The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Regarding Our Periodicals

cooperation.jpgJoe wrote,

Wine Skins and Grace Centered Magazine are good places to start. Sometimes the Christian Chronicle. Though of late I am disgusted.

Here is my advice: be willing to look outside the churches of Christ.

I’m frankly trying to figure all three of these periodicals out myself.

Grace Centered Magazine seems way out of date. Its home page has reviews of two movies released in 2007 — in the summer of 2007 as I recall — not exactly timely stuff. Some of the articles posted there are fantastic (especially Joe Beam’s work), but they were posted a long time ago. The news is generic conservative news items — nothing special to the Churches of Christ.

Meanwhile, New WIneskins is publishing lots of material, but most of it’s generic evangelical material — interviews with Brian McLaren, Geraldine Ferraro, etc. Some of it’s really good stuff, but there’s little that speaks to the Churches of Christ as such, although some good articles on our problems do pop up now and again.

I have no hesitancy in recommending either to anyone. Both publish good stuff. And much of the evangelical material they both review is very good. In fact, the latest articles from New Wineskins are particularly well done.

But neither seems to be making a particular effort to bring reconciliation to the Churches of Christ. Rather, both are internet periodicals that could be read by any evangelical beneficially. Their mission seems to be solely to the progressive churches and even to evangelicals in general.

In fact, they may well be an indication of where we’re headed — toward generic evangelicalism, while leaving the conservative Churches of Christ behind.

The Christian Chronicle is, of course, very obviously targeted to a Church of Christ audience, publishes Church of Christ news (and does it well), and makes a point of speaking to some of the issues peculiar to the Churches, such as the recent series “Are We Growing?”

And the Chronicle publishes interviews with representatives of all the elements of the a cappella tradition — which is a triumph by itself. However, the Chronicle treats the legalists as in no need of change and declines to serve as a forum in which the the sides can exchange views.

For example, in the conclusion of the “Are We Growing?” series, one suggestion to help us grow was “moderation,” meaning a church should be theologically moderate. Of course, this means moderate in the Church of Christ context, which is a strategy destined to fail (I speak from experience). Nowhere did the Chronicle suggest that the Churches reconsider their views on grace — views that force us to divide over trivia and that make us very unattractive to the unchurched.

And among the Churches held up as examples of how to grow were some of our most legalistic congregations! I mean, the net effect was, I’m afraid, to comfort those who least need to be comfortable.

In fact, the Chronicle is the best-postured institution in the Churches of Christ to bring reconciliation to the Churches. It’s read by all sides. It has a large subscriber base. All it has to do is open its pages for a conversation between the two sides on the issues that really matter, such as: does grace cover doctrinal error in the form of our worship? Surely both sides would love to have their views published!

I mean, the only way the two sides are ever going to reconcile is by talking. It won’t happen by pretending the problem isn’t serious. Or refusing to talk about it. Or by compromise. Or by “moderation.” It gets solve through conversation, if at all.

And the Chronicle and Oklahoma Christian University (which owns the Chronicle, I think) both need to realize that if the division continues at its current pace, their financial base will seriously erode. Oklahoma has already lost more members and adherents of the Churches of Christ than any other state from 1980 to 2007, having lost 11,011 adherents (members and their children) — 12% of the 1980 total! It also lost 7.1% of its congregations. And I’m confident the pace is accelerating rapidly.

(Losing a higher percentage of adherents than congregations means the average congregation is now smaller than it was in 1980!)

We are in desperate need of instruction on grace. And other than the Chronicle, I don’t know of any publication that could be of much help. They are uniquely situated. It’s a God-given gift that should be used to have the two sides talk — a lot.

I’m confident that if the two theologies are well presented by both sides, the progressive viewpoint will be most persuasive — which will help bring reconciliation. It won’t totally solve the problem of course, but it would be a major step. I’m sure those more conservative than me feel the same way. Surely they would be delighted to have their theories compared to the progressives’ in an open forum.

Of course, as you noted, there are some truly excellent resources available from outside the Churches of Christ — which is true. And as our churches turn more and more to such resources and find less and less benefit in our periodicals and universities, some of our institutions will fail and close their doors. The only sensible path for any institution that relies on donations and the goodwill of the Churches is to do everything in that institution’s power to resolve the division.

Wishing won’t make it go away. And yet many of our institutions are acting as though that were true. But this round of division is not between two competing degrees of legalism. Rather, it’s between two radically different views of grace, repentance, and even God. It won’t be long before the two sides are completely unwilling to support common institutions, forcing institutions to make a choice. And it won’t be long.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Regarding Our Periodicals

  1. ann says:

    I think you're misunderstanding the mission and purpose of the Chronicle. I've always seen it as a neutral, reporting source (although of course there are those from many sides who would disagree). I don't think it's their job or responsibility to reconcile the CoC. No publication could ever do that, or probably no organization, either.

    Grace is not going to be primarily taught through a newspaper. Probably not on blogs either, much to the dismay of us bloggers 🙂 It's going to happen in everyday interactions, especially when it's hard and we don't want to be graceful.

    PS- OC doesn't own the Chronicle, nor do I believe are they associated with them other than officing on campus.

  2. Nick Gill says:

    How does that happen at the inter-congregational level, Ann? Congregations don't bump into one another at Wal-Mart or have fender-benders.

    If someone does not initiate the exchange of ideas, there will be no reconciliation.

    I agree that reconciliation is not within the STATED mission and purpose of the Chronicle. That being said, sometimes God has different plans for us. When one and only one publication has the ear of all interested parties, then God has given that publication power. With power comes responsibility, and not being part of the solution makes you part of the problem.

    You're right; grace will not be taught primarily through a paper. But a paper is a forum where honest men and women of faith can sharpen one another and strive for unity. IF a paper so situated CHOOSES to offer such opportunities.

  3. I don't know if any medium can overcome the inherent conflict between the concepts of salvation-by-grace and salvation-by-works, which seems to be at the root of most of our divisions.

    Teaching grace in any medium is always a good thing, but it is viewed as revolutionary, unscriptural and practically hell-spawned by those who publish and support publications that preach obedience, obedience, obedience and scream heresy, heresy, heresy about those who don't think, think, think the way they do.

    For the record, the Chronicle is "published and governed by The Christian Chronicle Inc., an Oklahoma nonprofit corporation, with offices on the campus of and support from Oklahoma Christian University. Founded in 1943, The Christian Chronicle is a newspaper committed to the highest standards of journalistic excellence and seeks to inform, inspire, and unite Churches of Christ worldwide."

    And "New Wineskins magazine is published by the Zoe Group, Inc., a not-for-profit ministry of Christian renewal, based in Nashville, Tennessee. Most of our editorial staff and freelance writers have roots in the Restoration movement, including the churches of Christ and Christian Church. We honor that heritage while challenging traditional church assumptions by freshly approaching scripture again and again. We want our readership to know that we are Christians seeking to honor Jesus Christ in our lives. We are Christians only but not the only Christians and gladly add this ministry to the thousands of ministries worldwide that give glory and honor to God."

    So, Jay, according to stated mission – and circulation – I would have to agree with your conclusion.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Keith,

    Thanks for the notes.

    I need to clarify that I don't think mere teaching on grace via periodicals or otherwise is enough. I agree that it's not.

    My idea is that we need to present both sides together — in conversation. I mean, the writings of the Gospel Advocate editors sound reasonable to many — until tested by the arguments their readers never get to hear.

    I guess it's the lawyer in me, but I think the path to truth is found in hearing both sides well argued.

    Think of the Churches of Christ as a marriage and the conservative and progressive wings as husband and wife.

    The husband and wife live together but they don't much like each other. They remember the old days and would like the marriage to work, but one spouse is changing. She thinks she's maturing and growing and wishes desperately that her husband would read what she reads, talk to the people she talks to, and learn what she's learning.

    Her husband, however, says he likes things the way they are. He has no desire to change and she's destroying the marriage by bringing in new ideas and changing. If she'd just not change, everything would be fine, just like they used to be.

    And so they live in the same house, but they aren’t close in any real sense. They rarely talk at all. What conversations they have are getting more and more tense, and sometimes they make some pretty serious accusations about the other. Sometimes the accuser is right. Sometimes wrong. They’ve even starting talking hatefully about each other in public — always a danger sign!

    They are at the point that the children (congregations) are having to pick sides. And some are preferring to leave the house altogether rather than deal with the fighting.

    If you were a marriage counselor, which of these solutions would you recommend?

    * Live Together, be comfortable with who you are, and just try not to fight. Just don't let the neighbors see you fighting. Don't try to change the other spouse. Accept that you live in marriage where you don't get along.

    * Divorce. Get as far from each other as possible. Isn't it obvious you can't stand each other? I mean, these problems are incurable. Why even try?

    * Talk. Because emotions are so high, find someone to serve as a neutral third party, to help mediate and lay some ground rules. After all, you have quite obviously forgotten how to truly talk to each other. And the talk has to be about the deep, underlying issues that divide you. Until you talk about the roots of the problem, the conflict will remain unresolved and you'll either divorce or live separately in the same house, pretending to be married but living separate lives and fooling no one.

    Now, I would consider a significant number in both camps to be in the Divorce category. Some have already left. Some are trying hard to push the others out. Most consider the problem incurable, even by God — at least, that's how they act.

    I'd take the Chronicle to be in the Live Together category. They report the events of both sides, they give space for each side to talk, but they don't encourage a discussion of the real reasons the two sides disagree. In fact, they say that's outside of their mission.

    And I think most of our universities are in the same camp: let's just pretend the problem will work itself out (and hope we can stay out of the line of fire) — which would make perfect sense if God didn't care about the division and if the division didn't threaten the continued existence of these institutions.

    I don't envy our more moderate universities. They have a tough choice: either pick a side and lose the support of the other side, pray for the problem to go away on its own, or do something.

    Ironically, by still having the ears of both sides, it's our moderate universities that, like the Chronicle, are best positioned to weigh in and help facilitate a conversation. But evidently we are so afraid of talking that even that is out of the question.

    I honestly don't understand.

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