Thursday, April 24, 2008

Blame Kyle

Below is a response I was going to leave in the comments to the last post, BUT, after thinking about it, I wanted to (i) highlight Kyle's comment (because it's highly informed and thoughtful, and he has his own significant learning and teaching experience which is different from mine), which you can read in the comments of the previous post, and (ii) give my thoughts on it separately here:

Yo! Kyle,

You can opine here anytime! I'll take your comment above all as a double compliment: 1) that my post was interesting enough to read through and comment thoroughly upon, and 2) you must believe my attention span to be above average. :)

Really, thanks for interacting with some really good stuff (how's that for an educated vocabulary?). This was my favorite quote: "The pedagogy of the early third century Eastern theologian, Gregory Nazianzen, was, 'let us teach dogmatically today and discuss tomorrow.' I'm with you on not dismissing lecture altogether (which you'll see in the next post). I just lectured a little last night, as a matter of fact. (Though, I wonder if Gregory would substitute a reading assignment for a dogmatic lecture if his entire church had access to what we have access to . . . just a thought.) For me, the issue of teaching is at least significantly one of emphasis within all our formational practices, and what we're hoping to accomplish when we teach. That will affect how we teach and many other things. I think teaching is important. That said, the sermon/lecture has become the evangelical sacrament in many, many circles (faith comes by hearing, and that of the word of God), sometimes an end in itself, rather than one of many tools to assist in the making of mature disciples.

Relatedly, having a "head pastor" has become the chief necessary ingredient in Evangelical ecclesiology. To quote or at least paraphrase John Wimber, "The modern era has been a blessing in many, many ways, but it hasn't done much for our pneumatology." Similarly, it's also created distinct and easily recognizable problems in our ecclesiology and our soteriology especially. These all affect what churches pursue in the world and in their own people, and how. For example, I don't think that you should be saddled with the burden of a 'holier-than-other-Christians' title in order to be given space in your community to use your gifts and training with passion and as often God inspires within broad communal boundaries. Why can't there be multiple people whom the community has recognized as having a particular gift to teach? These folks can work together and sharpen each other and the community. Can't they, in turn, train and involve others in their discipline and work, all within one community? Certainly. And when it comes to decision making in the body, the Quakers, some monastic orders, and even AA have, in my view, embodied a more biblically sound practice and government, namely, a "pneumocratic" body of brothers in which the members discuss and discern together, looking for consensus, not mere 'majority vote' on what God is doing in a particular situation. Of course, some voices will carry more weight than others, which is appropriate, but the Spirit can also speak through the most unexpected sources, and many will recognize his voice when they hear it, no matter the messenger. There is more here, but you get the idea.

Though, clearly, modernism has not and does not stop God from accomplishing wonderful things in the most modern (and lecture oriented!) churches, many times over. To not see this is a mistake.

But the splinters remain for me, both from experience and from what I see God doing (and how) in the scriptures. BTW, my favorite take on a functional approach to church decision making is stated nicely in a brief study by the Center for Parish Development, called "Gathered Together to Seek and to Do God's Will."

Hope you all are doing well. I'll roll out the next post soon.

1 comment:

Kyle said...


Thanks for your response and kind remarks. I am always amazed by your clarity of thought and generosity. You’re a pimp.

After re-reading my comments I apologize for my some of disorganized thoughts and academic writing. Pedagogies and methodologies are one of my interests and I am currently considering constructing a monastic teaching method for the contemporary church (and Christian academia) and I think I was caught up in this mindset while I was commenting on your post. Whoops! Whoa, wait a second you’re an academic! What am I apologizing for! The early church historian Jean Leclerq and his fascinating book The Love of Learning and the Desire for God has been very influential in my musing about a robust Christian teaching method. I think you might be interested in this book. You should try to get your hands on a copy.

You are so clever! Good point, you did lecture me on a blog post didn’t you? And I lectured you back! Hah! I win! ;)

I agree with all of your replies and I would like to only further elucidate what I am emphasizing and what I would be delighted to see practiced in contemporary churches. I am aware that leadership and instruction are not superfluous elements to the church. On the contrary, they are indispensable. I am also aware that the Spirit is the primary teacher of the people of God; like you, I too affirm the missional church notion of pneumocracy (in fact, you were the person who introduced me to it.). What I would like to prevent is a division between the two. The antithesis of the Spirit is not one leader and his or her lecture-oriented teaching method. Rather, the antithesis of the Spirit is no Spirit (This might be difficult for us to conceive: the power of God not being somewhere) and only one leader with his or her lecture-oriented teaching method is not no Spirit. Modern errors have made us become overly sensitive in this area.

Some communities do not want a primary leader because they think this could potentially become autocratic. Other communities want a primary leader so they can maintain order. I think both are reactionary and harmful. What we need are communities that are led (and want to be led) by the Spirit, and in being led by the Spirit, as I am advocating, recognize the exceptional wisdom of some and want to submit themselves to these individuals in order to become disciples of Christ (Maybe this is engendered by some of my fundamental premises: I do not conceptualize the church in hierarchical ways or what some may term “Pauline” [many gifts one body]. I tend to conceptualize the church around its early formative years when it was emerging from a Jewish apprenticeship model. Namely, Jesus and the disciples were friends but the disciples chose (even though, ironically, Jesus originally chose them) to make Jesus their master. Subsequently, they committed to living and learning from one another.

With that said, a modern fallacy that is prevalent in our postmodern culture is, we can become a disciple of Christ without submitting to a community and even more so, to particular individuals. What I was emphasizing with my reference to Augustine was that we inevitably do this anyways. If we are not deliberate about submitting ourselves to particular individuals we do so unintentionally. We are submitting ourselves to people and influences everyday. And I tend to think that many Christians are not deliberate about who they are submitting themselves to. And for some, they are simply submitting themselves to the idea that the Spirit speaks through others without submitting themselves to the individuals that the Spirit is constantly speaking through. I am emphasizing that we need to be more deliberate about affirming the former and practicing the latter. And this may involve submitting to leaders who are lecture-oriented in their teaching methods. The disciples submitted themselves to a Rabbi that was both Socratic and lecture-oriented and the Gospel accounts display this. I realize this shifted trajectories and moved on to leadership models but that is because, in my mind, leaders are inextricably linked to teaching methods.

[Another side note: I’ll reserve it for another post but I am convinced that many evangelicals are ignorant in their faith because unlike other Christian traditions they do not have to go through catechesis or any formal training in all things theological. And by this I am not suggesting indoctrination. They need to wrestle with basic concepts and if they do not do this in a methodical way then it can potentially become problematic. And, will continue to do so in years to come. And some in the evangelical tradition wonder why many emerging church folks are turning to historical traditions with catechesis, liturgy and formal instruction – like the Anglicans, Catholics or Orthodox!]

Thanks again for your clarifications. Blessings brother. Tell all the beautiful ladies in your household I said, “Hello.”