Something's Afoot

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After a successful evangelism conference, kudos to Forward Movement and Transfiguration.  There is certainly something happening in our Church when 600 people want to attend an evangelism conference! We were glad to offer hospitality. I do believe we have something to offer, both with respect to the doctrine that undergirds evangelism and to our experience in planting itself. In this spirit I offer as a blog entry my opening remarks.   


On behalf of the Diocese of Dallas as a co- host, I want to welcome you all to Evangelism Matters.  As disciples in this diverse, growing part of our nation we think it does matter, not just in church plants or renewal groups or ethnic ministries but in every parish, and we mean to learn from you this weekend even as we contribute what we can. We are also pleased to welcome back our presiding bishop, our chief evangelism officer and a friend of the diocese.

It is good to recall here at the outset that theology is largely a matter of keeping first things first. This means, in our case, getting clear about what evangelism is. Back in the antediluvian days of my seminary study, I was told that evangelion was a word, which had acquired an alien resonance from the occupying empire, much as “peace on earth and good will,” had. The good news was announced that the ruler was on his way to a town, only in the Christian counter-version that king was no Caesar, but Jesus crucified and risen. “Ride on king Jesus ride on, no man can a-hinder thee...” The first thing is that it is Jesus who is moving and has already moved. Evangelism is first declaring, like those ancient advance men, those summoners, that he has come.

But he is king Jesus.  He rules over us. And that means our guilt, fear, and anger do not, appearances notwithstanding, still rule. But he has done so as the crucified, not as a terrible accident or tragedy or injustice (though it was tragic, and unjust) but rather with the cross as the way God our king comes to reign over all of us, and all parts of us. And that means that, somehow or other, evangelism implies atonement, whether we as wise stewards bring out old words or new.

If I had to give a compact definition of evangelism it would just this: ride on, king Jesus (Christology), ride on (as we follow in his wake, ecclesiology), (to Jerusalem, doctrine of the atonement), no one shall a-hinder thee (doctrine of grace).

A theology of evangelism starts with this the first thing, the one necessary thing, but it doesn't stop there. It wonders about the implications for social life and politics and psychology and art. Amen. And it wonders how other cultures including the one called, millennial, can hear this. These are all questions Anglicanism has historically been keen to ask.  It tests every thought against cant or manipulation or self-justification. It makes sure that grace and not our own works constitutes the first and last word.  Conference speakers and attenders - get to work! 

So Evangelism begins with theology and it leads back there in humility as well. It speaks but it listens also, to our neighbor, to the word of God and His spirit. Let us discuss here many things, practical and theoretical. But as in that seminary class, let's not let ourselves off the hook too easily. For it is not just new member acquisition or social action we are talking about here (though I am for both) but about the spreading of the news About king Jesus on his way to Jerusalem that we are here to encourage. Welcome and God bless you all.


Two Out of Three....?

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Two out of three…? So goes the rock song by Meatloaf, but it is meant ironically, for that outcome, when the third element is crucial, is not so good either. There are triads where you cannot add the score up to 2-1 and call it a day. So it is with the so-called “three-legged stool” of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. The latter two help us to hear the Scriptures, which every ordained person swears is “the Word of God,” and whose hearing and interpreting take-up the first-half of our worship every Sunday.

I have been thinking today about our Convention (with respect to which I thank all those who gave of their prayer, time, and effort). I meant it when I spoke of my desire to be a bishop for the whole diocese, and when I encouraged a free exchange of views. Furthermore, I acknowledge the sincerity of those who brought their sense of our culture and their own experience to bear in advocating a change to our marriage canon. But in addition to being chief pastor, I am also your chief teacher, and it is in the latter capacity that I am required to offer the following observation.

Debate in convention is a constrained and difficult forum, and yet I worry that no appeal was made to Scripture about this change. We need Scripture so that we can make sense of experience and culture.  If we are to argue, let us, like the rabbis, argue over its interpretation. This eclipse of Scriptural reference is in fact consistent with a wider trend in our Church at present.

Now you might be assuming that the Scriptural case has been made at the national level, but I would beg to differ. I was a member of the theological taskforce (in 2009-2011) when the matter was last considered with traditional representation, and we came out with a split decision. (The report is worth reading:  ATR 93:1, winter 2011). Or perhaps one might assume that we as Episcopalians don't go in for fundamentalist proof-texting, but this really should encourage us to interpret well and in light of the whole witness of Scripture. Woe to us if it becomes an excuse for neglecting the Scriptures.

(In what follows I will leave in abeyance the questions of Tradition and Reason regarding same sex marriage).  First of all, not just the Old, but also the New Testament address the issue (most classically in Romans 1:22-27). In Mark 10:5-9 our Lord himself roots the complementarity of male and female in the structure of creation willed by God as we read in Genesis 1:27-28. Finally in Ephesians 5:31-32 this shape to creation found in Genesis 2:24 is given an additional spiritual meaning for Christians in the order of redemption. The implication is that the marriage of man and woman is a vocation within the Church.  

Please note that nothing I have cited need gainsay the welcome to all in baptism nor the mention in our debate of the virtues, which may be found in gay couples. Nor does it address what the State should or shouldn't do.  I am addressing the Scripture's witness to us as the ecclesia of God.

Thanks to those who took part in our debate.  I mean not to foreclose it, but to expand and deepen it. I welcome further discussion.



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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.