Abstinence in New Wine Skins
I began following Thom Schultz some 20+ years ago. I subscribed to his youth ministry publication,Group Magazine, and soon found myself ordering nearly everything from Group. While not Wesleyan, Group provided (and still provides) the very best in Sunday School curriculum, VBS programs, online resources, trainings, retreats, and mission trips. I read his Holy Soup blog regularly.
Group’s stuff is the best because “learning by experience” permeates everything they do. They hold tightly to their R.E.A.L. philosophy of learning;
Relational…learner to learner interaction enhances learning and builds Christian friendships.
Experiential…What learners experience through discussion and action sticks with them up to 9 times longer than what they simply hear or read.
Applicable…The aim of Christian education is to equip learners to be both hearers and doers of God’s Word.
Learner-based…Learners understand and retain more when the learning process takes into consideration how they learn best.
But, in his 2013 book,Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, Thom concludes something is a-miss with several startling questions that must be faced head-on;
1. Even though more than 90 percent of Americans say they believe in God, why did most of them avoid church last weekend?
2. Why are nearly one in five Americans checking “none” for their religious affiliation-the fastest growing, highest-ever documented segment?
3. If 88 percent of adults say their faith is important to them, why do the majority of them choose not to grow their faith in church?
4. Why are nearly two thirds (64%) open to pursuing their faith in an environment that’s different from a typical church?
5. Last weekend most people in America avoided church. And a sizable portion that did make it to church wished they were somewhere else. Why?
While their work revolutionized Christian education for the better, Thom and Group Publishing concluded they had missed the boat! Their laser focus on education was a distraction. That’s because faith is not a subject to be studied as much as faith is a relationship. A relationship with God, our neighbors, and ourselves.
Which means as disciple-makers we need to discuss and explore new educational practices that focus more on learning the lost art of Holy Conversations that build relational bridges with unbelievers with common ground rather than propositional and normative statements that draw doctrinal and theological battle lines in the sand and divide us from each other and the lost.
Ed Stetzer from Lifeway Research and The Billy Graham Institute writes…Some of our inherited evangelism paradigms don’t serve us well in this moment we find ourselves in. We need to ditch reductionist sales pitch approaches to evangelism.
The gospel could never be tidily reduced to four or five propositions. At best, these approaches were guide rails or perhaps coat hooks on which a thorough, thoughtful exposition of the gospel could be hung.
These approaches shrunk the gospel down to a commodity for mass distribution. Evangelism as per Jesus and his primitive movement was messier and more fluid and adaptive than that. We need to move towards evangelism as an encounter with Jesus.
Over 20 years ago the late Stan Grenz advocated a “post-rationalistic gospel.” He contended that,“We must make room for the concept of ‘mystery’…as a reminder that the fundamental reality of God transcends human rationality.” Grenz argued that the heart of Christianity is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and that an experience of Jesus is recounted by propositional categorization. However, “propositions…have a second order of importance…Our goal in proclaiming the gospel should not merely be to bring others to affirm a list of correct propositions.”
I hope you caught that. Propositional truths are simply a way to explain what happened but do a poor job of explaining what is happening right now. Propositional truths are static but my faith is incredibly dynamic and messy. I always wondered how the encounter with Jesus might have continued on Monday morning or next week had she gone back to prostitution or the prodigal son had taken off again or the once lame had returned to their crippling additions?
In other words, how do we have holy conversations with wine connoisseurs, evolutionary biologists, and other “open-minded” folks with radically different worldviews?
I don’t claim to have the answers for all this but I’m excited to be traveling this road with such passionate people! Together we are going to renew our love and understanding for what the church-the bride of Christ-can really be. We have a choice. We can stay the course and cling to the status quo…or we can choose to do something.
Let’s have fun, continue to think outside our “box” and do some amazing things for God’s glory!