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Bryan Stone Publishes Finding Faith Today

(from Recent Faculty Publications, Boston University School of Theology)

Finding Faith Today presents the findings of a multi-year study on how people come to faith in the US context. The book sheds new light on how people come to faith and what sort of spiritual, practical, and social changes accompany that.

Mark R. Teasdale, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, says: “This book offers a paradigm shift! In a culture awash with statistical trends about religious adherence and programming meant to attract people to faith, Stone’s wide-ranging, thoughtful, and careful research provides a human face to the statistics. He shows us that most people find God in authentic relationships and communities. As people of faith we are freed from the business and celebrity often connected with faith-recruitment to welcome, befriend, and share our lives with others.”

Bryan Stone is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Boston University School of Theology. Among his published titles are: Evangelism After Pluralism (2018), A Reader in Ecclesiology (2012), Evangelism After Christendom (2006), and Faith and Film (2000).

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ADVENT 2: Waiting and Hastening 1

W. Stephen Gunter, Ph.D.
E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism Director

Text: II Peter 3:11-18
[Listen to the Audio]

I never fail to be moved by the poetry of Charles Wesley set to music, and “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” is in my top 5 all-time favorites. We should sing it, not just during Advent and Christmas, but all the year around:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

(Charles Wesley, 1744 – UMH, p.196)

It is our natural tendency as Western Christians to read this as personal in the sense of individual (remember our lesson last Sunday?), but look at lines 5-8:
Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.

When I first went to Europe to live at age 17, I was needless to say “in deep culture shock.” Holland is not East Texas, and I do not mean the flatland polders around Amsterdam in contrast to the hills and pine trees. From living also in Germany, Switzerland, and England and traveling extensively in Southern Europe, I learned that we Americans have a characteristic disposition quite different than most any European.

We are, as a general rule, “people of action.” We do not typically take long lunches like the French. I learned that in France when you eat and pay for lunch, you have bought the table to linger as long as you like. The meal is a social occasion. Unless it is a 3-Martini lunch with our favorite lobbyist, we do not linger at lunch. But notice, when we do linger over lunch, it is because it is a ‘working lunch.’ We are a people on the move getting things accomplished. Unlike the Swiss, a lot of us do not stand at the crosswalk and wait for the light to change. Seen a driver run thru a yellow-turned red light recently? Ruth Ann’s brother, Bill, was fond of saying, “We are burning daylight.” In other words, if the sun is up and we are just sitting there drinking a leisurely cup of coffee, we are wasting time. We need to be on the job.

Last week we discovered deep reasons as to why Advent is hard for us. Advent is about Watching and Waiting, and at some cultural levels for us, this sounds a false note. We are not comfortable sitting around watching and waiting. We want to speed things up; we must move things along. God is moving too slowly; we have been waiting 2000 years already. If God is not going to “bring in
the Kingdom,” we will bring it ourselves. That is the American Way.

All kidding aside, in 2018 we need to ask ourselves seriously, what are we  going to do with this tiresome Advent refrain about watching and waiting. In traditional Advent liturgies that stretch over several weeks, we hear that The Bridegroom has been delayed and the wise and foolish virgins are waiting. In the Parable of the Talents, the servants are waiting for their master to return. And just how long have we been waiting for the last judgment when the promise of Christmas will be fulfilled? Advent is not just about the first coming in Bethlehem, because in the Biblical narrative that first coming can never be separated from the Second Coming.

Actually, to what extent do we any longer take the anticipation of the Second Coming with utmost seriousness? We say, “Yes, we do!”, but to what extent is this mostly lip service to what we were taught in Sunday School. [Here, I am really speaking of Baptist Sunday School where lots of time was spent on learning the Bible as literally true.] Here, I am confessing, and I am not convinced
that this confession is good for my soul. It is certainly not good for my reputation as an evangelical theologian.

This first part of my confession is mostly harmless: I am an urban and perhaps even urbane Christian just like a lot of people in our society. The second part of the confession is more tricky: Do I really believe that Jesus is coming back . . . not just coming one by one to individual souls in their own hearts. No, I am asking the full-throated Biblical question: Do I really believe that Jesus will come to call the entire cosmos into judgment? Coming to bring history as we know it to a close? Coming to bring his everlasting kingdom to pass? That is what the New Testament sets before us – not a private, individualized, spiritualized coming . . . but actually a coming cosmic event that will be visible to everyone!? In another Charles Wesley hymn that we quoted last week (“Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” – 1758, UMH, p. 718): Every eye will now behold him, robed in dreadful majesty.

This claim the Church makes is too serious to fool around with. If we do not mean it, we should put an end to Advent liturgies. Actually, a lot of contemporary worship churches are doing away with Advent observation and settling for the romantic Jesus in a manger. And while we are at it, should shorten the Apostles’ Creed and leave out the line: “He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.” We could, of course, just omit the Apostles’ Creed altogether.

Our text for today from II Peter helps us to realize that we are not the first Christians to ask the questions related to “how long, O Lord, how long”? Why has so much time gone by? What has Christ not returned as promised? Is he really going to come back? Isn’t the creation just going to continue to rock along on its on? Read II Pet. 3:3-4). The Bible promises but offers no proof of any of this, and the entire apparatus of modern science would seem to undermine it so conclusively that we would be fools to go on believing it. It is “totally unbelievable.”

The book of II Peter is not an easy read but listen to II Peter 1:16: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitness of his majesty.” Eyewitness to the majesty of God. When we indwell the Christian Scriptures and they come to indwell us, our perspective changes. There is something different
about the tone of the New Testament witness, something out of the ordinary. These men and women were staking their very lives, literally, on something that had been seen and corroborated by a large number of witness whom they, in turn, trusted.

Don’t read it as a modern romance about Jesus. Read it as a witness testimony. It is straightforward. It is full of real people with real faults, recognizably like ourselves, who nevertheless have a report to make: we are not following a myth, we were eyewitness to his majesty, we are testifying of His power and of His future coming. Thematic to early Advent liturgies is the Gospel truth: “Of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come . . . and what I say to you I say to all: Watch, Wait! Keep awake!” (Mark 11:32-33, 37; Matt. 24:42 and Luke 21:36). A related Advent image is that of the watchman who sits all night looking for the dawn. It all sounds very passive, as though there were absolutely nothing that we can do to hasten things along in connection with the phrase “waiting for and hastening.” How can you wait and hasten at the same time?!

It is at this juncture that Fleming Rutledge makes a turn in her sermon that I find stunningly brilliant. She says, “That, my fellow Americans, is the secret of the Christian life, knowing how to keep those two modes in creating tension, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God . . . [the new heavens’ and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”] She goes on to say, “This is so typical of Advent, the time of contrasts and opposites: darkness and light, good and evil, past and future, now and not yet. Finding the right balance between waiting and hastening is the challenge of our existence in the body of Christ until he comes again. We might call it action in waiting.” Let’s unpack this a bit in closing so that we can have something to take home with us – some Christian home work to ponder.

Since the 6th century the Church has been singing this Advent Hymn [not us Methodists, for the most part, but the Lutherans, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics]:

1 Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding;
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the works of darkness
O ye children of the day!”
2 Wakened by the solemn warning,
Let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her Sun, all sloth dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.
3 Lo! the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from heaven;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiven;
4 So when next He comes in glory,
Wrapping all the world in fear,
May He with His mercy shield us,
And with words of love draw near.

Translated from the Latin by Edward Caswall, 1814-1878

We notice in this grand old hymn the tension between the already and the not. This is the tension to which Advent calls us and in which we Christians live. If only God can bring peace and good will, if only God can create “a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells,” then what is the point our doing anything. If there is nothing we can do to improve the situation, then we really might as well withdraw into a private world of gated communities, exclusive clubs, and personal privilege and enjoy it as best we can before we are overtaken by cancer or senility.

This is where the Advent “action in waiting” comes in, the “hastening.” It is all a matter of what we are pointing toward. Let’s look for a moment at another section of II Peter. Speaking of the promises of God, the apostolic writer says, “We have the prophetic word made more sure . . . . Pay attention to this as to a lamp in a dark place, until the day dawn and the morning star rises in your hearts” (II Pet. 1:19). That is the heart of the message of Advent:

Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding;
Christ is nigh, it seems to say;
Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day!

The Church of The Resurrected Lord, the one who is calling us into God’s future, responds to the “thrilling voice” by doing the works of day, the works of light: the ministry to the imprisoned, the soup and sandwiches for the hungry, housing for the orphaned and destitute, a place of health and safety for the low income,the birthday parties for the children who will have no parties. These are lamps shining in dark places. These are works that glorify Christ while we wait for Him. This is action while waiting to hasten the d”Day of the Lord.” These are small glimpses into God’s future breaking in upon us.

To be sure, lots of Christians do these things, but we have sadly let them devolve in what we call social action. How sad that we have taken divine embodiments of health, hope, and healing and turned them in mere social action. Government social agencies do all these things in an arms-length transaction. The question for the Church this and every Advent and all year round is this: How
different are we than a government social agency? To what extent do we come alongside the poor lost souls left behind in our headlong rush to personal power in the form of wealth and privilege?
In closing, here is one final illustration – a true Advent story from the past. It is a Hanukkah story, about darkness and light. No Supreme Court decisions issued from it, no mighty movements came of it, no commemorative events have happened around it. In comparison to the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre that took place recently.2 My story is rather small in scale, but it was not insignificant.

I need you to use your imagination here. Picture a tidy residential street in a tranquil American suburb, ending in a cul-de-sac, lined with ten or fifteen attractive houses. Most of them are gentile homes, but one is Jewish. It is December, and that house has a menorah in the window for the celebration of Hanukkah. One night, vandals smash the windows, remove the menorah, throw it
on the ground, and scribble a swastika on the side of the house. The next night, every house on the street had a menorah burning in the window – lamps shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in the hearts of all.

Dear friends … we all stand on the threshold of God’s kingdom. We never know from moment to moment when an Advent moment of decision will come our way. The church in its sinful past has participated in so much damage over the years: so much harm to blacks, so much prejudice against Jews, so much degradation of foreign immigrants of all varieties, implicit and explicit harm to all sorts of people labelled as “other” – unbelievers of all varieties, their mortal sin being that they are not like those of us in positions of power and privilege.

“But it is not too late to start, to initiate change. The Lord is still out there in front of us. His future still approaches, his future in which all will be made new. His promise is sure; he will come. We make ready for him, this Advent Season and every season, by lighting whatever little lights the Lord has put in front of us; no light is too small to be used by him, action in waiting, pointing ahead, looking to Christ and for Christ. Even the smallest lights will be signs in this world, lights to show the way, beachheads to hold against the Enemy [Beelzebub, the prince of the air],” until the Day of the Lord: the day that shall dawn upon us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79).

This is Advent. Let us venture out in the name of the One who has come and will come again, so that in the anticipation of his first coming on Christmas morning, we will be lights of hope in a dark world that yearns for the New Creation of God’s design.


1 In its essential content, this Advent Lesson has its origins in a sermon preached by The Revd. Fleming Rutledge on the Second Sunday of Advent (1999) at Saint Michael and Saint George Episcopal Church in Saint Louis, Missouri.

2 The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was a mass shooting that occurred at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2018, while Shabbat morning services were being held. Eleven people were killed, and seven were injured.

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ADVENT 1: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ 1

W. Stephen Gunter, Ph.D.
E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism Director

Today, I am going to confess to you why Advent is so hard for me. Advent is easy and fun when I see it in sentimental and romantic terms as the run up to Jesus in a manger. The problem here, when viewed this way, is that it is pleasurable, but it is not meaningful. It has little or no capacity for transformation. This romantic lens also does not do justice to Scripture and to the history of our liturgy. To discern the significance of Advent, we must “dig a little,” and it is my practice to avoid digging because it is hard work.

We will have 3 sessions together, and my first observations center on how Advent is “hard” for us. It is not my design to entertain you, but it is my hope that you will be thoughtfully engaged. These talks are being audio-recorded and will be on my [Church of the] Servant web page [Listen to the Audio]. No audio visuals will be used and that is quite on purpose. I do not want you to be distracted by color slides, but rather I want you to use your imagination. This will be a challenge for us, because I am inviting you to imagine something quite out of the ordinary.

The Once and Future Coming, Part I

Advent is ‘hard’ for us because it calls us to live into a rather unnatural state of being. It calls us to a conversion that will require our moving totally against the flow of contemporary culture and into being totally counter cultural. In most of our minds, Advent is simply preparation for Christmas. Indeed, it is that, but it is not the popular Santa Claus in a manger materialism of our sixty days of shopping left till Christmas. Nor is it the ‘Away in a Manger’ sentimentality, unless we center on the verse that says, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Indeed, Advent is about the hopes and fears of all the ages being met in the coming of the Incarnate God to heal our world in a consummate reconciliation. Most of the time, unfortunately, we gloss over this into order to rush to the manger and the Christmas tree – with not much distinction between the two destinations.

A genuine celebration of Advent is hard for us because we want to make it merely personal in the sense of individual. To be sure, it is deeply personal, but it should never be merely individual. Advent is cosmic. It is about the redemption of all of creation: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” (II Cor. 5:19) Let me say a bit more about why I believe Advent is comprehensively counter-cultural by setting out briefly some dominant characteristics of our American culture.

The first characteristic I would note is the Modern moral order. A new understanding of morality that focuses on the organization of society for mutual benefit rather than as an obligation to “higher” or eternal norms. In our modern construal, the “moral” is bound up with (and perhaps reduced to) the “economic.” Everything is measured in economic terms. Seen through the lens of the modern moral order, Advent cannot be about Christmas because we have lost sight of the ‘reason for the season.’ Not only in the Christmas shopping season, but all the year round, we have commodified everything, and that includes human beings. We measure people by their net worth and their economic contributions. In such a society, Jesus would not be of any account. Born in Bethlehem, Jesus and Joseph and Mary were refugees in Egypt pursued for slaughter by Pharaoh’s henchmen. In America today, refugees are not people of infinite worth created in the image of God. Refugees are scum.

Western society, as a whole, has bought into a totally naturalistic order of existence. It is no longer about creation but about coming into existence. Most of us would be insulted to suggest that we are atheistic or agnostic, but let’s explore this a bit. A quarter of a century ago, a most famous atheist, Stephen Hawking, said, “The human race is just a chemical scum on an average-sized planet, orbiting round a very average-size star, in the outer suburb of one of a million galaxies” [hence the expression: “You chemical scum, you”].[2] Two assumptions are at work here: Humanity is an insignificant accident in the evolution of the universe and as such human beings are therefore insignificant scum.

My point here is not that we readily agree with the scum assertions of Hawking, but rather that we are playing into his atheism when we reduce fellow human beings to objects of economic productivity. Against this the God of the universe screams out an eternal NO! In this ETERNAL NO, we encounter Advent. Created in the image and likeness of God, every human being is of infinite worth – of such worth that God’s very self comes and dwells among us for our salvation.

Another way that Advent is hard for us to adequately visualize and internalize is rooted in modern notions about individuality. We all know about medicines like buffered aspirin and buffered vitamin C. I would suggest to you that in our current secular world, we have become Buffered selves.[3]  In the modern social imaginary, the self is sort of insulated in an interior “mind,” no longer vulnerable to the transcendent order (God), on the one hand, or cosmic forces of evil (The Devil), on the other hand. These dimensions are largely absent from the modern social narrative. Even in church, it’s rather quaint to entertain such language. We of the older generation remember the language, but I believe I speak not only for myself when I say that few of us live our day to day lives under that sacred canopy. At the personal level, this may be the most pervasive change with which the Church has to deal. Our deepest selves are buffered against the intrusion of the divine. In this sense of buffered selves, we are increasingly secular.

Christian scholars who study our social/religious context have a definition of this: Exclusive humanism:  A worldview or social imaginary that is able to account for meaning and significance without any appeal to the divine or transcendence. It bothers me to put it this way, but we are all for the most part secular humanists. What I mean by that is this. We live our lives rather completely in an Immanent frame.  A constructed social space that frames our lives entirely within a natural (rather than supernatural) order. It is the circumscribed space of the modern social imaginary that precludes the vertical dimension – transcendence. That is why Advent is so hard for us, but that is also why we are in dire need of an authentic perspective on Advent and Christmas.

In the biblical narrative describing our social imaginary, humans are important, but God is the central player in the drama. There are three dimensions in interplay. Under the Sacred Canopy[4] we live in a between time – the time between God’s first coming at Christmas and the anticipated Second Coming. In this ‘between time’, as moderns, we fail to give adequate attention to the central player (God) in the opera of life, and moreover, we have written another actor out of the script. God is at work, human beings are at play and the Evil One (in Scripture variously called Satan, the devil, Beelzebul, “the ruler of this world” and “the prince of the power of the air”) is intent on disruption and destruction. To my mind, no one has captured the drama better than Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov: “God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the human heart.” This is what Advent is all about. It is little wonder that we find it hard. Our Christmas season is a studied avoidance of this Biblical drama.

“We can say that the entire kosmos, the world God loves (John 3:16), is the scene of the struggle between God and the devil. When Jesus says to Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not of this kosmos [world]’ (John 18:36), his meaning is clear: the sphere of power belonging to God, who created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo), has invaded the Enemy, and in the most inconceivable way possible – the willed self-offering of God the Son to human wickedness in a scene of barbaric execution.”[5]

Advent is hard for us to grasp because, when we sentimentalize it into Christmas sweetness, we fail to remember the sweep of the Biblical narrative that includes not only life, but also death and resurrection. In Jesus, God’s future has arrived among us and that future is pulling us forward into God. This pull forward to God’s future is thwarted by our sinful insistence on privileging a world order that is totally immanent, defined by a utilitarian materialism that closes off the vertical dimension, what theologians call transcendence. The most bedeviling part of this is that to the extent that we have fallen prey to this secularism, we  less and less see people as human beings but more as “human doings,” and the importance of their doing is defined materially and economically by dollar productivity. Our escape saying is, “Well, its business” . . . as if all of life is a business. Our greatest deception is that we have increasingly come to believe that this actually constitutes reality, when it is actually a modern construal of reality. If I understand the Bible and the Season of Advent, this entire construal must be called into question. Human beings are not economic pawns on life’s business chess board. On the contrary, created in the image and likeness of God, every person is of ultimate intrinsic worth. So much so, that God came to save.

To travel with God into the offering of Advent, we must be converted. We have to break through the downward pull of the gravity built into our modern Christmas spin: A materialist construal of life within the immanent frame that does not recognize itself as construal-bound and circumscribed by the Modern Moral Order: The organization of society for individual social and economic benefit rather than an obligation to “higher” or eternal norms.

The reason Advent is so hard for us is that it is actually a call to repentance. We want the kingdom of Jesus, but we want it ordered other than the way he himself describes it, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn 18:36). Advent and incarnation are not God’s response because all is well in the universe. Hear these words from the poet W. H. Auden:

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always plan.
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort [our buffered self] assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.[6]

I was talking last night with my sister-in-law, Jan Gunter, about my talk for this morning, and she remembered the phrase “slouching toward Bethlehem” from the poet William Butler Yeats (William Butler Yeats (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939). Jan majored in English language and literature at Southern Nazarene University, so she remembers such things. Listen how Yeats, who lived a century ago, sounds like he could be writing today:

The Second Coming

by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: . . .
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Extreme ironic poetic question by Yeats. Jesus is a ‘rough beast’ because he is so totally unlike what we would design. He is a threat to our established order and he strikes fear in our souls when we see who Jesus really is and what he represents – a comprehensive challenge to our Modern Moral Order. Are you and I this day “slouching toward Bethlehem” rather than leaning into this marvelous Season of Promise? The multiple dimensions of Advent are hard for us because we have created and are propagating an alien world order. We insist on seeing it as reality, when it is in fact our material construal of reality. We want our ways to be God’s ways. We avoid the hard truth that the mosaic of Advent includes the Garden of Gethsemane and Golgotha. Advent and Incarnation are God’s response to our human predicament: “Lost in a haunted wood, children afraid of the night, who have never been happy or good.”

But, praise be to God, the Advent mosaic also includes Easter:

Lo, he comes with clouds descending
Once for our salvation slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending
Swell the triumphant strain.
Allelulia!
Alelulia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.[7]

So, in this Season, we purpose to do the hard work to live into the full significance of Advent – because there we will discover afresh and anew the “reason for the Season.” When this “reason” gets a hold on us, we might just experience Christian conversion. How could we not!?

We enter Advent in anticipation of the “Joy to the World,” the “already” but “not yet,” God has come!


[1]  I am borrowing this title from one of my favorite preachers, Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge, whose 2018 book by this title is both the inspiration for and partial resource for these Advent lessons here at Church of the Servant.

[2] Quoted in Raymond Tallis, Reflections of a Mataphysical Flaneur (New York: 2014).

[3] For these fundamental characteristics of Secularity, see Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Fortunately for all of us, in 2014, James K.A. Smith published How (Not) to be Secular (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
When Charles Taylor lectured at Duke, he said, “Jamie Smith understands me better than I understand myself.” I recommend that you read Smith before you try to read Taylor.

[4] Borrowed from Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967).

[5] Fleming Rutledge, ADVENT: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp. 15-16).

[6] W. H. Auden, “September 1, 1939,” in The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden  (New York: Random House, 1945), 57.

[7] Charles Wesley, “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 718.

 

READ WEEK 2  |  READ WEEK 3

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New Book on E. Stanley Jones

The recently released E. Stanley Jones: Sharing the Gospel in a Pluralistic Society is published in partnership with FFE and GBHEM. The book is an insightful look at Jones’ contextual ministry, marrying mission & evangelism.
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Foundation, SEJ Heritage Center to Share Space

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

LAKE JUNALUSKA, NC, October 1, 2018 — The Foundation for Evangelism (FFE) and The Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) Heritage Center are pleased to announce that beginning in 2019, the two organizations will be sharing office and archival space at the FFE’s headquarters on the campus of Lake Junaluska Assembly in North Carolina. The SEJ Heritage Center will be the second organization to lease space at the location, joining the Smoky Mountain District (SMD) of the United Methodist Church which has housed its offices there since 2012. Although the SEJ Heritage Center will no longer be housed by Lake Junaluska Assembly, it will remain located on the Assembly grounds, and its long-time relationship with the Assembly will continue.

Renovations will begin in December 2018 which will allow the SEJ Heritage Center to relocate and occupy a portion of the office space currently utilized by FFE and SMD staff and will also include storage space to be converted to an area for archives.

Jane Boatwright Wood, President of The Foundation for Evangelism notes that “The cultivating of this relationship has been an ongoing process. We believe that this partnership enhances the ministry of both organizations.  Our team is excited to welcome the Heritage Center as they continue to keep alive the unique history of Methodism by preserving and sharing our stories.”

Jim Pyatt, Chair of the SEJ Commission on Archives and History, states that this partnership in ministry should be mutually beneficial.  He goes on to note that “The Heritage Center is the repository for the papers of Harry Denman, the founder of the Foundation for Evangelism,” adding that, “Part of the function of The Heritage Center is to preserve and record the story of how the people called Methodist have shared the Good News of the love of Jesus with others.  This partnership helps to remind us all of the mission of the church.”

This partnership between the FFE and SEJ Heritage Center will also provide access to onsite meeting facilities including the Reynolds Conference Center which is utilized throughout the year by Methodist-related organizations and churches for retreats, trainings, meetings, and special events. A small chapel is also part of the facility and provides space for worship, reflection, and prayer.

The SEJ Heritage Center serves as the Museum and Archives for the Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) of the United Methodist Church and, as such, for Lake Junaluska Assembly, the oldest and largest of the SEJ agencies.  In this capacity the center houses the essential historical records for both agencies, and is a significant resource for anyone doing research on either the Lake Junaluska Assembly, on the SEJ, or on historical matters related to the United Methodist Church in this part of the United States. Those interested in finding out more or scheduling a visit to the Heritage Center should contact the director at heritage@lakejunaluska.com.

The Foundation for Evangelism is a catalyst to equip disciples to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, continuing a legacy of impacting how Methodist-tradition clergy, lay and youth are prepared to invite all people into life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. The Foundation makes its impact through promoting, encouraging, and providing resources for evangelism in keeping with the doctrinal spirit of John and Charles Wesley. To learn more, visit foundationforevangelism.org or email bbowser@foundationforevangelism.org.

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Jane’s Journeys – August, September 2018

General Board of Higher Education and Ministry Board Meeting

In early August, Jane participated in the GBHEM board meeting and was present for the signing of a new strategy agreement to establish the agency as the resource center for leadership, education, and formation to support future and current church leaders of the United Methodist Connection. “It was so good to be among friends and colleagues who share a vision for being the catalyst to equip emerging leaders in the church to share the Good News. I was excited to be a part of this meeting in which a new direction has been visioned for the future of this organization!”

Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies

Jane traveled to the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Pembroke College, Oxford, just a few weeks later to meet with E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism from seven of the 12 Methodist/Wesleyan-oriented seminaries. This gathering served as the annual meeting of the professors and was a great opportunity for them to engage with peers and academia. Jane noted that “I watched as the ESJPs were greeted with respect and interest, drawn into deep conversation across a spectrum of topics, and, perhaps most importantly, how they, in turn, challenged the academy to think about how this research might best translate to their training of students and beyond to equip the local church.” You can read the full story in the Oct/Nov fastFORWARD publication.

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ESJ Professors Gather at Oxford Institute

John and Charles Wesley began “The Holy Club” on the campus of Oxford University, so it is fitting that every four years, theologians in the Methodist/Wesleyan connection from around the globe gather at the Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies. In August, the institute convened at Pembroke College, near Christ Church where John and Charles Wesley began their ministries which ultimately grew into a global Christian movement.

This year, in place of The Foundation for Evangelism’s bi-annual meeting of the E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism (ESJP), each professor was invited to submit an academic paper and to present their work at the institute.

Professors from seven of the 12 currently occupied E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism Chairs attended the event where they participated in Worship and Spirituality, Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Mission and Evangelism working groups.  Those attending included Dr. Bryan Stone (Boston University School of Theology), Dr. Mark Teasdale (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary), Dr. Daniel Shin (Drew Theological School), Dr. Joon Sik Park (Methodist Theological School in Ohio) , Dr. Jeffrey Conklin-Miller (Duke Divinity School), Dr. Sergei Nikolaev (Russia United Methodist Seminary), Dr. Stephen Gunter (FFE Professorships Director), and Jane Boatwright Wood (FFE President). Beyond these current professors, three former ESJPs participated in the event including Professor Priscilla Pope-Levison, who was a plenary lecturer.

The time provided academic and theological exploration; however it also provided a time for building connection and contemplating practical application in mission and evangelism. Dr. Daniel Shin (Drew Theological Seminary) said of the gathering:

This experience has given me a better understanding of the global reach and character of the Wesleyan/Methodist movement, and as such it was a very meaningful experience. I have made connections with people from Africa, southeast Asia, Korea, England, and of course, the U.S, with whom I hope to continue conversations for further studies and shared ministries.

Jane Boatwright Wood, President of The Foundation for Evangelism reflected that the event was a testament to the impact of the ESJPs on the global academic community, and confirmed that the professors were fulfilling the Foundation’s vision to be a catalyst to equip disciples to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. She stated:

I watched as the ESJPs were greeted with respect and interest, drawn into deep conversation across a spectrum of topics, and, perhaps most importantly, how they, in turn, challenged the academy to think about how this research might best translate to their training of students and beyond to equip the local church.

The E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism are a partnership between The Foundation for Evangelism and the respective seminaries to prepare the next generation of leaders for ministry in the local church through classes in evangelism, missions, and a variety of other disciplines all taught with a focus on evangelism in the spirit of John Wesley. Through ongoing research and publication, these professors reach far beyond the seminary walls to educate and equip clergy, laity, and youth for evangelism ministries that bear fruit in the 21st century local church.

The Foundation for Evangelism is a catalyst to equip disciples to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is a 501(c)(3) organization with roots in The United Methodist Church, serving in ministry to Methodist/Wesleyan partners who share in its mission and vision.

The Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies is an affiliate of the World Methodist Council. Its mission is to foster and support disciplined theological study among professional scholars and scholarly ministers and laypersons within the Methodist and Wesleyan traditions around the globe, with a goal of undergirding and enriching the ministry of these traditions in their global settings.

6 Keys to Sharing the Gospel in a Pluralistic Culture

Lewis Center Director F. Douglas Powe, Jr., says evangelistic strategies often fail because they don’t meaningfully and respectfully engage those we are trying to reach. Powe highlights key values and practices for reaching others while honoring differences, gleaned from a recent study of the renowned 20th century evangelist, E. Stanley Jones.

It’s tempting to imagine that revitalizing a church is a matter of reverting to an earlier, “purer” tradition, as in the case of Methodists intent on emulating what John Wesley did in the 18th century. Others think it’s a matter of adopting practices that work in other churches. They go to a training event and hear someone say, “Our congregation started growing when we gave out refrigerator magnets,” and think a similar, seemingly easy evangelistic strategy will work for them.

The ideal of engaging all as children of God means altering the way we approach people, creating a space where all perspectives are honored.

What both approaches lack is an understanding of the importance of contextualizing practices. They fail to distinguish between the idea and the activity resulting from the idea. Sharing the gospel in a pluralistic culture requires that we contextualize the gospel in ways that honor the personhood and the perspectives of those we are trying to reach. I believe these six values and practices are key.

1. Engaging differences

The idea of engaging others who are different is something we often talk about, but we aren’t often successful in living it out. We either seek commonality at all expense, glossing over differences, or we shut down all conversation by demeaning those who disagree with us. We label them as liberal or conservative, progressive or traditionalist, etc. The implication is that they are not even worthy of engaging because we already know their perspective. The ideal of engaging all as children of God means altering the way we approach people, creating a space where all perspectives are honored.

2. Encouraging dialogue

Can we believe that Christ is the only way to salvation and still be open to the beliefs of others? We don’t have to accept the beliefs of others to appreciate their beliefs, to enter into dialogue without shutting them down, and to show genuine interest in what they have to say. Even those who claim to be open-minded can treat others in a cursory manner by failing to really listen to those with different beliefs. We need to genuinely listen and learn from others.

3. Valuing relationships

When individuals who think and believe differently than we do are not swayed to accept our perspective, some of us will stop being in relationship with them. Being in relationship with another is not about conformity, but about authentically seeing the person as a child of God, and treating that person as such, no matter the circumstances. We are called to be in relationship with people who don’t necessarily hold our beliefs.

4. Being accessible to others

It’s easy to paint a picture of society as “going to hell in a handbasket” and close ourselves off from those who aren’t like us. We live in a culture where we often give access only to those who run in similar circles with us. In many cases this is not intentional, but we never move outside of our comfort zones. We need to broaden our circles so that others will see that we are accessible. If I talk about wanting to connect with soccer families, it’s not helpful if I do this from inside my church. I need to hang out in places where those who play soccer attend. This may mean coaching a team or getting involved as a referee. We need to be intentional about building up relationships outside of our normal networks.

5. Becoming more vulnerable

It’s one thing to be accessible but another to be truly open to others. Too often we take the safe route and do things that do not require us to expose ourselves. An example is a feeding ministry where we get to set the terms and control all the resources. How can we be more intentional about entering spaces that we do not control so that those who believe differently will feel comfortable engaging, dialoguing, and relating to us?

6. Recognizing the importance of reciprocity

Our work in Christian outreach can never be one-sided. Too many Christians either abuse their right to speak in the public square by trying to shut down all the other voices, or they fail to speak up in the name of Christ because they do not want to offend. Neither is a reciprocal approach. We need to make space for others so that their voices can be heard. We cannot be afraid of letting others speak and voice opinions that differ from ours.

Our goal should be to be known not simply as Christians but as Christians who cherish the personhood of others. We need to learn to contextualize the gospel with people and not for people as we work to transform lives and communities.


This article originally appeared at churchleadership.com/leading-ideas and is adapted from the conclusion of E. Stanley Jones and Sharing the Good News in a Pluralistic Society (General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, 2018) F. Douglas Powe, Jr., and Jack Jackson, general editors. Used by permission. The book is available through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and Amazon.

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New Book from ESJ Professor Mark Teasdale

God tells us to “Go!” So let’s do it!

Nothing holds us back. God’s mission for us and our churches is more exciting and rewarding than we can possibly imagine. This book gives tactics to get your church moving forward in mission by looking at biblical passages where God commands us to “Go!” God calls us to break stereotypes and witness in surprising and unexpected ways.

Click here to see a promotional video! Click here to order from Amazon!

Mark R. Teasdale is the E. Stanley Jones Associate Professor in Evangelism at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL an elder in The United Methodist Church. He is also the author of Methodist Evangelism, American Salvation.

Reviews from colleagues:

Too many of our churches have circled the wagons, and Mark Teasdale and I are both convinced that step one in the renewal of most churches will involve liberation from their comfort zone and into their communities. Within this agenda, Mark’s very readable contribution, rooted in scripture and relevant to church life today, will join the (unfortunately) short stack of books that can actually help thousands of churches find their way forward.

George Hunter, Dean and Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, School of World Mission and Evangelism, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY

What’s more important than the Great Commission? Unfortunately, too many churches—including the one I grew up in—a lot! This is the book that I wish the leaders in my church had read while growing up.

—Daniel Im, Director of Church Multiplication at NewChurches.com and teaching pastor

Teasdale pushes us to see the Great Commission in a new light, a light that encourages us to respond to God’s sending us into our community no matter our size, pedigree, or circumstance. By sharing practices any congregation can do, he carefully provides concrete ways of engaging that do not require huge resources. This book Teasdale removes all excuses congregations make for not seeking to participate in God’s work of transformation.

F. Douglas Powe Jr., James C. Logan Professor of Evangelism (an E. Stanley Jones Professorship), Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington DC