I seemed to be reading a description of the world in which I was living – a century after it was first written. Now in 2014 the inequalities of wealth and the growing poverty of our nation challenge us to respond faithfully to the call of 100 years ago. You can read the book online here ….

My Journey Into Emergence Christianity

As I read (again) Phyllis Tickle’s book, Emergence Christianity, I realized that over the past 50 years my personal journey has often overlapped with the journey of the Church she describes in her book – a journey to becoming “Emergence Christianity.” I highly recommend the book (with the knowledge that some people will not react positively to reading it).Cover for Emergence Christianity

Tickle describes a forming of “a new presentation of the faith” in what she calls an “emergence culture.” Many of the formation factors have been an essential part of my own journey, including:

  • Opening to the work of the Spirit (pentecostal and charismatic)
  • Moving away from the importance of  church buildings (including house churches and small groups in the community)
  • Changing from hierarchical models of organization and ministry to non-hierarchical (community) models
  • Acceptance of mystery and mysticism in our spirituality
  • Seeing “kingdom work” as essentially linked to “social” concerns – poverty, equality, fairness, justice
  • Opening to new ways of reading and understanding the scriptures (beyond the formal boundaries of doctrine)

These themes are linked directly to how churches are changing today. Understanding them is an essential step toward leading churches through the changes we are experiencing in our lifetime.

Movements in Changing Churches

 

21st century churches are changing as they experience and respond to various movements of God’s Spirit in our world today. Here are five movements which I believe are important:

  1. Compassion – Love of God and all creation guides all our decisions and actions.
  2. Contemplation – Practices of prayer and meditation combine with a deepening spirituality at the core of our Christian life.
  3. Community – Individual behavior comes out of knowing ourselves as part of a community of both church and world with a commitment to the well-being of all.
  4. Connection – Awareness that our relationship with God weaves together with all of God’s creation creates action seeking to heal and restore.
  5. Cooperation – Working together to fulfill God’s desires for creation displaces competition and exclusion, making shalom a reality for all.

Moral Values: What I Learned Growing Up in Church

            The church today is deeply divided over our understanding of moral values and their biblical roots. Some people define key moral values as abortion and homosexuality, and some say key moral values are larger than that, the values of life and love. Some see black-and-white values taught in scripture, and others see shades of gray in a biblical tradition with its roots embedded in writings spread out over 1,000 years.

The choice is not either/or but both/and. There are some clear black-and-white moral teachings in scrip-ture (though not as many as some people think), and there are many shades of understanding of such concerns as marriage, family life, sexuality, religious life, the sanctity of all life, and the roles of men and women in society, to name just a few.

            In a small book like this we cannot consider all the moral teachings of scripture. And this is not an academic study of any of them. It is a personal witness to my faith. I want to focus on the ultimate moral values of life and love, especially love. What does the Bible teach us about love, and what are the implications of love in our concern for those who have yet to be born and our concern for the sacredness of marriage – two areas of moral values argued so vociferously during the 2004 U.S. election?

            Will the church survive its deep divisions? Will mainstream denominations in the U.S. find a way to continue to live together despite the seemingly insur-mountable differences of understanding about what we believe to be of ultimate importance in our faith? Will the different branches of the church – sometimes charac-terized as conservative and liberal – be able to accept each other as members of the same spiritual body and family and learn to live together without rancor and with respect? These are the fervent questions in my heart and soul as I write this book. … Read the entire book online….